Brave Thinkers

Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Jim Webb
Job: Senator from Virginia
Why he’s brave: He’s taking on the nation’s neglected prison system.
Quote: “I think you can be a law-and-order leader and still understand that the criminal justice system as we understand it today is broken.”


After squeaking into his seat in 2006, Webb became an activist for prison reform—an issue almost universally unpopular among voters, especially in a tough-on-crime state like Virginia. He introduced a bill in March that would establish a commission to review the nation’s prison system. A small step, certainly. But he’s taking on public apathy and a thriving privatized-prison industry that houses nearly 10 percent of federal and state prisoners and lobbies politicians with vigor. Webb has called our prison system a “national disgrace,” and he’s right: the U.S. incarcerates 2.3 million people (25 percent of the planet’s prisoners), and monitors another 5 million on probation or parole (more than 60 percent of whom will end up back in the clink). Huge numbers of inmates are mentally ill and more than 20 percent have been sexually abused while locked up; meanwhile the number of drug offenders behind bars (where they take up scarce space and resources) has increased by 1,200 percent since 1980. By tackling prison reform as a freshman senator, Webb has shown he possesses two things vanishingly rare in Congress: a conscience and a spine.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In