America: Lock Them Up!

Our leaders enjoy proclaiming the belief that the United States of America is an “exceptional nation.” Their assumption is that if one is a citizen of this great land then one is part of a rather exceptional society. Yes, we do lead the world in the number of people who are in jail, yes, we are second in the world in the number of people who are obese. And, a new study by Shawn Bushway reveals that we certainly rank high among those nations who put young people into prisons for committing serious offenses such as jumping over a subway turnstile in order to avoid paying for the ride. His study reports that by the age of 23:

49% of black males
44% of Hispanic males
38% of white males

have been arrested for a non-traffic “crime” and thus earned a police record. The record for women is somewhat better:

20% of black females
18% of white females
16% of Hispanic females

have been arrested. A similar study in 1967 placed the figure as closer to 22% for our youth. So, what has changed? The answer is simple– we have become a nation obsessed with arresting people for horrible offenses such as underage drinking. We believe there is crime and to prove the point we arrest, arrest and arrest people for “crimes” that most societies would find other ways other than prison to handle.