What does it take to reverse our incarceration nation?

The excellent Peter Moskos points out the absurdity of our criminal justice system by suggesting we bring back the whip.

Suggest adding the whipping post to America’s system of criminal justice and most people recoil in horror. But offer a choice between five years in prison or 10 lashes and almost everybody picks the lash. What does that say about prison?

America has a prison problem. Never in the history of the world has a country locked up so many of its people. We have more prisons than China, and it has a billion more people than we do. Forty years ago America had 338,000 people behind bars. Today 2.3 million are incarcerated. We have more prisoners than soldiers. Something has gone terribly wrong.

The problem — mostly due to longer and mandatory sentences combined with an idiotic war on drugs — is so abysmal that the Supreme Court recently ordered 33,000 prisoners in California to be housed elsewhere or released.

He points out that, except in the cases of the truly dangerous, incarceration makes things worse, not better.

Incarceration not only fails to deter crime but in many ways can increase it. For crime driven by economic demand, such as drug dealing, arresting one seller creates a job opening for others, who might fight over the vacant position.

Incarceration destroys families and jobs, exactly what people need to have in order to stay away from crime. Incarcerated criminals are more likely to reoffend than similar people given alternative sentences. To break the cycle of crime, people need help. And they would need less help if they were never incarcerated in the first place.

It really says something about the depth of the abject failure of our incarceration nation when flogging actually sounds like a welcome and smart alternative.

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