A number of things have come up in the past week that made me want to write this article:
- The Democratic nomination for President, Former Vice President Joe Biden, is still being attacked for his 1994 Crime Bill which many cite as the beginning of “mass incarceration.”
- Various states and cities across the United States are releasing low level prisoners to help comply with the social distancing standard set by the COVID-19 outbreak.
- PragerU released a video on Monday talking about our prison system and debunking various myths believed about it by the progressive left.
- I’m sick of writing about trade policy.
Mind you, as a libertarian I’m part of some “weak on crime” “anti-cop” conspiracy group. You might remember this group as the same people who helped pass the FIRST STEP Act, which applied to less than one in every five people in prison. At least, that’s what you’d think if you took Josh Hammer and Daniel Horowitz seriously, an action which I do not recommend.
I should open by making it clear claims of “mass incarceration” are quite overblown. In his book Bernie Sander’s Guide To Political Revolution Senator Sanders claims that 2.3 million Americans are in prison on page 153. However, pages 154 and 155 make up a graph of Prison Population in the United States from 1925–2015 (which, side note, is not adjusted per capita despite the US population growing by about 200 million in between that time, more than the entire population of the US at any time before 1968) that peaks at less than 1.6 million.
Keep in mind when you hear a number like the one Senator Sanders mentioned that the United States is the 3rd most populated country on Earth. Norway is the prison system progressives keep praising, Micheal Moore even dedicated time to it in his film Where To Invade Next, but Norway would have to lock up around 40% of its population to have the same amount of people in prison Sanders claims we have. Even his more hyperbolic number makes up less than 1% of the US population when he wrote that statement in 2017.
This is not me forgiving the status quo, as my readers should know I am a longstanding advocate for an end to the War on Drugs, the legalization of almost every drug known to man, and an end to mandatory minimums. I still believe that any person locked up for taking a substance is one too many people. However, that is an argument against the War on Drugs, not an argument against the idea of “mass incarceration.”
In truth, less than 15% of people in prison were arrested for drug-related offensives. Yet, CNN host Van Jones calls for us to cut our prison population by 50%. Where will we find the remaining 35%? Trust me, you do not want to know.
So what percent should we cut the prison population by? Well, how about just by whatever percentage of people in prison are wrongfully in there. No more, and no less.
In truth, I’m not against mass incarceration. If 50% of the population were rapists, murderers, or child molesters, I would want half the United States population in prison. However, I am strongly against wrongful incarceration, people put in prison for nonsensical reasons, commonly for victimless crimes or voluntary transactions between adults.
Nonviolent criminals in general should not go to prison. They should be given community service of some kind or placed under house arrest. Sending them to prison is basically giving them a scholarship to crime college, hence why the United States has such a high recidivism rate.
However, this does not mean that we should just mindlessly empty out our prisons. This means that we should reexamine the criminal justice system and set the people who are wrongfully in there free, preferably with a full pardon so also do not have to deal with the negative stigma brought by being an ex-convict.
Mindlessly emptying out our prisons will lead to the exact opposite problem of what we have now. One where the streets of America are no longer safe because some government bureaucrat called the prisons too full, regardless of any kind of context.
Reject the false dichotomy. Go after wrongful incarceration, remain neutral on mass incarceration.