"Either we are the most evil people on earth or we are doing something very wrong," wonders Senator Jim Webb in today's Parade magazine essay, "What's Wrong with Our Prisons."
This is not primarily an issue of crime, punishment or justice. As I tried to say a year ago, I think it's primarily about a failure of American society and our educational system. As Webb argues, perpetuating this failure is not in our best interests:
Our overcrowded, ill-managed prison systems are places of violence, physical abuse, and hate, making them breeding grounds that perpetuate and magnify the same types of behavior we purport to fear. Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard or, in some places, nonexistent, making it more difficult for former offenders who wish to overcome the stigma of having done prison time and become full, contributing members of society.
Also interesting to note that Webb, who is a longtime writer as well as former Navy secretary, first wrote about the subject for Parade 25 years ago, when he visited Japan to ask why Japan's incarceration rate was so much lower than ours by a ratio of more than 7 to 1. But while Japan's prison population has doubled since 1984, ours has quadrupled.