What is the meaning of the term “mass incarceration”? If it means “too much incarceration,” then what is the correct level? Those who use the term have no real answer, it seems to me, nor do they have any desire to find one. For most, it is sufficient if the words serve as an epithet that accuses law enforcement and the criminal justice system of unfairness.
The term in a previous iteration zeroed in on the arbitrary nature of detentions, such as the Soviet Gulag or the internment of Japanese Americans at the outbreak of World War II. Today, those who use the term rely heavily on the fact that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This high rate of incarceration represents a serious societal challenge. But concern over the number of incarcerated is quite different than concluding that the rate signifies wrong-headed criminal justice policy, unfair enforcement or arbitrary sentencing. Isn’t a failure to hold individuals accountable for predatory behavior an assault on the rule of law and a grave injustice to the victims of crimes?
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