The line sounds impossible. How could we ever do without imprisoning offenders? Surely, we would be overrun by criminals unchecked by even a non-violent punishment such as incarceration. We have become a society formed by repression, repression of our fears and our prejudices and our wounds. We fear the criminal. We hate the other, especially those we see as part of another race or class (or, even more disturbingly, we hate the other who is part of the class we believe we should no longer be a part of). We destroy ourselves with drugs and alcohol, abuse of our loved ones, and medically destructive life styles. So we incarcerate and repress.
The practice we have adopted is pathological. We currently hold either the 1st or 2nd place in the world in terms of the percentage of our population held in custody, depending on whose numbers you read. Freedom is not a value in the United States of America. Only if we ignore the fact that many of our criminals are non-violent offenders, medically and psychologically in need rather than a threat to you or me, do we have even the shadow of a chance of grounding our penal practice. The fact is that as a nation we are very sick. We destroy lives rather than listen and cooperate to see all our members flourish. We are more like a viral infection than a citizenry.
Incarceration is a crime. It has no rehabilitative value in almost all cases. Dehumanizing a woman because of, in many, if not most, cases, psychological disorder is hateful. And literally millions are being dehumanized via forced confinement in the United States. If this issue is not the most pressing issue of our time, it certainly reaches to the top of the list. Our nation must reform. Not to do so is to risk a guilty blindness to a political and moral tragedy playing out on our own land. Imagination and tolerance and science are our only way forward.