Today the New York Times ran an op-ed about how some states are treating the problem of raging incarceration rates through community programs that help low-level offenders get jobs and life services. Here, Too Sense talks about what may have taken these states so long:
Part of the reason for America’s sluggishness on prison reform is that the problem of crime is racialized–so that crime becomes an issue of protecting white people from black people. Nixon’s "law and order" campaign was largely premised on framing the problem of crime in this fashion. Note the racial disparities in the demographics of drug users and those imprisoned for drug offenses. While white people are far more likely to be illicit drug users than black people, blacks make up a disproportionate amount of the American prison population… The racial disparity in prison contributes to the lack of empathy Americans feel for incarcerated people, which is in turn exploited and exacerbated by like minded politicians. Simply put, your elected officials exploit racist stereotypes about blacks and crime to justify failed punitive policies rather than effective ones.