Empire Watch

by Chris Bodenner

Stephen Walt points to a NYT report and writes:

U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan are now spearheading a major effort at (drum roll) ... prison reform. We've figured out that the brutal treatment that even petty criminals face while in jail is facilitating Taliban recruitment in the prisons, and so the United States is going to build some new facilities and try to get the Afghan government to change its incarceration practices. Your tax dollars at work.

Given that we are trying to defeat an insurgency, I don't have a big problem with any initiative that might weaken Taliban recruitment. But am I the only one who sees the irony in this situation? Prison reform is badly needed back here in the United States -- where the incarceration rate is the highest in the world (Russia and Belarus -- well-known bastions of freedom -- are #2 and #3). In fact, the incarceration rate in the United States is nearly four times the world average, and nearly seven times higher than in the EU.  Recidivism rates in the United States are also high (about 60 percent), which suggests that prison life isn't doing a very good job of rehabilitating convicts. As sociologist Bruce Western has shown, this situation has far-reaching negative consequences. Although Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) has been trying to spearhead a reform effort, this hasn't generated a lot of momentum so far. So the Afghans may get significant prison reform before Americans do.

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