Apart from some of the tyrannies, the U.S. — a democracy — is the quickest to punish and in vastly larger numbers than the rest of the world. Per the citation below:

“The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”


Needless to say there is some discrimination built into our punitive system — more than half those imprisoned are minority group members in part as a result of the targeting of minority communities for arrest and punishment. Our monies — quite expensive for imprisonment — could be far better spent on education and jobs. Even Obama seems reluctant to break with this pattern to start some sort of WPA program targeting unemployed — as did Roosevelt during our last big economic crisis. And our NY governor is announcing massive cuts in our education budgets as one of his goals for solving NY’s budget crisis. No one is speaking loudly about closing down some of our NY prisons not needed to house our prisoners with the decrease in crime of late — local pols fear a strong prison guards union.

I don’t know precisely what the sources are of our vengeful attitudes that make punishment the solution for social problems. One suspects that each new wave of immigrants to this country has been resented by its predecessors and accused of crime — the Lou Dobbs syndrome. And brutality was the way slaves were controlled.

How to change attitudes I do not know. Perhaps economic necessity will help? Some states are considering large releases of prisoners — by judicial order for overcrowding in California.


What do you think?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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