Even “Oppressive” Countries Incarcerate Fewer People
We rightly condemn communist countries like China and Cuba for their abuses. Their policies are considered brutal and contemptuous of freedom. They single out people they disapprove of and imprison them. We have higher rates of incarceration than those countries. China and Russia are considered extremely oppressive governments, yet their COMBINED incarceration rate is still lower than that of the USA.
When released, they are ill-equipped to adjust to life after prison. The false notions of rehabilitation and having paid one’s “debt to society” are belied by the fact the outside world continues to punish for life. It’s no wonder they return to prison. Even when people are eventually released, they face life-long struggles. They don’t qualify as formal “punishment”, but they are known as “collateral consequences”.
Long-lingering financial obligations hold back people after release. Their families are dragged down with them. Jobs for “ex-cons” are scarce and low-paying, so poverty is almost assured. Housing options are restricted. Social stigma remains strong after release. We punish people for life after conviction, so the imaginary “debt to society” can never be paid.
Crime is routinely viewed as immoral choices resulting in undesirable behaviors, a violation of personal responsibility which causes harm to others. It’s not that simple. In addition, many crimes require no one and nothing to be harmed, except for that harm caused by the government. People are not in a vacuum sealed off from every influence in society.
People With Problems Shouldn’t Be Treated As Problems
We must choose to reduce prison populations and criminal punishment, in general. “Throwing the book” at “criminals” and “throwing away the key” simply does not work and only satisfies our most vindictive, hateful impulses. Meanwhile, we are destroying millions of lives directly and millions more indirectly. That is a characteristic of an oppressive country, not a free one.
We think of ourselves as freer than any other country. Not only is that not true itself, we suffer from issues we could readily address. We must face the underlying contributors to crime. Diverting funds from criminal punishment to serving people at higher risk of incarceration would be a far better policy. We lack only the decision to change.