For much of my life I heard politicians and social leaders discuss the need for reforming America’s criminal justice system. Movies and television would like you to believe that justice is blind, and everyone is treated the same in our courts. This is far from the truth. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges treat wealthy and powerful men and women far differently than low income and impoverished Americans.
First, the truth. The United States of America has just four percent of the world’s population. We also have the largest percentage of men and women in our penal institutions. America harbors 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
And our system fails those convicted of non-violent crimes. America has the highest rate of recidivism. The majority of men and women in prison had an income below the poverty line before they committed their crimes. The percentage of minorities incarcerated is excessive in relation to their percentage of our nation’s population.
Our justice system is in desperate need of reform, and a large part of this fact is related to prisons operated by private companies. There’s money to be made behind those steel bars.
There is no interest in decreasing the prison population if you are making millions of dollars to oversee their incarceration.
California frequently leads our nation forward on issues of social reform. On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill which will end private operation of the state’s prisons by 2028. Effective on January 1, 2020, “the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation won’t be able to enter into or renew a contract with a private, for-profit prison to incarcerate people.”
The United States is far behind other developed nations in areas affecting the working class. Healthcare, Education, personal time off, and other social issues appear to have been forgotten by our dysfunctional government. After completing their sentences, men and women in other nations are less likely to commit a crime which would force their return to prison. The opposite is true in America.
After their release more than 43 percent of parolees return to prison after only three years. After five years the rate is above 76 percent. Why? America’s state and federal prisons do not have rehabilitation plans in effect which would return men and women convicted of non-violent crimes to society and allow them to enjoy the rights and opportunities of other Americans.
In contrast, Norway has a less than five percent recidivism rate.
This must change. Our politicians must cease their policy of preparing for war and supporting corporations and the wealthy. The struggle to survive and support a family is all too often the reason low-income and impoverished men and women seek relief from extreme income inequality in criminal activity. I’m sorry, my Republican friends, but here comes another fact; poverty is one of the causes for crime in America.
More than one-half of all Americans are one paycheck away from financial devastation. Social programs are much more important than planning to give the Pentagon one-trillion dollars a year to create new toys which will never be used. The fact is 50 percent of the military’s annual budget goes to waste. If this money was used to assist the American people there would be less non-violent crime, and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.
Op-ed by James Turnage
Photo courtesy of Pelle Sten
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