Ethicist Jacob Appel has noted a decline of mercy, and a concomitant increase in retribution, in American public life. Appel has written:
One of the glaring -- yet too often overlooked -- failings of contemporary America is that we have become a nation obsessed with justice and retribution. We claim to be The Land of the Free, yet we have lost sight of what it means to be imprisoned: denied liberty and access to one's family, subjected to isolation and violence and unspeakable boredom. We have come to believe, in the most pernicious way, that people should get what they deserve. What a sea change it might be in our public discourse and our civic life if we focused instead upon mercy and forgiveness. A merciful and forgiving culture might find itself with less anger, less social disruption, and even less crime.
Historically, America offered redemption to the felon and the criminal: Head West, face horrific dangers, and let your past be forgotten. The nearest thing we have left like that is Alaska. Americans have been fleeing justice to the frontiers since the days that Louisiana was still the frontier.
The percent of the U.S. population in jail is the same as for a third world dictatorship. Our pursuit of 'Justice' has served us ill. We've managed to lock up an astonishingly large number of people, on an astonishingly racist basis (the percent of the black population far exceeds that of the white). California has managed to lead the race, and is now bankrupting itself attempting to pay for it.
Florida has attempted to cement the permanent debasement of our population by denying former felons the vote. That begs the question--if someone served time for their crime, are they not exculpated of it? If they are not, then why are they out of prison? If they emerge before what is deemed proper penance has been paid, why are we imprisoning them in the first place?
If we hope to have a system of 'penitentiaries', rather then prisons, to reform and rehabilitate, there needs be some system of reformation, where the convict can regain some sort of normal social standing. Otherwise, by imprisoning people, it serves only to provide the close association and duration of acquaintance to initiate people into the fraternity of felons, and thereby harden them into permanent criminals.
It pleases me to no end that the 'drug war', while not ended, is slowly being wound down. An end to maximum minimum sentences would also be of great help.