As the U.S. system of mass incarceration takes an ever-greater toll on budgets and communities, more social scientists of all ideological leanings are calling for lesser prison sentences and alternatives to prisons. An extensive New York Times report on this phenomenon tells the story of Stephanie George, who is serving a sentence of life without parole for her alleged nominal role in a drug deal. It was a sentence Reagan-appointed Judge Roger Vinson didn’t even want to dispense, but his hands were tied by mandatory sentencing schemes. Aside from making the U.S. the number one jailer in the world, here are some of the other shocking facts about the nature and impact of U.S. mass incarceration featured in the report:
- Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., 500,000 are locked up for drug offenses – ten times more than there were in 1980. Researchers have found that these lock-ups have no concurrent effect on the illicit drug supply, as demand remains the same and replacement dealers are easy to come by.
- Some 41,000 people in the United States are serving the once-uncommon sentence of life in prison without parole – a harsh punishment that is reserved in many other countries for only the most heinous crimes. In England, only 41 people are serving this sentence.