Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hard Time

The U.S. adult incarceration rate crept past 1 in 100 recently -- much higher than any comparable nation's (including those with much lower crime rates). Perhaps we as a people are more violent and criminal than other nations. Perhaps it is a result of our immigrant heritage, or our competitive culture, or our mixing of tribes.

Or perhaps we over-incarcerate people. There is, among the gush of statistics, this:

Simple drug possession convictions make up about 5% of the federal prison population and about 27% of the state prison population, according to the federal government's own figures. Other nonviolent drug offenders were charged with nothing more than "sale or intent to sell" illegal intoxicants to willing buyers.

[Hat tip: Megan McArdle]

I am not so naive as to think that everyone convicted on drug charges is otherwise law-abiding and would not have gotten to prison by some other, more direct, means had there been no drug laws. But the more things you make illegal, the more people you'll put in jail. And the more you'll create black markets for what is illegal, but desired. So, choose the society you want, and bear the consequences.