...America, as more and more people are starting to realize, is indecently over-incarcerated. We lock up far more people per capita than any nation even close to our size: roughly 2.4 million men, women, and children. The financial toll of mass incarceration is irresponsible; the human toll is unconscionable.
We haven’t always been this way: Just 40 years ago, our incarceration rates were much lower, and on par with our peer nations. Since then, however, our prison population has ballooned by about 700%. What happened four decades ago that led to such a steep climb? We launched the so-called War on Drugs.
The full scope of how badly we lost that “war”—and how ill-advised it was to launch it in the first place—began to dawn on me in 2012, when I served as executive producer for Eugene Jarecki’s documentary The House I Live In. At the time, the War on Drugs had cost $1 trillion and led to 45 million arrests. Since then, those numbers have only risen.