July 9, 2013
By Alan Saly
A recent article by Neal Tepel talked about "the rising inmate population" in our prisons, and the need for additional staffing to protect jail guards. It cited a recent GAO report that found the prison system to be over capacity in terms of population and inmate to staff ratios.
According to wikipedia, "since the early 1990s, crime has declined in the United States, and current crime rates are approximately the same as those of the 1960s." So why are inmate populations rising? An illuminating answer can be found in the fact that incarceration due to the "drug war" has increased sevenfold over the past 20 years. Most of these are non-violent offenders.
Another uncomfortable fact is that more than half of prison and jail inmates have a mental health problem. Many inmates' mental health is aggravated by their time in jail, especially the common practice of solitary confinement. Organizations like the National Religious Campaign Against Torture have called for an end to the use of solitary except when needed to protect the inmate from other inmates (such as the case of a child molester). Yet the use of solitary confinement as a means of punishment has increased by 17% between 2008 and 2013. A recent UN report found an estimated 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails.
It would be humane for the AFGE to join the call for a total ban on the use of solitary confinement for vulnerable populations including persons with mental disabilities and youth, because its prolonged use is really a form of torture. It would also be humane for the AFGE to push for the release of prisoners to other types of programs who have committed non-violent offenses and have symptoms of mental illness.
Their continued incarceration damages them and damages our reputation as a humane and civilized nation.