4th of July – Celebration of Freedom for U.S.A.?

With the arrival of the 4th of July weekend, I find myself reflecting on the irony, for so many of us, of this celebration of freedom. Here we are, land of the free, home of the brave, proudly celebrating our freedom from tyranny and oppression – and so many of us will pass the holiday incarcerated, or dealing with the incarceration of  loved ones.

Until I had a family member facing incarceration, I was right there amongst the many, shooting off fireworks, waving sparklers in the air, munching down on hotdogs and hamburgers and celebrating our FREEDOM. Not only that, I had a generalized sentiment that prisoners had it easy overall, that we were too easy on them in fact, and that was the “problem”. Now, Texas Magnum has stated he believes that imprisonment saved his life, and I believe it as well. He also freely admits he was in the wrong, although he isn’t sure he agrees a 4 year sentence fits the crime. But that isn’t the point here.

These days I contemplate daily the huge disparities in our justice system. In learning to deal with my loved one’s incarceration I have learned so much and gained such sympathy for so many.

The truth is, many folks did break laws and by the rules of most civilized nations, the repercussion of breaking laws is punishment.
The truth is, too many of those offenders will turn right around upon their release and step once again into the arms of Johnny Law.
The truth is, a simple slap on the wrist for the more heinous crimes would feel like an insult to the victims.

But here are some other truths to ponder:
– U.S.A. leads the world in incarceration rates.
– Roughly 1 is 100 adults is incarcerated – that is 5x more than UK, 9x more than Germany and 12x more than Japan
– Over 3% of the population is either in prison, on probation, or on parole
– Drug crimes account for 2/3 of imprisonments
– African Americans represent 40% of the imprisoned population in the U.S. and only 13% of the general population in the country
– 11.7% of black men in their late 20’s are imprisoned
– in 1970 there were roughly 300,000 imprisoned. Today there are 2,300,000
– the vast majority of inmates are non-violent offenders
– In 2009  funding for K-12 and higher education fell while 33 states put more money into prisons than they had the previous year

And now, incarceration has become private business. State facilities were overcrowded, but by allowing the private sector to enter, we have created a model where the less spent on inmates the more profit to be made, AND where repeat offenders and “tough” sentencing pads the bottom line. Now that this reality exists, how do we back away from it? Just like the tobacco industry, these private corporations in the business of incarcerating our nation are actively lobbying and schmoozing to keep the profits flowing.

Much of  our overpopulation is due to the so-called “War on Drugs”, a war that has failed miserably in cutting drug use. How do we voice the need for reform to the system? In a state like Texas where more is spent on incarceration than education, it’s clear we are putting the focus on the wrong things. OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM IS BROKEN!

To top it off, prison budgets for rehabilitation, vocational training and other positives that might be realized through an incarceration are being cut across the nation. In many facilities, the majority of inmates have no job or duties to perform daily. Some may have a class that lasts a few hours a day, some are considered on “janitorial” duty, some not even that. Most overcrowded dormitory style units have a television on for most of the day, and a population of inmates spends their time watching tv, playing chess and dominoes, and doing pushups and pullups to pass the time. They are fed non-nutritional meals and given sub-standard medical care. Fights are normal, everyday occurances and everybody learns to watch their back. They will do there time in this manner and be released.

What are the chances these folks will leave the prison walls rehabilitated and ready to make it in life? We are putting them into an environment where they will come out the other side being tougher, stronger, and very likely lazier and even dumber than when they went in.

There is TONS of information out there concerning this very real epidemic of incarceration. I grabbed data from a couple sites for some quick facts and would like to cite the sources of reference. I also recommend that you give them a read, the facts are scary, to say the least.

Happy 4th of July everyone. I ask that all of us take a moment to reflect this holiday weekend, while we celebrate our freedom, what is the answer to this huge mess we have created? And, remember, if none of us speak up, nothing will change. Take action, and have a voice.
~ Editor