Thursday, November 25, 2010

The US and UK

Lead the way in locking up their citizens

Over the years politicians have found cheap votes by being tough on crime

Ever more strident demands for tougher sentences have created a ridiculous situation where politicians, prosecutors, lawyers and prison unions prosper at the expense of society

Society does not benefit when it costs $50,000 to keep one prisoner for one year in a Californian prison 

It does not have to be this way.

In the Netherlands, where the use of non-custodial sentences has grown, the prison population and the crime rate have both been falling

Britain’s new government is proposing to replace jail for lesser offenders with community work.

This without looking at drug laws which are responsible for so many incarcerations in both the UK and US 

Both countries prefer to ignore the experience of others who have decriminalised their drug laws

There are though some parts of America that are bucking the national trend.

New York cut its incarceration rate by 15% between 1997 and 2007

This while reducing violent crime by 40% over the same period.

California is considering changing it's drug laws

This is welcome, but deeper reforms are required.
America needs fewer and clearer laws

So that citizens do not need a law degree to stay out of jail.

Acts that can be regulated should not be criminalised.

Prosecutors’ powers should be clipped

Most white-collar suspects are not Al Capone, and should not be treated as if they were.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws should be repealed

Alternatively they should be replaced with guidelines.

The most dangerous criminals must be locked up

But states could try harder to reintegrate the softer cases into society

By encouraging them to study or work

And by ending the pointlessly vindictive gesture of not letting them vote.
It seems odd that a country that rejoices in limiting the power of the state should give so many draconian powers to its government

Yet for the past 40 years American lawmakers have generally regarded selling to voters the idea of locking up fewer people as political suicide.

An era of budgetary constraint, however, is as good a time as any to try.

Sooner or later American voters will realise that their incarceration policies are unjust and inefficient

Politicians who point that out to them now may, in the end, get some credit.

In the UK government has not yet got around to addressing the ills so manifest in society it being easier to focus on knives or drugs or binge drinking rather than the failure of society to educate and create a just society

Locking people up might seem a cheap and easy way to get votes, however one day it could  prove to be anything but and that day is closer than some politicians might think

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