The US bears the international embarrassment of having the highest incarceration rate and the highest sheer numbers of incarcerated people of any country on earth. This is in spite of the US population being dwarfed by China and India and also, the US still being the wealthiest country on Earth. Go figure!
We should decriminalize all drugs and turn a fraction of the money spent on drug enforcement toward drug counseling and treatment. Society will receive much more bang for the buck. Non-violent drug use is not a criminal issue, but an issue of public health.
In recent decades, much has been learned about psychology, happiness and human growth & development. Rather than prisons being harsh and punitive environments that result in people being more troubled when they come out than they were when they went in, prisons should be environments of nurturing, growth and healing with every effort made not to punish, but to transform criminals into happy, vibrant, productive members of society. The regimented structure of prison life should be the perfect, monastic environment for a rigorous daily program of learning, growth and healing.
This is not to say that prisons should be like country clubs. Indeed, in certain respects, prison life should be more harsh than it is presently because those in prison would be forced to confront their inner demons. That can be extremely difficult!
Those refusing to participate in such a program can be transferred to a different and harsher facility for those sociopaths who are beyond repair and realistically should remain locked up for the rest of their lives. Being transferred to the harsher prisons will essentially be like being thrown into a hole with a bunch of animals, but the good news is that anyone who wishes to can transfer from the harsh prison to the growth & healing prison, but once there, they must conform to a rigorous program of personal psychological growth & healing work.
Part & parcel with this reform of the criminal justice system would be the long-overdue reversal of the upward redistribution of wealth that has been going on in the US at least since Reagan became president. It will do little good to reform and heal victims of an unjust economic paradigm only to release them back into the system that screwed them up in the first place. (For more on this see the section on Economics.)
As it costs more to send a person to prison than to send them to college, the intelligent choice for society is clear: Put the attention and financial resources into salvaging damaged people rather than being vindictive and mean-spirited enough to want to keep kicking them while they’re down.
As with the police, prison guards and other staff should be vetted to remove those whose demeanor and temperament are not conducive to the nurturing and healing of people in prison.
Obviously, the privatization of the prison industry should be reversed, as corporations making money on people being locked up have no interest in truly rehabilitating criminals or reducing recidivism.
A Little More On Drugs
There is an innate human desire to change one’s consciousness. Look at children spinning themselves around so as to become dizzy or countless adults who enjoy 2-3 alcoholic beverages at a sitting.
The problem is when a person’s default, naturally occurring state of consciousness is significantly less happy than the sensation produced by drug use. Under that condition, a person will very likely be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to the point of it being a problem.
Visualize a scale of human happiness where number one is extremely sad and number ten is extremely happy. Perhaps an average person would be at five on that scale. If drugs or alcohol move a person up to a six or seven, then they’ll very likely want to do those things. The trick is to develop one’s consciousness so as to raise the naturally occurring, default state of happiness up to an eight or nine – at which point, drugs will lose much of their appeal.