Geez — hard to believe so many Americans are in jail.
But not hard to see why, based on my state’s experience with its pioneering and decidedly draconian ‘3 strikes law,’ a ballot initiative crafted, promoted, and heavily backed by the once-sleepy prison guard’s union. When it passed, and politically motivated prosecutors pumped up their records by sending tens of thousands of nonviolent/non-serious offenders (more than half of third strikers) to prison for 25-years-to-life by ‘charge-stacking’ on those who’d previously had a felony conviction, the prison population exploded, well-connected construction contractors went on a prison-building spree on taxpayer money, and the prison guard union went from nobodies to the 800 pound gorilla of California state politics for many years (which helped fuel the disastrous years of tough-talking but free-spending Republican governors it’s taken California years to recover from — but that helped turn California from purple to deep blue). Some examples of 25-to-life sentencings? Stealing a slice of pizza. Trying to steal a pair of work gloves from a Home Depot. You know, scary, dangerous crimes. =/
Since the 1970s, California’s prison population grew by 750% while the general population only grew 80%. The prisons and jails were hugely overcrowded and conditions were so bad that the federal government repeatedly investigated and ordered reforms. Finally, the economic burden became unsustainable and a much-needed reform package has begun the ‘early’ release of many nonviolent, non-serious offenders.