We have more incarcerated people in numbers AND percentage than any other country. Any other country! And, according to today’s story in the Washington Post, “One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars.” What an unconscionable loss to society.

This is staggering. And shameful.

Sure. Locking up tons of people will help keep crime down. But seriously…can’t we see something is very wrong with this picture? Do we really have the worst people on the planet?

Of course not. But I think this points to the hard truth: we are ignoring the root causes – and they won’t go away until we do something major that gets at the real problems and disparities. It’s not about locking more people up…it’s about jobs and opportunity and overcoming class and other barriers. It’s about that very small, recently much-ridiculed word: hope!

And it probably also has something to do with our core values, where money, fame, perpetual-youth, and our definition of success have become more important than creating a society where all people can feel valued just being who they are. A society where we make sure those who are less fortunate are not reviled but respected as human beings. A society where winning is not everything, and where differences complement each other to weave the rich social fabric, as this country is meant to be. Those things translate to society as a whole; they are not isolated.

When did we become so vehemently at odds with each other? When religion separates and politics divides, where is the hope? It certainly is NOT in our prisons.

We should be so ashamed.

Luckily, states are looking to reduce their numbers of incarcerated folks by opting for alternative, less-costly programs that seem to work. Is this because of an awakening to all that we could be as a nation and a realization of what we have settled for? Oh pshaw! It’s because of state budget problems.

But I’m a practical person. If that’s the reason, it’s a good start. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to tackle the core problems once and for all…as long as it takes. Believe me, more prisons is not the answer.