We've become a 'gulag nation.' That's quite a phrase, isn't it? But how shameful is this? How shameful that crack cocaine, popular in black communities, is penalized twenty times to a hundred times more severely than powder cocaine, which is more popular among whites?
Actually, I don't know how much of this is the 'prison-industrial complex.' After all, the 'war on drugs' and 'getting tough on crime' are hugely popular, politically. Yeah, they wouldn't be so popular if people realized how much this was costing them, but we're a jingoistic kind of nation, faith-based rather than fact-based.
And it's also racism. Republican politicians have long pushed crime as a race issue, as part of their 'Southern strategy.' Even today, they use code words as a dog whistle for racists - and other easily frightened white people.
The fact that this is destroying black communities probably doesn't matter to many white Americans. But at the very least, the fact that it's hugely expensive - and that it's not working - should matter to all of us. We're busy losing the so-called war on drugs, so let's start looking at different tactics.
The fact is, I have very little sympathy for criminals - and none at all for violent criminals. But our laws should be fair and our laws should be effective. These are neither. Studies show it would be cheaper and more effective to use a treatment-based approach on non-violent drug users.
And there should be the opportunity for people to turn their lives around. Many kids in poverty get caught up in drugs or other criminal activities. That's not right. But does it have to ruin a person's entire life, especially when it's a non-violent offense? (And why prevent felons from voting, once they've served their time? Do we have to keep punishing them forever?)
As I say, I have no sympathy for criminals. And the kind of bleeding-heart liberal who only cares about murderers - or so it seems - just fills me with rage. But I do care about what this is doing to our country. I do care about having an efficient, effective, and fair legal system. I don't particularly care about punishing people, I just want to prevent crime without losing more than we gain.
We lock up more people than anywhere else in the world. Why is that? Why is that necessary here, when it's not necessary anywhere else? Yes, lock up the monsters. Lock up the violent criminals. But it would be more effective to try other tactics with non-violent criminals - and much cheaper, too!
Of course, then there's the elephant in the room: poverty. The only war we've never wanted to fight is the war on poverty. We'll stick with the war on drugs come Hell or high water. Even losing badly, we'll never quit (and never change our tactics, apparently). But we threw away our weapons and gave up on the war on poverty at the first opportunity.
Now, poverty is not an excuse for crime. No. Way. But poverty and crime are closely related. If you lower poverty, you'll lower crime. We know that. You'll lower it now, and you'll lower it even more for future generations. Give all people a decent start at life and you'd transform America.
But fighting crime in that way just isn't popular in America, no matter how effective it might be. If it's not punishment, the American people aren't interested.
What does that say about us?