Sunday, October 03, 2010

Possible Solution to American Prison Crisis

The United States puts more of its citizens behind bars than any other country in the world. Over two million Americans, or about one out of a hundred adults, are currently in prison at a cost of $50,000 per inmate per year. Those behind bars are overwhelmingly poor and overwhelmingly black. One of the saddest results of this is that one in twenty-eight children are missing a parent (mostly for non-violent crimes) because of arrest. And the numbers are only getting worse. With more than a fifth of incarcerations for drug offenses, the most obvious solution is to decriminalize drugs. But I understand most Americans, even liberals and especially conservatives, don't want that. However, a more practical solution may already be in use. As many people as we have in prison, we have even more under "correctional supervision".

In a great article from The Atlantic, the idea of a "prison without walls" is discussed. Instead of putting citizens behind bars, keep them under close surveillance, mostly using GPS ankle bracelets. This is cheaper for taxpaying families and the families of inmates. The most extreme would of course remain locked up, but the majority of offenders could be rehabilitated where it really counts, in society. They can help nudge those that need it the most. One company in Indianapolis is already preventing sex offenders from getting near schools, drunk drivers from getting near bars, and general trouble makers in their home at night. Hawaii is also trying a this kind of long-distance babysitting with similar success.

As uncomfortable as Big Brother tracking its citizens is to me, it's better than locking them away. The sad reality is that putting criminals in a den of criminals will rarely help them avoid the mistakes that got them there. Something needs to change. I think this may be one step in the right direction.


  1. I feel that it should work provided that we clearly & correctly classify the offences for which it should be implemented .

  2. Definitely. But since such a large percentage of crimes are non-violent, it is applicable to most inmates.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.