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News & Politics

Sky-High Prison Rates in America

— February 11, 2022

What’s sold in one area as a cure for grandma’s arthritis is still considered a Schedule 1 Drug by the government under the Controlled Substances Act. 

I find it highly ironic that the highest incarceration rate in the world belongs to the United States, a country known as The Land of the Free.

Like most people, I never paid much attention to the issue until it affected me. Now that it has, I’d like to bring a stronger awareness by writing articles. I currently am in prison. More on that later. 

The United States of America has more citizens locked up per capita than any country in the world. The competition is not even close. We have about six times more than Communist China, and three times more than Authoritarian Russia. 

According to the Sentencing Project, two-million Americans are in prison. That boils down to 639 people per every 100,000 US citizens behind bars. El Salvador comes in second with about 570 per 100K. 

The lowest, in order, are: Canada at 104, France 83, Germany 69, Denmark and Sweden both at 68, and last is India with just 35 people in prison per 100,000 citizens. 

To be blunt, the United States has essentially been treating its population as grist for the mill for several decades now. Our incarceration rate dwarfs other countries. Prisoners have even been turned into financial commodities with for-profit prisons. 

It wasn’t always like this. Incarceration rates shot through the roof, beginning in the 1980s. Did crime suddenly take over the streets? No. The political winds changed, deeply affecting sentencing law and policy. More people were incarcerated, for longer periods of time, for less significant infractions. 

The War on Drugs labeled a huge swath of normal Americans criminals. Millions of people and their families had their lives upended as we treated both recreational users and addicts under a criminal justice paradigm rather than a medical one. 

Today, nearly half of all federal inmates are incarcerated due to violations of drug law. As marijuana becomes legal throughout the country, we still have forty-thousand U.S. citizens imprisoned for it. What’s sold in one area as a cure for grandma’s arthritis is still considered a Schedule 1 Drug by the government under the Controlled Substances Act. 

America’s history of racism became integrated into this story as well. This is not an opinion. Simply put, black and brown men are six times more likely to go to prison than white men. Scientific evidence shows that racism is often a significant factor with sentencing inequities. Scholars have dubbed the phenomenon the new Jim Crow. 

Now that I have presented all the bad news, let me give you the good news. In the last few years, these shocking statistics finally started trending downward. This didn’t happen by accident, just like the rise in incarceration didn’t happen by accident. They are both due to deliberate changes in public policy. Advocates of people languishing in prison over minor offenses have had more than enough. They began demanding political change, and it has come. Slowly, as such things always do. There is still a significant gap to close before the balance of justice can be restored. 

I myself am not in prison for one of these minor reasons. I got 25 years for financial fraud. It’s a long story, but it’s already out there, so I’ll let you Google my name: Nik Patel. No, not the Indian actor, the guy in the federal penitentiary. 

I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking to make myself out as a victim, but when I see non-violent guys in prison for minor infractions, I have to ask myself if society is best served by locking these people up? 

No, I don’t think we are. In fact, I believe the practice is creating more problems than it could ever hope to solve.

Image via Maxpixel/claimed as public domain.

Politicians try to convince you it’s safer to lock ‘em up and throw away the key, but the truth is, harsh punitive policies breed resentment, destroy families, and cost an untold fortune in human misery and lost potential. 

We need to fix this. We need to make the phrase Land of the Free meaningful again. Changes in public policy happen when first, there are changes in public perception. This has motivated me, Nik Patel, to bring you important truths from inside the prison walls that the media overlooks. 

I see it every day. I want you to see it, too. 

Thanks so much for your time. 


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