This past Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison; just a few days earlier, he commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders. Both are steps forward in transforming our wrong-headed criminal justice system, but they are just that: steps. Our state and local governments must follow the president’s lead and transform our destructive “War on Drugs” into the public-health campaign it always should have been.
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.