prison reform needed

Long overdue, prison reform has finally returned to the table, thanks to Senator Jim Webb a Democrat from Virginia. Webb says it is time to revamp the system across the country.

In March Webb introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 that would, according to his website, “create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process,” Webb said.

Although the United States – the land of the free – has only 5 percent of the world’s population, we report holding 25 percent of the world’s reported prisoners. Many prisoners are drug offenders whose jail rate has increased 1,200 percent since 1980, noted Webb.
Passive drug offenders swamp the nation’s prisons. Without viable rehabilitation programs, jail time simply serves as a de-tox time until the sentence ends and the drug abuser leaves having gained no insight to their drug abuse.

“According to data supplied to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, those imprisoned for drug offenses rose from 10 percent of the inmate population to approximately 33 percent between 1984 and 2002. Experts estimate that this increase accounts for about half of the dramatic escalation in the total number imprisoned over that period. Yet locking up more of these offenders has done nothing to break up the power of the multibillion-dollar illegal drug trade. Nor has it brought about a reduction in the amounts of the more dangerous drugs – such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines – that are reaching our citizens,” Webb wrote in the March 29 issue of Parade magazine.

Webb advocates addressing the source of the drug trade – the truly dangerous criminals who will do physical harm to anyone who interferes with their sale of drugs.
These people belong behind bars to keep them from continuing the importation and sale of drugs, not the drug user.

But it is not just the drug problem that needs to be addressed. As a nation, we need to
address the mental health needs of the population with adequate facilities and treatment rather than using the prisons.
America has four times as many mentally ill people in prisons than in mental health hospitals, according to Webb.

It is past time to quit using the jails to hold the mentally troubled persons while waiting for a bed to open in a psychiatric ward. It is past time to have state run forensic units available for those who do commit crimes while mentally incapacitated.
It is time and past to quit just building jails and to begin building a better system for addressing the crimes and poor choices folks make – especially the non-violent crimes which overflow our jails.

Unfair, inequitable sentencing sends drug abusers to jail for longer terms than murderers. More minorities than whites land in jail for longer sentences for similar crimes.
Years ago, the popular “three strikes and your out” policy swept the nation’s states and sent the prison population rates soaring.

Prisons work best for one primary purpose – keeping violent offenders away from the populace. Prison populations should contain the criminals who commit violent crimes – including those who will do anything to line their pockets with cash from the sale of illegal drugs.
The current system is not working. The locked door perpetuates the problems by minimizing or overlooking further felonious crimes committed behind bars.
Let’s hope Webb’s determination bring about a turn a corner in prison reform across the nation.