Thursday, February 28, 2008

The 1% Crisis

Don't let the title make you think this is a tiny issue. The Pew Center on the States has come out with a report that has found that more than 1% of the U.S. adult population is in jail or prison. Unbelievable. We have 230 million adults in this country, and over 2.3 million of them are behind bars. And where is the money coming from? We cut taxes, and funding for the arts, and for health care, and for research, and for everything else you can imagine. But we spend money on building more prisons to incarcerate people for longer and longer and longer.

I once had a professor who said that no elected representative was ever voted out of office for being to tough on crime. And what puts people behind bars more than anything? Drugs. Murderers have the lowest recidivism rate of any crime (with the notable exception of serial killers, but they never get out once they are caught anyway). But drug users, who commit an almost victimless crime, will be in and out of prisons for their entire adult life. Why? Because we don't like what they put into their bodies. Heroin was once prescribed to clear the skin. Today, it can get you locked up for years. I wonder how many of that 1% are veterans?

We have the largest prison population in the world. We have the largest per capita prison population. Who joins us in the top 10? Russia and the old Soviet Bloc. Another list that we should feel extremely proud to be on, along with that list that includes China, and Saudi Arabia, and our good friend Iran. I refer, of course, to the list of countries with the death penalty.

What a terrible thought. The politics of imprisonment is a harsh one, indeed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Investigations, Bureaucracy, and Coffins

Now that I've finished reposting everything from the past, I can start writing and posting new thoughts.

Views on the Iraq war run the gamut from the likely misquoted "stay for another 100 years" to the gut reaction "pull the troops out now" and everything in between. Something that we can all agree on (I hope, anyway) is that, whether or not we have troops over there, as long as we do, we need to provide them with the proper equipment so that they come home alive, instead of in coffins. So it is disheartening to me to see today's article that the Marines are looking into what caused a delay in getting Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) to frontline troops in Iraq.

During World War II, countless telegrams were sent by the War Department to families, saying that their sons and brothers and husbands and fathers had died in the service of a greater cause, in the cause of freedom and democracy for all. There were screwups, yes. Planes crashed, intelligence let them down, equipment failed. But the telegrams that came back from Iraq because of an apparent bureaucratic screwup preventing MRAPs from getting to Iraq as quickly as possible are a pill nearly impossible to swallow. If the investigation should determine who is responsible for this tragic failure, they should never be allowed to work in public service again, and if they acted willfully, they should go to jail.

Regardless of whether you believe that the troops should come home immediately or if we need to stay there for a century (neither of these groups include me, by the way), take a peak at history and the last long-term controversial war our country experienced. At the height of both personal and political opposition to the Vietnam War, Robert Kennedy never once voted against an appropriation for the war, even as he campaigned to bring every last soldier home. You never deny anything to the boys on the ground. And as for bringing them home, here is my view. I do not know if we should have ever gone to Iraq. And fortunately, the reality of the world we live in prevents me from having to make such a decision. But they need to be protected, secured, and allowed to do their job, so that they can come home as quickly and safely as possible.