The Prison State

Posted by | February 4, 2012 13:55 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Prison populations are booming.  That is pretty well known but still occasionally when one sees the numbers, it can be shocking.

From 1980 to 2007, the number of prisoners held in the United States quadrupled to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole. What Ayn Rand once called the “freest, noblest country in the history of the world” is now the most incarcerated, and the second-most incarcerated country in history, just barely edged out by Stalin’s Soviet Union.

That’s more people in prison than the population of 14 of the 50 states.  And of course they are overwhelmingly minorities.  Once these prisoners have, “paid their debt to society,”  their prospects are dismal.

Beyond incarceration’s immediate physical and mental horrors, after being convicted of a felony, your public life is functionally over. In many states, you won’t be able to vote or sit on a jury. You won’t be eligible for public housing or food stamps. You’ll find it very difficult to attend a college, and may find it nearly impossible to get a job—like everyone else, educators and employers discriminate against ex-cons.

There are some recommendations in the linked article that make me uneasy.  However the point that the huge prison population is a stain on a modern country is, in my view, indisputable.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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