Critic: Prison Binge More Damaging Than Teen Life Terms


While the pending Supreme Court case on life-without-parole terms for juveniles gets lots of attention, “the damage done by America’s prison binge over the past 30 to 40 years dwarfs the importance of all of the Court’s pending criminal cases,” says National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor. Blacks are imprisoned at a rate eight times as high as whites, and nearly 60 percent of black male high school dropouts, and nearly 30 percent of all black men (if current trends continue), will spend time behind bars — far more than in the worst days of segregation, he says.

So far, most of the Democrats who control Congress seem too worried about opening themselves up to unwarranted Republican attacks for being “soft on crime” to do away with mandatory minimum sentences, Taylor says, adding: ”How much could we reduce the prison population without turning a horde of violent predators loose on the rest of us? By a lot.” Taylor quotes Mark Kleiman, author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, as saying that swifer and surer imposition of penalties, rather than long prison terms, could lead to “half as much crime and half as many people behind bars 10 years from now.”

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