Imprisoning Our Own: 8 Shocking Facts about American Incarceration


The United States calls itself the land of the free, but you’d never know it from looking at our justice system. In fact, even a cursory review of the direction of our dollars will make any reasonable person wonder what this nation’s goals are for incarceration.

To resolve our great economic, environmental, and psychological woes – to shake out systemic ecological ills – will take an empowered, educated nation. I don’t know if the question is “Can Obama do it?” so much as “Will we remember that we can?” Like many of you, I’m very hopeful that we can draw upon our strengths and work together to implement meaningful changes in the coming months and years – before it’s too late. The prison system is yet another illustrative example of why we must rethink our priorities.

PhotobucketFor every U.S. dollar spent on higher education, 60 cents are spent on corrections.

PhotobucketWe have the highest number of prisoners per capita (1 in 140), and the absolute highest number of people behind bars in the world (over 2 million people).

PhotobucketWith over 2 million Americans in jail or prison, we’re half a million ahead of China, whose population is quadruple ours. Supersize it!

PhotobucketNot exactly #1. For being the most prosperous country in the world, education spending in the United States ranks a paltry #38 in the entire world, lagging far behind Jamaica, Denmark and Cuba…which holds the top spot. Yes, Cuba.

PhotobucketAnd who are these heinous criminals anyway? One fifth of prisoners are locked up for non-violent personal drug charges. Incarceration is frequently for marijuana or painkiller use; if that seems arbitrary, you’re not alone in being confused. (We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes, however. Remember Prohibition?)

PhotobucketIt costs between $20,000 and $30,000 per person, per year to keep someone behind bars, and about $65,000 for senior citizens. You could easily send a few deserving kids to state college for that much money.

PhotobucketYou can bet someone is making money off of this: our government contracts management of prisons to private corporations. Corporations need to turn a profit, and the more prisoners they have, the more money they’ll get. It’s big business.

PhotobucketIt only makes sense that prisoners receiving education behind bars are less likely to return to a life of crime upon release. Why not spend more on education in the first place? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

We have some big choices to make as a country: it’s clear that education can help to prevent an individual from entering a life of crime. It’s also clear that non-violent drug charges have imprisoned a great many Americans at high taxpayer cost, and the War On Drugs has long been considered a failure. What is the real purpose of prisons anyway: containment, rehabilitation or profit?

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts regarding this information? What changes would you like to see enacted?

At EcoSalon, we believe that living green is part and parcel of a larger cause: one that champions ecological wellness in its full meaning, seeking to integrate all the different aspects of life into a sustainable, thriving whole. Last weekend’s shopping trip, tomorrow’s dinner, today’s interactions with others – “going green” is just one function of being in balance. Ecological sustainability requires that we always seek to examine purpose. And that’s why, when we learn information like this, we believe it is vital to bring it into the conversation.

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