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December 19, 2002

Bright Side of State Budget Crises

Every cloud has a silver lining. Well, the cloud of massive state budget deficits has states lining up to end many of the insane "anti-crime" policies of the 1980s and 1990s that led to the brutal surge in prison population.

The American Gulag, two million people in prisons and jails, has become too costly to maintain. State governments are passing a series of amnesties, early release programs, ending mandatory minimum laws, de facto ending prosecution of many nonviolent crimes, and so on.

A higher percentage of the US population is in prison than any other comparable country save Russia, which shares a similar continuation of its old gulag-level of imprisonment. In fact, with 8.5 million people in jails around the world, the United States has 23% of the world's prison population. Yet the US has less than 5% of the free population of the world. (See here and here for some analysis and stats.)

It is sad that it took fiscal austerity, rather than a realization of justice, to force states to confront the insanity and racism of our national prison complex. But as many states pass permanent changes in their laws in favor of drug treatment and restoring parole, hopefully the changes will last into better times.

Posted by Nathan at December 19, 2002 07:34 AM

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Don't expect California to follow suit any time soon. While we do have a voter-passed treatment-before-incarceration policy, no one stands to Gray Davis's right on crime, and the state prison guards' union just took a klatsch of legislators on a junket to Hawaii. And our budget is in a bigger sinkhole than most.

Posted by: Josh at December 19, 2002 02:14 PM

Although the prison system is racist, it's far more biased on the basis of sex. What is it? 13:1? If you're a black man in prison it's far more because you're a man than because your black.

Posted by: DavidByron at December 26, 2002 06:02 PM

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