Monday, July 30, 2007

Corey Booker and Crime

Corey Booker, Newark's mayor, speaks out against our over-reliance on incarceration in this powerful op-ed, "When Neither Crime Nor Punishment Pays," published in yesterday's Newark Star Ledger. It begins:

In barbershops and boardrooms, in newspaper headlines and presidential debates, Americans are questioning the billions of dollars a month being spent on a failing war, and the current "surge" in Iraq.

But we, policy-makers at every level of government, should also be questioning the "domestic surge" at home in the so-called war on drugs and urban crime. There are more guns, more technology, more cameras scanning streets, and more money spent on jails, prisons and juvenile facilities every day. The cost to American taxpayers also rises every day.

The way we have chosen to deal with crime is leading our nation away from its highest ideals and producing results that stand in stinging contradiction to who we claim to be.

In the land of the free, we lock up a greater percentage of our population than any nation. The U.S. prison population has increased 91 percent in the past 15 years. More than 7 million Americans are under some form of state or federal cor rectional supervision, and this does not include the legions of Americans in county and city facilities.

Is this the America of which we dream?

Our societal resources pour into prisons and police budgets -- the numbers are staggering. Billions of dollars are spent annually around our state, with budget growth at a pace far beyond that of our economy. Newark spends over a quarter of its budget on police, courts and jails.

Is this the America of which we dream?

Our legal system is plundering conceptions of equality. In our America, one in three African- American men in their 20s is under some form of correctional supervi sion. New Jersey leads in racial disparities in incarceration; while 14 percent of New Jersey's population is black, more than 60 percent of its prison population is African-American.

Is this the America of which we dream?

Our correctional system does not correct. We are the worst nation on the globe for recidivism. After spending billions incarcerat ing people, we release them only to see one in every two ex-offenders return in three years. We are forcing our proud law enforcement community to engage in a profound cyclical absurdity of arrest ing, re-arresting and re-re-arresting the same individuals time and time again . . . .

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