A fascinating article by Adam Gopnik in New Yorker magazine on the American penal system, including some scary facts and figures – like, that the population of the US prison system, if residing in a single city, would make that the second largest city in the US. It covers, very articulately, a lot of ground, including the historical, philosophical and political drivers of penal policies, relationship to crime rates, and what could help reduce the incarceration rate. Some of the last are really simple, like reducing the opportunities for crimes to be committed.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a few of my favourite quotes:

“Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes … Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.”

“Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures … Merely chipping away at the problem round the edges is usually the best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently, and, eventually, you get to its heart.”

“A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.”

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