I just got done reading an article on salon.com that discussed Jim Webb and how he is advocating prison reform (or a reform of the entire criminal justice system, according to Webb’s website). Webb is truly remarkable. Here are some excerpts from his speech on the Senate floor:
Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world.There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice. . . .
The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%. The blue disks represent the numbers in 1980; the red disks represent the numbers in 2007 and a significant percentage of those incarcerated are for possession or nonviolent offenses stemming from drug addiction and those sorts of related behavioral issues. . . .
In many cases these issues involve people’s ability to have proper counsel and other issues, but there are stunning statistics with respect to drugs that we all must come to terms with. African-Americans are about 12% of our population; contrary to a lot of thought and rhetoric,their drug use rate in terms of frequent drug use rate is about the same as all other elements of our society, about 14%. But they end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison by the numbers that have been provided by us. . . .
Another piece of this issue that I hope we will address with this National Criminal Justice Commission is what happens inside our prisons. . . . We also have a situation in this country with respect to prison violence and sexual victimization that is off the charts and we must get our arms around this problem. We also have many people in our prisons who are among what are called the criminally ill, many suffering from hepatitis and HIV who are not getting the sorts of treatment they deserve.
Importantly, what are we going to do about drug policy - the whole area of drug policy in this country?
And how does that affect sentencing procedures and other alternatives that we might look at?
It is about time someone decided to do something about this issue. The article in salon.com pointed out what makes this so remarkable. Prison reform is not a very popular issue, especially in Webb’s home state, Virginia. He is a first-term senator who barely won, and won largely because George Allen said macaca. Politically, this is a horrible move. It’s risky and could cost him his job. The only possible reason he is doing this is because it needs to be done. Too often we allow our politicians to get away with doing the wrong thing because of political considerations when we should expect more people to be like Jim Webb.
Salon makes the point that Webb may not care about reelection. He is talented enough that he doesn’t need this job. He can spend six years doing things he believes in and be happy instead of spending his entire political career compromising himself to get reelected. It is incredibly refreshing, especially after reading study after study about the political considerations that guide politicians actions this semester. Webb is simply doing the right thing. That, my friends, is heroic.
I strongly recommend reading the salon.com article here: Jim Webb’s courage vs. the “pragmatism” excuse for politicans
And by the way, what was with Obama’s non-answer answer of a marijuana legalization question? He could have at least answered it seriously and said why he is not in favor of decriminalization.
I wish more people were like Jim Webb.
Enjoy Seth Rogen in Monsters vs. Aliens.
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