The United States puts more of its citizens in prison than any other country. We have the world beat in nearly every metric, from overall prison population to per capita incarcerated.
It’s not horribly surprising; we are a throwaway society, so why not throw away people who are causing problems? Perhaps because throwing away people doesn’t solve problems. Instead of prison, drug addicts and mentally ill people should have treatment, but Washington tells us that treatment is too expensive.
Now that one highly influential group has spoken out, maybe Washington will listen. More than 130 high-level law enforcement officials have banded together to call for a dramatic decrease in the number of people in prison.
Asserting that “too many people are behind bars that don’t belong there,” the officials plan to announce on Wednesday that they have formed a group to push for alternatives to arrests, reducing the number of criminal laws and ending mandatory minimum prison sentences. Members of the group are scheduled to meet Thursday with President Obama.
The law enforcement leaders now say reducing incarceration will improve public safety because people who need treatment for drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues will be more likely to improve and reintegrate into society if they receive consistent care, something relatively few jails or prisons offer.
If the fact that people whose livelihoods depend on locking people up are calling for fewer people to be locked up doesn’t affect policy, little will.
The law enforcement officials are fighting profit and whenever that happens in the United States, profit generally wins. Many states have signed contracts with private prisons guaranteeing a certain number of prisoners. Until we end for-profit prisons and the war on drugs, we’ll still be arresting people who should not be behind bars.
Featured image via Wikimedia.