First of all, the very title is misleading. As far as I know, there is no “mass incarceration” in the United States. There are about 2 million individuals in prisons and jails – less than 1% of the population, and they all got there individually, following trials in which they had more of a chance to defend themselves than they would have in any European country. They are not in prison as part of any “mass” group. There is no "mass" that has been incarcerated as a "mass."
Actually it doesn't mirror the debate over climate change, it's exactly like the debate over climate change: a lot of politically driven noise promoted by the mass media, on the one hand, and a much quieter but more thoroughgoing analysis on the other side.
Actually, in both cases, those who have an immediate personal and political interest in their preferred solutions are using the threat of catastrophe to bully an increasingly skeptical and incomplaisant public. What immediately threatens the American public is the prospect that the Obama administration would put in place an Executive Order to release from the prisons where they belong a million violent criminals whose careers have been at least temporarily placed on hold.
Locking up criminals has purposes other than providing “social benefits.” In the past, the purpose of providing "justice" was provided by flogging and hanging; prisons were proposed as a more humane alternative, since they would give the criminal a chance to reform himself. That's why they are called "penitentiaries" - they were intended for the penitent.
Since there is no “mass incarceration” in the United States, as discussed, above, non-existent "mass incarceration" cannot be a “source of injustice.” However, I think that liberal editorial writers tend to underestimate the social benefit provided by taking violent criminals off the streets, since they tend to live, work, and shop in neighborhoods other than the usual hunting grounds of those violent criminals. People who live in neighborhoods where they are the prey of violent sociopaths are more appreciative of the benefits that accrue from keeping criminals behind bars.
The fact that incarceration has increased since the 1970s should not be surprising, since it was during the 1970s that incarceration rates in the United States dropped to historical low levels, with the emptying of State mental hospitals and liberal control of the courts. And the comparison to "other democracies" is irrelevant and meaningless. Without knowing the crime rates that incarceration is intended to ameliorate in any given "democracy," you can't determine if the rate of incarceration is sensible or not
As the Giuliani/Brock experience in New York City showed, however, the criminals who are committing the non-violent nuisance crimes are the same criminals committing the violent felonies – you need to catch them for whatever you can, and lock them up for as long as possible. In the long run, that reduces the crime rate enormously. Career criminals commit many, many crimes in the course of their activities. Removing a small number of habitual criminals from the streets goes a long way towards making those streets habitable.
This is the Times’ Fox Butterfield’s eternal paradox: they just can’t understand why prison populations are high “despite” a drop in the crime rate. The fact is, that at least one reason the crime rate is lower, is that a larger proportion of the criminals are locked up.
What? I thought that the problem was “
That’s just exaggerated name-calling. Prison is certainly not considered a medicine that cures all ills. But it is considered a way to keep the general population out of harm’s way.
I think that race is a red herring. Heather Mac Donald, among others, has shown that the proportions of different ethnic groups in the number of malefactors described to police by victims, in the number of people arrested, in the number who are brought to trial, and in the number who are imprisoned - are all the same. The racial proportions are the same. Which is in fact evidence that there is in fact no racial bias in the administration of criminal justice in the United States. And although the rates at which young black men commit any measured violent crime are at least several times higher than the rates at which young men of other defined ethnicities commit them, I think that a careful sociological analysis would show, that the crime rates are similar for young men of any race brought up outside nuclear families headed by their fathers. Race is not the issue, the breakdown of traditional families is the issue.
There are consequences to all of our actions. I don’t think it is really fair to say that prisoners are "sent back to the impoverished places they came from", they are just going back home, as anybody would. And the fact that they have to regain the trust of neighbors and employers is a normal consequence of their previous behavior.
Crime is what causes these costs to be necessary. The criminals are responsible for the costs of dealing with them. The fact that it costs so much to have police departments, prosecutor's offices, courts, public defenders, jails, and prisons is due to the fact that there are criminals among us. With fewer criminals, the costs would be lower.
These are the preferred remedies that Democrat Party politicians will be pushing:
1) Let all convicts vote – they will all be reliable Democrat voters, right?
2) Let all prisoners out of prison – the Obama Administration has released over 30,000 illegal alien felons, why not release the rest?
3) Shorter sentences.
4) Forbid employers from making criminal background checks of employees – being pushed already.
5) Abolish local zoning and force Section 8 housing projects on relatively low-crime communities. Then they too will experience the joys of urban culture.
But note that these are "solutions" to the "problem" of "mass incarceration." But "mass incarceration" is not the root problem. The real problem is crime. The real problem is that there are evil, sociopathic people in this world, who do not have a conscience, and who prey upon their neighbors without remorse. We need a solution to that problem! When you can show me "alternatives to imprisonment" that make a difference, when you can show me that rehabilitation can transform a sociopathic hoodlum into a decent citizen, then we will have something to talk about. In the meantime, locking these predators up for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets will have to do.
The insanity of this editorial is plain to me. Whenever someone tells you that the research is uncontestable, you know that you are in the presence of a "true believer" and not someone whose views are based in reality.