By now I’m sure you’ve heard the numbers — the U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of the world’s prisoners are locked up right here in the land of the free. One in three Americans has some type of criminal record, be it felony or misdemeanor. Our national embarrassment of mass incarceration and the commodification of human beings is alive and well in 2017.
The sad thing is, we were this close. You can’t see my fingers but… This. Close. There was bipartisan support for criminal justice reform at every level of government. “Non-violent drug offenders” had become a Beltway catchphrase. President Obama was commuting an historic amount of federal prison sentences. The most hard-line conservative seat on the Supreme Court had come open and Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, with every reason in the world to undo what many view as the last bastion of slavery, was a stone-cold-lead-pipe lock for the Oval Office. What could possibly go wrong?
Blame it on Russian meddling, rust-belt angst, ex-FBI director Comey’s 11th-hour email investigation announcement, or a lack of voter turn-out because Dems thought they had it in the bag. For whatever reason, here we sit. A nation in reverse.
Never mind prison reform. The environment is under siege, Medicaid is under siege, Wall Street is on the verge of running rampant again after the quiet dismantling of Dodd-Frank (a piece of legislation put into place to ensure that the financial crisis of 2008 — an event that cost the world 40 percent of its wealth — would never happen again). Our president is disrespecting long-standing allies while complimenting dictators. The Montenegro shove, the Paris climate pull-out, the Mueller investigation, the Emoluments Clause lawsuits, North Korea, Syria, and tweet after mind-numbing, illiterate tweet. It’s exhausting and riveting and terrifying and hilarious.
Meanwhile, as these pyrotechnics dominate the news cycle, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has doubled down on an outdated War on Drugs policy, urging federal prosecutors to seek the maximum sentences on drug offenders. He’s even asked Congressional leaders to allow the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana providers. Stock in private prison profiteers like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America — down 40 percent in the last six months of Obama’s term due to a planned phase-out in the federal system — is once again soaring. Business is good. And with the resurgence of heroin, it’s only going to get better.
Rumors of the demise of the Prison Industrial Complex have been greatly exaggerated.