Archive for March, 2009

The United States is not the Land of the Free

I came across a story today stating that one in every thirty-one adults in the U.S. is in the corrections system.  This is the highest rate in the world.  This makes a lie of the often heard claim that the United States is the most free country in the world.  If we are so free, why are so many of us locked up?

Of course, not everyone involved in the corrections system is locked up.  Many are on parole or on probation.  However, according to the Department of Justice, the “United States has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world.”

Consider that for a moment.  Americans often believe China to be less free than the U.S.  It is communist, after all.  But, if China has  four times as many people as we do, but we have more people in our jails than they do, we aren’t exactly a free country.

Some might claim that these statistics don’t show us to be less free.  They might argue that we have a larger criminal element in our society.  I don’t buy that.   That would imply that Americans are grossly less ethical or less moral than the rest of the world by a large factor.  It would be difficult to accept given our large immigrant population.  Do people immigrate here to embark on a life of crime?

The statistics also show that “[t]he numbers are also concentrated among groups, with a little more than 9 percent of black adults in prisons or jails or on probation or parole, as opposed to some 4 percent of Hispanics and 2 percent of whites.”   The population of the U.S. by race is the reverse order of that figure.  Whites make up the largest share of the American population, followed by Hispanics and then blacks.  I find it hard to believe that justice is color-blind, much less blind.

The gist of the article is about the cost of imprisoning so many Americans.  It argues that probation and parole are less costly for non-violent criminals.  And I would agree.  But, the article never questions the basic methods of the U.S. justice system.  And that would be to make so many things illegal.

I would argue that many of the non-violent offenders in the corrections system are there because of drugs.  Instead of making soft drugs, like marijuana, illegal they should be legal but regulated.  We need to stop punishing people for victimless crimes and let people be the victims of their own decisions, instead.  It is a lot less costly, and much easier to manage.

It is often said that with freedom comes responsibility.  The implication is that people who are less responsible will eventually become less free.  But, is it not possible that if we are less free then we eventually become less responsible?


March 3, 2009 at 9:24 am 2 comments


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