U.S. imprisons too many people

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From Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

I am responding to a recent editorial in the Enterprise along with an opinion piece about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) recent comments about the American penal system. Although her remarks appear controversial to many, they have unfortunately detracted from a major and very real issue with the U.S. justice and penal system.

We now have the largest prison system in the world, with more people behind bars and in detention centers than any other country. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30 or 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.

The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and state psychiatric hospitals. The number of people in our jails far outstrips that of Canada or any European country, and is more than totalitarian countries such as Russia and China, both in total numbers and per capita percentage of population. Every year, 626,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because so many people currently in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days, and others are too poor to make bail and must remain behind bars until their trial. Pre-trail detention is responsible for all the net increases in incarceration over the last 20 years. Only a small number, 150,000 on any given day, have been convicted, generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.

Read the entire guest commentary by James E. Connolly.