U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who wants Congress to examine high U.S. incarceration rates, got a boost from a former California Republican leader yesterday, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Pat Nolan, a vice president of the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, served 29 months in federal custody after pleading guilty to racketeering. He said he once was a “reliable tough-on-crime” politician. “As a state legislator, I made the mistake of thinking that locking people up made our communities safer,” Nolan told the congressional Joint Economic Committee yesterday. “Only when I was in prison did I realize that  locking so many of our people in prison while doing nothing to prepare them for their release is very dangerous.
Webb, a freshman better known for his outspoken stands on defense issues, labeled the racial makeup of U.S. prisons “alarming,” questioned the impact on crime of the high incarceration rate, and criticized “enormous” spending to maintain the criminal-justice system. The tab is more than $200 billion for combined expenditures of local, state, and federal governments for law-enforcement and corrections personnel, Webb said. Economist Glenn Loury of Brown University told the panel that crime was a real problem two decades ago and “fighting a war on crime was bipartisan national policy.” Loury cited the “so-called war on drugs” and its adverse impact on African-Americans. At eight-to-one, the black-to white ratio of incarceration poses a greater racial disparity than in any other major arena of American social life, he said.