With many important issues this election including the budget deficit, unemployment rates, social security, and medicare, it is not surprising that a lot of other issues are being put on the back burner.
One issue of importance to me is the over-population of our incarceration system.
The United States currently has an incarcerated population of 2.3 million. China, with quadruple the total population of the US, has only 1.6 million inmates. I believe that the United States needs to drastically reform our prison system, as it is clear that we are incarcerating too frequently, and for too petty of crimes. Nationally, we spend $47 billion dollars a year on criminal correction, which has grown at a rate only secondary to medicare. Transferring non-violent prisoners out of prisons and into county jails or onto parole would be an easy way to cut into our budget deficit, while at the same time making the prison system much more manageable.
Part of the blame for our over-flooded prison system is the failed War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was a term coined byRichard Nixon in 1972 to describe the policies to limit availability and abuse of illegal drugs. Currently, 1 in 5 inmates in prisons are there for drug-related offenses. Despite this, illegal drugs like heroine and cocaine are even more prominent and cheaper than they were in the 70’s. The War on Drugs is simply failing. Many economists and sociologists have talked about a different method of drug control: legalization. At first glance, legalizing drugs like cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamine seems like a recipe for disaster, but it may be that legalization and regulation could be a practical solution. Furthermore, legalization might benefit the economy as well. Jeffrey Miron, an economics professor at Harvard, claims that legalizing all drugs would cut $65 billion in costs associated with enforcement and incarceration.
Although it is easy to see that the current prison is in need of reform, it may not be so simple to fix it. While we can potentially get the non-violent offenders out of the prison system, the US still has the highest violent crime rate of any country. The underlying problem is the widespread crime rate in the country, which is a problem that is much more difficult to solve. Whether the answer lies in welfare, education, I believe that the overcrowding of prisons is just the tip of a much larger problem.
Over-incarceration is a growing problem, but neither Mitt Romney or Barack Obama has spoken on the issue. I believe its time they did. Prison reform is a topic that encompasses issues including immigration and the drug trade, gun control, and even the budget deficit.