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We know how to incarcerate, but can we do so humanely?

We know how to incarcerate, but can we do so humanely?

Prison is one of the most important institutions in American life. About a quarter of all the world’s prisoners are behind bars in the United States, a total of roughly 2 million people. It costs about $60 billion a year to imprison them.

This vast prison-industrial complex has succeeded in reducing crime but is a blunt instrument. Prison stays often constitute a graduate seminar in crime, and at the very least, the system does a poor job preparing prisoners to return to the real world. Since 95 percent of prisoners eventually will be released, this is not a minor problem.

Prison tends to be harsh in small-minded ways (taking away weights and various TV programs) and lax in the important things. Needless to say, sexual violence and de facto rule by gangs – all too common – shouldn’t be tolerated in a civilized country. And when it comes to inculcating habits that might make prisoners decent citizens, prison should be more prescriptive, rather than less.

We have proved in the past several decades that we can lock a lot of people up. The challenge now is if we can do it more humanely and intelligently and, ultimately, create less work for the prison-industrial complex.

– Rich Lowry

National Journal