Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blue Ribbon Time for Mass Incarceration

You know something is officially a major social problem when Congress creates a "blue ribbon" commission to study it. This week we can celebrate the official coming of age of mass incarceration as a social as the Senate Judiciary Committee, prodded by Jim Webb (D. Va.) voted to create a commission of experts to study why America has the world's highest incarceration rate and why so many non-violent crimes result in prison sentences (see the NYTimes editorial praising the vote).

Don't break out the champagne just yet, becoming a major social problem does not mean the problem gets solved. The blue ribbon commission on mass incarceration just might join the long chain-gang of blue ribbon commissions on topics like the deficit and national educational decline. This is especially so when the rhetoric behind this commission makes so much of "drug offenders" who while the most politically appealing face of the mass incarceration problem (think polar bears and climate change) are hardly the core of it.

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