|IV. EXAMINE USE OF THE PRISON SYSTEM|
Summary of the Problem: In 1972, the nation's prison population was just over 300,000. Today, the nation's prison population is well over 2.3 million, and there are over 500,000 correctional officers. While the U.S. contains roughly 5% of the world's population, almost 25% of all the world's prisoners are housed in U.S. prisons and jails.
In spite of this huge increase in incarceration, the U.S. continues to have much higher rates of violence than other comparable countries. Over one million Americans are victims of violent crime each year. In 1996, for example, 5,665 Americans died of homicide. If the U.S. had the same homicide rate as England, the death toll would have been 210. England has high rates of violence by European standards. By way of further example, an American woman in her sixties is more likely to be a murder victim than a man of any age in France.
Executive: Create a new, bipartisan commission to examine criminal justice practices and goals, and charge the commission to make recommendations regarding the appropriate use of incarceration and the use of alternative forms of punishment.
Legislative Changes: Hold a series of hearings regarding the appropriate use of incarceration and the use of alternative forms of punishment.
Legislative Appropriations (Solutions w/ Funding Requests): Appropriate funding for a bipartisan commission to examine use of the prison system.
Executive Branch: Presidential appointment
Legislative Branch: House and Senate Judiciary Committees
Executive Branch: In 1971 President Richard Nixon established a National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. The Commission's 1973 report concluded in part that, "[n]o new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juveniles should be closed... (because) the prison, the reformatory, and the jail have achieved only a shocking record of failure."
Legislative Branch: On October 4, 2007, Senator James Webb (D-VA) held a Joint Economic Committee hearing on over-incarceration. Among those who participated were Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Congressman Phil English (R-PA), Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Witnesses: Prof. Glenn Loury; Prof. Bruce Western; Alphonso Albert; Michael P. Jacobson; Pat Nolan.
A detailed description of the hearing can be found online at: http://jec.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.HearingsCalendar&ContentRecord_id=7a22e2ab-7e9c-9af9-7bb7-4a1b88554f61&Region_id=&Issue_id.
Potential Allies, Potential Opposition, and Public Opinion:
Potential Opposition: There is potential opposition from some prosecutors and some law enforcement groups, but that would likely be countered by strong support from others in those same communities.
Public Opinion: In a 2007 poll conducted by Third Way, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, subjects who described themselves as both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agreed that crime is a problem in the United States. Instead of viewing rehabilitative services as wasteful, 71 percent thought more tax dollars should be invested in job training, education and drug treatment for prisoners as an effort to reduce recidivism. A majority of those polled felt that social services and rehabilitation should be an essential and obligatory element of corrections.
Multilingual polling in 2004 conducted by New California Media, a San Francisco-based ethnic media network, found that a majority of Californians of all ethnicities support state investment in rehabilitation over incarceration. The poll of nearly 2,000 California adults in 12 languages showed a strong majority favor alternatives to imprisonment in a state whose prison population has grown by 600 percent since 1980. Majorities in all groups also supported counseling over punishment for convicted youth.
A 2002 poll conducted by the Open Society Institute found that two-thirds of Americans agree the best way to reduce crime is to rehabilitate prisoners through education and job training. The public also favors addressing the roots of crime over strict sentencing by a margin of two to one. Those same Americans agree that drug abuse is a medical problem that should be handled through counseling and treatment rather than prison sentences. This is a marked change since 1994 when polls showed the public evenly divided on these questions. Now, a plurality of Americans think "tough on crime" strategies aren't working and that a more progressive approach, like rehabilitation, would be a much more effective way to reduce crime.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 16:54|