The United States has more people in prison per capita than any other country in the world, with an incarceration rate of 6.66 persons per thousand, compared to Israel in second place, with a rate of 2.65. Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.

Currently the United States houses more than one-half of the global prison population. Recent attention has been focused on the number of people imprisoned for minor offences. As such, a large proportion of the United States prison population have been incarcerated for offences that would see them fined or punished through alternative means in other developed countries.

The war on drugs combined with mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines have been a disaster for our youth and society at large. These policies have been especially devastating to minorities. We have built a prison industrial complex that is costly, racist, and ineffective.

It has been proven time and again that for every $1 spent on education, prevention, and treatment, we save a minimum of $7 on unnecessary incarceration and hospitalization. We need to be able to allow local judges to determine best courses of action, freeing their hands of mandatory sentencing. I believe we should:

  • Shift policy toward drug rehabilitation for users. A focus on high-level drug traffickers would have a positive societal effect while also lowering the country’s incarceration rate.
  • Legalize marijuana to reduce populations for first-time drug offenders.
  • Outlaw “for profit” prisons that encourage throwing people in jail. For-profit prisons must be closed.
  • Study and adopt Scandinavian approaches of rehabilitation. The substantially higher level of investment in such programs has resulted in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland ranking among those countries for whom the incarceration rate is the lowest.