The first was an interview with Senator Jim Webb about the bill he has just introduced to study why, as he put it, “the United States has 5% of the world’s population, yet we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. Something is wrong!” He went on to say that building prisons and handing out longer prison terms has been politically popular for quite a while now, but there’s no evidence this trend toward incarceration has done anything at all to make our communities safer. Rehabilitation and treatment programs have taken a back seat to just locking people up, often for non-violent and even victimless crimes.
The second interview was with a Boston doctor (Atul Gawande) who has just published an article asking if solitary confinement, as it is widely practiced in this country, is torture. He clearly believes it is. It creates, at the extreme, people with psychoses who did not have them before. And, again, there is no evidence of any positive benefit from the practice, in terms of reducing violence in prisons or by any other scientific measure. Yet, again, it is not only politically popular but considered a career-ending move for a warden to stop or even reduce the practice.
Food for thought. More humane treatment for this segment of our population might actually improve the quality of life, not just for them, but for all of us. Not to mention being a more cost-effective use of scarce government resources.
Cross-posted at my website.