Economic Fairness & Social Justice

Commentary: Land of the Free? 1 of 3 Are Arrested by Age 23!

December 19, 2011
by Tony Newman, The Huffington Post

The United States likes to portray itself as the “Land of the Free” yet we lock up more people overall and per capita than any country in the world. A new study out today found that one out of three people in the United States will be arrested by the time they are 23.

1 out 3 arrested by the time they are 23?! You want some more shameful stats? With just under 5% of the world’s population, we have nearly 25% of the world’s prison population — and the war on drugs is the driving force. Last year there were more than 1.6 million people arrested on drug charges and almost half of those arrests were for marijuana possession alone.

These embarrassing numbers remind me of Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s line about the broken United States criminal justice system and the need to look at our country’s laws: “With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different — and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter.”

Senator Webb tried a few months ago to pass legislation creating a bi-partisan blue-ribbon commission to make recommendations for reducing incarceration and recidivism but Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and other Republicans filibustered it.

Last week we witnessed the U.S. leaving Iraq after nine long years and questionable success. It is time to find an exit strategy from our 40-year-old war on drugs that is unquestionably a failure.