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Costly incarceration

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.

Russia is second, then Rwanda. Our prisons are private businesses paid for by taxpayers. It costs $39,000 per year for one federal prisoner. Education and/or mental health care would be cheaper.

Mandatory sentencing has quadrupled the prison population since 1980. This is mainly related to marijuana and other drugs. In 2009, the American Bar Association said “sentencing by mandatory minimums is the antithesis of rational sentencing policy.” In 2004, the association called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, stating that “there is no need for mandatory minimum sentences in a guided sentencing system.”

Zero-tolerance policies are misguided and harsh for poor people (homeless and mental illness is a crime?) while giving the white-collar crimes a pass. Have they had any influence on reducing crime? There is no evidence that harsh punishments deter crime.  Arrests and convictions are important. Ask police personnel you know.

If we want to reduce our costs at the federal, state and local levels, why not reduce our prison costs? Prison stays in the U.S. are longer than any other country. About 2.9 percent of adults in the U.S. are in jail or prison, on parole or on probation. Does this seem crazy? Can’t we make some changes for nonviolent crimes?

If you don’t believe me, find out for yourself. What is the cost at the McHenry County Jail?

Deb Martin


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