Detroit Free Press editorial writer Jeff Gerritt spends Martin Luther King Jr. Day at a prison. It seems right to commemorate the holiday with some of the 2.3 million Americans locked up, Gerritt says. King would understand “that mass incarceration has become an economic, social and human rights problem the nation can ignore no longer.” America’s criminal justice system is a political land mine, but Obama will have some cover if he dares to step across it, writes Gerrick. U.S. Sen. James Webb (D-VA), a decorated Marine who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, plans to push national prison reform.
The U.S. cannot afford a $60-billion growth industry that has ripped urban communities and failed to make us safe, says the columnist. Michigan now spends more on prisons — $2 billion a year — than on higher education. Mass incarceration actually increases crime by severing social networks, leaving one in 14 black children with a parent in prison, and creating lifelong barriers to employment. Mainstream civil rights organizations remain relatively quiet about the human and economic costs of a criminal justice system that affects mainly poor people.