Monday, March 10, 2008

U.S Prison Population Soars

I was talking about Conrad Black's convictions and sentencing with a friend the other day, and the topic shifted to a short discussion regarding the difference between low security prisons in the U.S and in Canada.

In Canada, low security prisons are not locked, allow prisoners to move about relatively freely on day passes and even provide private bedrooms. U.S low security prisons are actually prisons. No day passes, dormitory style rooms, and wire fences. Conrad Black will be serving his sentence in one of these.

Today, I was reading an article on the topic from when I noticed the latest figures from Pew Research Centre. The numbers were always shocking, but the breakdown is even more so.

The United States has 2.3 million prisoners as of January 2008. That is more than any country in the world, including China and India which have much greater populations.

One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is in prison while the figure is 1 out of every 9 for black men.

Does anyone else find this to be highly alarming? Regardless of how tough one believes a society should be on criminals, what sort of society do we live in when one out of 30 men have to be locked up? Whether or not some of them shouldn't be locked up, or all of them should be locked up is really beside the point, 2.3 million people are in prison.

I'm not sure if this can be regarded as a breakdown in society, or a breakdown in how criminals are handled (or both). Law and order can only be maintained if enough people agree with the laws. Sooner or later those who believe serious laws can be broken from time to time will make up a number where the country can no longer afford (or no longer be able) to imprison them.

Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that the situation is becoming critical.

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