Sunday, September 03, 2006

Land of the free

This week's Economist has a letter written by a California law-enforcement officer in response to a recent story. Here's an excerpt:
As someone with 30-years experience as a law-enforcement officer I take issue with some of the facts presented in your article on California's overcrowded prisons. For instance, California's recidivist rate is not "sky-high" simply because of overcrowding. A bigger factor is the drug habit that most inmates retain, prior to, during and after incarceration... My colleagues and I are constantly amazed at how parolees can remain free after repeatedly testing positive for drugs.

I've been to California---beautiful place full of smart people. I'm surprised that they haven't thought up a solution to this terrible problem. So let me offer one: how about not jailing drug users?

Unless, of course, they're guilty of some other, jail-worthy crime.

That brings up the question of what sort of crime is worthy of jail. I don't think America has more criminals than other countries. And I don't think its law enforcement is more efficient at catching criminals. And yet the USA has more prisoners---both in absolute numbers and as a fraction of its population---than any other country in the world: it's a no-contest. What explanation could there be?

Perhaps one explanation is that most of those prisoners don't deserve to be there. In California, stealing a loaf of bread could put you in jail for 25 years to life, if it happens to be the third offence.

There are various other statistics about US prison populations, but perhaps the most striking that I've ever come across is this: the number of juveniles in jail for life. Score for the USA: 2225. Score for the rest of the world: 12. (And that's from just three countries: Israel, South Africa and Tanzania. Everyone else scores zero.)

I wish that California law-enforcement officer had thrown some light on these matters.

PS - as I type, a gripping Becker-Agassi match has just ended. Brings back memories. A different Becker, but the same Agassi, in his last game.


Tabula Rasa said...

I've been to California---beautiful place full of smart people.

yes but what price the goverminator?

Rahul said...

The governator seems an inspiration to the prisoners -- as they leave they say "Ah'll be back!"