Independence Day. Today we celebrate our freedom, our liberty, and our pursuit of happiness.
Speaking of liberty, though, how will America's over two million prisoners celebrate July 4th? In addition to those declared truths we hold to be self evident, it is equally evident that 2,085,620 people will be imagining a spectacular fireworks show from within their prison cells. How ironic --- and depressing --- that the country reputed for its love of liberty (symbolized by the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell) "de-liberates" a greater percentage of its population than any other country in the world.
As we recognize the day our country declared itself free from the shackles of King George III (not to be confused with our present-day King George), we should consider the following: in 2006, the only other country that incarcerates more than one million people is China (America still out-incarcerates it by half a million inmates). America imprisons 1.3 million more people than the country with the world's third highest prison population (Russia); 6 times as many people as the country with the 4th highest (Brazil); and of the 11 countries that incarcerate over 100,000 people (there are 193 countries in the world), only 3 incarcerate more than 350,000. Just think, the country with the 6th highest prison population (Ukraine) incarcerates 198,386 people; the United States, over 2 million.
The size of America's prison population cannot be explained away by the fact that it has one of the world's largest populations. The United States incarcerates 714 people per 100,000, whereas the countries with the next highest rates per capita imprison less than 535 (Russia, Belarus, and Bermuda), a rate 25% lower. In fact, of the seven most populous countries (China, India, United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), only the United States is in the top 23 (at number 1) in incarceration rates per capita. Of the 24 most populous countries, America is joined only by Russia in the top 23 in incarceration rates.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: "let Facts be submitted to a candid world".
The facts submitted above lead to a candid conclusion: America may be independent, but the land of the free? Hardly.
So in addition to our annual flag-waving, parade-marching, and firework-watching, we should reflect upon our failed criminal justice policies, and start thinking of new approaches to crime, policing, rehabilitation, addiction, community-building, public education, economic opportunity, race, and class, so that when we call our country the "land of the free", we do not sound like hypocrites.