Our nation is in trouble ‒ our prisons are operating at 41% over capacity across the United States. Serious questions must be answered as to how we are to combat such a problem. It seems that prison overcrowding is becoming more and more acceptable as the status quo of modern society, with little more than superficial, "band aid" solutions put forward by legislatures. With few sustainable solutions in view, some may fear that our society is becoming, more or less, a 'culture of incarceration.' Many societal phenomena have been attributed to this problem. Let's examine a few possible causes and attempt to discover how this problem began and why it persists to this day. One proposed theory charges legislatures (and the dubious lobbyist groups that influence them), which increase minimum sentences, as a primary cause; and another holds accountable the privatization of state and Federal prisons. Let us now briefly examine each of these two elements and their cultural impact on American society. Perhaps we may see if and how they have a proximate effect on the United States' problem with over-incarceration.
Minimum Sentencing Legislation
A hardline stance against crime (especially against drug offenders), emerged in the early 1970's, influencing legislatures in many states to adopt "zero tolerance" policies, and mandatory minimum sentences, in the decades that followed. The Nixon era spawned the "War On Drugs" ‒ a largely-failed policy, which has sought to eradicate illegal drug commerce, both in the United States, and in other countries that contribute to it.i Such programs were aggressively enforced and expanded upon by the Reagan administration in the 1980's.ii Prior to that, beginning with Texas in the 1970's, the U.S. saw the passage of "Three-Strikes" and similar legislation, in which certain felony (and some misdemeanor) offenses were classified as "strike offenses." Once an offender had been convicted of three or more, they would...