Why Care About Mass Incarceration?
Advocates for less punitive crime policies in the United States face long and dispiriting odds. The difficulty of the challenge becomes clear if we compare our criminal justice outcomes with those of other nations: We lock up more people, and for longer, than anyone else in the world. We continue to use the death penalty long after Europe abandoned it, we are the only country in the world to lock up juveniles for life, and we have prisoners serving fifty-year sentences for stealing videotapes from Kmart. Our courts offer little relief: the German Constitutional Court prohibits a sentence of life without parole for murder while the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the same sentence for possession of a pound and a half of cocaine. Our appetite for vengeance sometimes seems insatiable: politicians make careers out of being tough on crime, only to lose elections to those who are yet tougher; Alabama sheriffs deny food to inmates to turn a profit; jokes about raping prisoners are part of popular culture.