The U.S. has a drug problem. More accurately, the U.S. has a problem created by the continued “war on drugs.” This problem isn’t one of addiction or violent crime. Instead it is our insistence on jailing so many unnecessarily. Ultimately, the U.S. faces a boom in prison populations and the continued rising costs that come with it.
Outside of election year, politics and “tough on crime” rhetoric, America’s rising prison population is unsustainable. The U.S. incarcerates more people than anyone else in the industrialized world. Nearly one in 100 adults in the U.S. is now in prison, with a rate of 750 incarcerated per 100,000. The closest rival is Russia with 628 per 100,000. All of this equates to a nation that spends $70 billion per year on corrections, with about 25 percent of the population having been in the corrections system at some point but no discernible improvement in the overall crime rate.
In Minnesota, the case is not quite as bleak. Our state sits near the bottom in prison populations and has seen a historic drop in crime in the past decade. As of 2010, there are 185 adults per 100,000 incarcerated in Minnesota. Here, we simply don’t incarcerate people at rates seen in many other states, and we don’t experience more crime as a result.
With more than 2.3 million inmates throughout the U.S. and many states reeling from budget shortfalls, it is time to change how and why we incarcerate. Our collective fear over the past several decades has only produced laws that are tough on crime with no positive benefit. The constant jailing of our population is a reflection of unreasonable fear, not sound policy.