By Patrick Appel
Bruce Western gives reversing mass imprisonment serious thought:
....we can edge away from mass incarceration by promoting two kinds of policies: expanding support for the reentry of prisoners into society and scaling down the size of the prison population. The two steps are linked; we expand our support for ex-prisoners in the community by using incarceration more sparingly and revoking freedom less willingly. Money that we now spend on prison can be spent on treatment and jobs.
Western goes on to partially blame "America's meager welfare state" for the huge increases in the prison population during the last 30 years. Eh, maybe. I'm more apt to fault tough on crime legislation and the war on drugs. Whatever the causes, figuring out how to re-introduce prisoners into society is going to require legislation as smart as many tough on crime laws were dumb. If reducing the overflowing prison population correlates with a spike in the crime rate, as it very well may, we could be in for another round of politically expedient but logistically disastrous tough on crime laws. Considering the current state of prisons, I'd be willing to accept a slight increase in crime in return for a more sensible prison system, but I'm not so sure the public would agree.