Prison System Drains State Resources

Dear Editor,

According to a recent study, the U.S. — which makes up 5 percent of the world’s population — houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40-percent greater than that of our nearest competitors; it is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France and 12.3 times that of Japan.

Of all the 50 states, California leads the way in incarceration, in large part due to its Three Strikes Law. There are still thousands of men and women serving life sentences in California for petty, nonviolent drug-related crimes.

Never before has a state denied basic liberty to so many of its citizens. Two-thirds of the inmates in California’s prisons are there for property and drug-related offenses. The incarceration of nonviolent offenders continues to grow to this present day.

Until the 1970s, the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. But since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment.

The new system of punitive ideals is aided by a new relationship between the media, politicians and the public. A handful of cases in which a predator does an awful thing to an innocent person receive excessive media attention and engender public outrage.

The attention typically bears no relation to the frequency of the particular type of crime, yet laws — such as California’s Three Strikes Law, which can give a mandatory life sentence to a nonviolent offender — are born, and political careers are made on the basis of the public’s reaction to media coverage of such crimes.

California’s incarceration rates are out of control. The state prison system should not be allowed to continue to drain state assets for political gains or ideologies while breaking the backs of the state’s education system and other human-resource organizations.

—Larry Wallace

Inmate, Folsom State Prison

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