Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra has a self-described "blistering" post in The Huffington Post today, bemoaning and berating everything from America's lack of affordable health care to white flight to ... prisons?
You betcha -- looks like Chopra has joined the ever-growing list of people who recognize that our addiction to incarceration is a social disaster. But Chopra doesn't attack overincarceration in terms of taxpayer dollars and cents or even evidence-based studies that show that prison doesn't necessarily make us safer.
He says overincarceration is immoral:
When was the last time Congress or the states looked at prisons with a moral eye? America leads the world in the number of people incarcerated, more by percentage of population than in Stalin's gulag. A vast disproportion are black. A huge number are non-violent drug offenders, often condemned to outrageous time behind bars thanks to draconian state and federal laws with mandatory sentencing. A recent New Yorker article that outlined the grim statistics of overcrowding and skyrocketing expense called our prison system America's moral shame.
Then there is the plight of black America. Dry statistics speak of soaring unemployment, crime, and family breakdown. In the African American community, actual community is hard pressed to survive. Poverty is endemic. Seventy-five percent of black babies are born to single mothers. More young black males are in jail than in college. A hugely disproportionate number of black drug users and dealers are arrested and sent to jail compared to their white counterparts, even though actual drug usage is no higher in the black community.
For 40 years, ever since Nixon's law-and-order agenda gave the impetus, the trend in social policy has been skewed to eliminate compassion and focus entirely on rule breaking. Harsher sentencing, the end of most welfare programs, a rigid division between the black and white sections of town, the abandonment of the inner city by white flight, boosts in police forces, super max prisons, three strike laws, and on and on. Violent crime has dropped by 40 percent over the past two decades while sentences keep getting longer, prison populations keep rising, and states keep spending more per inmate than they do per student for education.
The overall picture is of a harsh, punitive society where divisions have become black and white. I'm not speaking entirely of race, although African Americans bear the brunt of almost every misery. But so do poor people in general.Yowza -- if that doesn't get your blood boiling, grab your wrist and make sure you've still got a pulse.
Is Chopra right? Are we just a "harsh, punitive society" that doesn't care about prisoners at all? There is, admittedly, not much in favor of arguing that we aren't.