by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

In response to Ross's point, which you seem to agree with, why the hell is his reason for pursuing prison reform couched in a purely politically calculated motive?  Why not change our policies because it's simply the right thing to do.  For a party that seems to love moralizing, it's infuriating that the vast majority of Republicans seem to have little problem with the morality of mass incarceration and its diffuse social and economic fallout.  The fact is that blacks and other racial minorities (and the poor, generally) are imprisoned at much higher rates per crime committed than are white and more upper-class citizens.  If all demographics of this nation were being consistently and equivalently punished for our legal infractions, we would not even be having this conversation.

I grew up in a small town in Georgia.  Many - at least half a dozen - of my (white, upper-middle class) friends got into trouble with the law during high school or college.  Alcohol and other drug charges, DUI, assault, vandalism; you know, the kind of stupid shit that young men often do.  For example, one of my friends got caught by the highway patrol with multiple doses of LSD and ecstasy; he's now an anesthesiologist.  These kids almost always got off with minimal punishment after a few crucial phone calls were placed.  It was a huge corruption of the legal system, and I've wondered since just how widespread the problem is, especially in small towns.  It was funny how these Republican parents were all about law and order until their children got into trouble.  See, they knew their child was really a good kid who had just temporarily gone astray.  The ultimate message was that prison time was for "the other."

It should happen simply because it is the right thing to do but is unlikely to happen until both parties see prison reform as in their political interest.

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