America is the land of the free, but to many around the world, it’s known as the incarceration nation.
“One out of four incarcerated people on the planet Earth are here in the United States,” explained senator Cory Booker. “The United States criminal justice system is a cancer on the soul of our country.”
In America, we imprison those who are often marginalized by society. According to Booker, our prisons are overwhelmingly full of Americans with mental illnesses, who are also struggling with addiction, survivors of sexual assault, and low-income. They are also disproportionately people of color.
“Since 1980 alone, the federal prison population has grown over 800%,” he said. “When you disproportionately arrest and incarcerate certain communities that has a lifetime effect on folks. In fact, what we do to the people in this country who have nonviolent offenses is giving them, in a sense, a lifetime punishment.”
Building new prisons to accommodate these mass incarcerations is also financially straining on the country, and the billions of dollars that are spent on prisons could be going toward public safety, education, and other social programs instead.
However, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a new criminal justice bill called The First Step Act with support from the left and right, including the ACLU and the Koch brothers. Booker says the bill is a step in the right direction and helps deal with mass sentencing, creates productive programs in prison, and champions the rights of prisoners.