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Non-Violent Criminals Should Not Serve Time

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

Wasteful government spending is slowly crushing the American taxpayers a few billion dollars at a time. Last week, some of those billions in wasteful spending were brought to light by a Pew Center report that found one in every 100 American adults are behind bars - 2.3 million citizens, to be precise. That puts America in first place in the world for number of incarcerated individuals. A distant second is China - with 1.5 million - and third place belongs to Russia, with only 890,000 prisoners. America's prison population has tripled in the last 20 years and its spending on prisons has more than quadrupled. In light of this statistic, the U.S. should stop imprisoning people who commit victimless crimes.

Taxpayers are now looking at a bill of over $44 billion per year to keep people locked away, at an average cost of over $19,000 per prisoner. Some of these prisoners are the violent ones who make headlines and are serving long sentences for heinous crimes, but many more prisoners are non-violent perpetrators of victimless crimes - such as marijuana use. This system is terribly flawed in several ways.

For example, when college students are arrested for smoking pot and locked away for two months, they lose two months out of their lives, and taxpayers are billed somewhere in the vicinity of $3,200 for it. When that individual leaves prison, there is a good chance that he or she will end up locked up again within the next three years. Currently, the United States has a recidivism - re-incarceration - rate of nearly 50 percent. That means nearly half of prisoners are returning to jail within three years of being released. Quite obviously, something isn't working, and that something is imprisonment for non-violent, victimless crimes.

By locking up these offenders, the United States punishes the taxpayers for people who choose to act irresponsibly and not care about their own health. This waste of money does not produce results and only increases in magnitude as laws become stricter and prison sentences become longer. Rather than scourging taxpayers because irresponsible people are using drugs, the government should see to it that the punishments fit the crimes. For example, perpetrators of non-violent victimless crimes ought to be put to work doing community service projects and attending rehabilitation meetings to help them cope with their addictions.

If these ideas were implemented it would benefit taxpayers instead of harming them. The most obvious benefit would be that taxpayers would no longer have to pay to incarcerate people who are not really a menace to society. Besides this, public works projects - such as town maintenance projects - could be accomplished more cheaply thanks to these offenders having to perform community service hours. In addition, rehabilitation meetings are not particularly expensive to run, and they cause the recidivism rate to drop. This means less repeat offenders.

The choice is clear. With a prison population skyrocketing above other countries with some of the worst human rights violators in the world and a national debt that is plunging deeper and deeper into the red, a more responsible prison system is needed to relieve the burden that is crushing our taxpayers.

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