Pubdate: Mon, 29 Sep 2003
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2003 St. Petersburg Times
Author: William W. Douglas


Re: Ashcroft: Go for more jail time, Sept. 23.

Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have a
higher percentage of our population behind bars than any country in
the world. According to Amnesty International, our prison population
has tripled in the last 15 years. Our prison population, as a
percentage of our national population, is now three times larger than
Iran's, five times larger than Tanzania's, and seven times larger than
Germany's. For identical crimes, America metes out sentences that are
longer than those of any other industrialized nation.

Increasingly, according to Amnesty International, American prisoners
are subjected to electrical and chemical torture by prison guards, and
to rape by other prisoners. The result of this brutalization is a
vicious circle of higher recidivism, higher crime rates and higher
costs of maintaining prisons.

None of these facts seems to disturb the sleep of Attorney General
John Ashcroft, who wants to see our prison population rise even more.
He not only wants federal prosecutors to seek longer sentences, but
wants prosecutors to give him reports on judges who don't share
Ashcroft's desire for longer sentences. Ashcroft seems to derive some
incomprehensible pleasure (Schadenfreude as Germans call it) in
overseeing and adding to this social crisis.

If Ashcroft feels no sense of national shame in America's role as the
world's most incarcerated nation, the rest of us certainly should.
There is no pride to be taken in imprisoning millions of Americans or
in giving them longer and more brutal prison sentences than any other
industrialized nation. The fact that the targets of Ashcroft's
punitive personality are disproportionately black and Hispanic (and,
lately, Middle Eastern) makes his policies even more

We do not need more prisons. We do not need longer prison sentences.
And we most definitely do not need an attorney general with an
uncontrollable passion for punishment. Instead, we need economic and
social equity, and we need to recognize that our national honor will
come from building a just society that neither needs nor wants so many
of its citizens in prison.


St. Pete Beach
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