Never Mind Gitmo—the Real Prison Problem Is Here

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2009 9:20 AM CDT
Inmates at the Mule Creek State Prison bend down in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners August 28, 2007 in Ione, California.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – The collective freak-out over closing Guantanamo proves that Americans do care about prisons and prisoners, but Gitmo “is a mere speck in the eye of America’s larger prison program,” writes Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek. That’s why Sen. Jim Webb of the “lock ‘em up” state of Virginia is launching a campaign to overhaul the entire system. To see the problem, Lithwick writes, “Americans need only know how to count.”

The US has just 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. “Either we’re the most evil people on earth,” Webb likes to say, “or we’re doing something wrong.” Sixteen percent of inmates are mentally ill, and many, many more are nonviolent drug offenders. “If we’re so worried about locking up a few terrorists for life in maximum-security US jails,” Lithwick writes, “shouldn’t we be worrying about the folks who are already there?”