Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ronald Reagan popularized the image of America as the "Shining City on the Hill", the best of the best, the nation the rest of the world looked up to and aspired to be. In one area, however, it lags the rest of the world.

The U.S. incarcerates more than 25% of the entire word's prisoners, more than China and Russia, generally looked upon as authoritarian regimes, combined. Between 2.3 and 2.4 million Americans are currently behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. More than one adult in every 37 is under some form of state or federal criminal supervision. This is five times more than Britain, nine times more than Germany, and twelve times more than Japan.

These figures translate into staggering economic and social costs for the rest of society. The average federal prisoner, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, costs more that $28,000 per year to incarcerate, and the per prisoner cost in California exceeds $50,000. More money is spent by the states to incarcerate than educate. The cost of breaking up families for long periods of time for non-violent crimes is harder to calculate. In many inner-city neighborhoods, a majority of the young men are in jail, mostly for drug-related crimes, while the drug trade still flourishes at about its same level.

A graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul Law, I won the largest civil judgment and settlement for the Illinois Consumer Protection Division as an assistant Attorney General. Years later, after a long career in private practice, I experienced first hand the sharp end of the Federal Criminal Justice system. As a result, I have rededicated myself to drawing attention to the interworkings of that system and to educating others that may be similarly situated.