Criminal justice reform

To the editor:

We have about 2.2 million people in prison in the U.S. More than any other country in the world at an annual cost of $80 billion a year. The strange thing is that both Republicans and Democrats support criminal justice reform. Unfortunately, the private prison industry spends millions of dollars every year to keep things the way they are.

Most people would agree that the biggest reason for the big increase in the number of people in prison is the failure of the war on drugs. Another reason is the 50 percent dropout rate of poor students in our high schools. An increase in our efforts to keep young people in school could save us millions of dollars when they don’t wind up in prison.

The system is unfair to poor people. The wealthy are able to pay for attorneys that keep them from going to prison. African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience encounters with the police than white people. Nearly 50 percent of young black adults will spend time in prison unless we make a number of changes.

The people we punish most when we send a violator to prison is the family that winds up on welfare while the criminal does their time in prison. Many of the children follow down the same path when they grow up. In most domestic abuse cases and non-violent drug cases it would be better to put violators in half-way houses where they would receive treatment, keep their job, and cost taxpayers a fraction of what it costs to keep them in prison. The best thing we can do is keep them out of prison because 60 percent of those in prison will end up back in prison within three years after they are released.

Don Peterson