Pubdate: Tue, 22 Feb 2000
Date: 02/22/2000
Source: Pantagraph, The  (IL)
Author: Matthew Koglin

On Tuesday, February 15, twenty students gathered in the cold on the
Illinois State University quad to call attention to a significant
milestone in American criminal justice history. On Tuesday, America
locked up its two-millionth prisoner.

Perhaps it is the incomprehensibility of such great numbers that has
allowed the incarcerated population of our country to reach this
incredible mark.

Our incarcerated population is now larger than the population of the
state of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska,
Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota,
Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming, and larger than the populations of
Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska combined.

Imagine if instead of watching the New Hampshire primaries on TV, you
watched the construction of massive, fenced, guarded cages in which to
lock up the entire state's population. The economic and social costs
would be staggering, yet nearly twice as many people are incarcerated

The United States has a larger percentage of its population in prison
than any country on Earth. Well over sixty percent of federal
prisoners are non-violent drug offenders, mostly first time offenders.
1 out of 35 Americans is now under the control of the Criminal Justice
System. If present incarceration rates hold steady, 1 out of 20
Americans, 1 out of 11 men, and 1 out of 4 African American men in
this country today can expect to spend some part of their life in prison.

The average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender is
longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank
robbery and even manslaughter. As our prisons rapidly fill far beyond
capacity, rapists and murderers are being given early release to make
room for "no parole" drug offenders.

Ladies and gentlemen, can you see what our country is doing? Can't you
see that it's wrong? History will not praise our drug and crime
policies. More likely, future students will shake their heads in
disbelief, wondering how 20th century America could be so blind, so
self-destructive, for so long and at such a cost.

Matthew Koglin

Note: Matthew Koglin is president of the Illinois State University chapter
of Students for Sensible Drug Policy