From the sources I’ve looked at, America has the largest reported prison population in the world. These sources argue that we have become a punitive nation. According to the Department of Justice (see http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm), as of June 2005, we have 2,186,230 prisoners in Federal or State prisons or in local jails. (I’m not sure if this number includes the “secret” CIA places and military prisons, etc.) I couldn’t find the number of prison facilities in the U.S., but I do know it is a growing number. Seems to be on its way to becoming big business. I hear people say, “America is the freest nation on earth,” but when I look at prison statistics, something doesn’t make sense. It’s too easy to go to prison here. And since 9/11, it seems to have gotten easier. We’ve replaced morality with “law.” Even the media sometimes talks like a Puritan official. Anyway, here is an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” I believe Wilde knew something about prison, and this quote certainly gives us something to think about.
“The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
Bloom well in Prison air.
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there.
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair.”