Re “Prison Nation” (editorial, March 10):
The United States prison population is out of control. Minimalist efforts such as alternatives to incarceration and parole reform may be politically palatable, but they will have no significant effect.
The real magnitude of this issue can best be grasped through comparison with incarceration rates in Western Europe. The United States incarceration rate is five times that of Britain or Spain. If we reduced our prison population in half, then in half again, and finally in half again, we would have fewer than 300,000 men, women and children in our prisons and jails, rather than 2.3 million, yet our incarceration rate would still be greater than that of Germany and France.
The only way to meaningfully reduce our prison population is to decriminalize drug use and provide drug substitution and treatment to those in need. A national program of harm reduction is the only way to reverse what you have aptly described as a “Prison Nation.”
Robert L. Cohen
New York, March 11, 2008
The writer, a former medical director of the Montefiore Rikers Island Health Services, was appointed by the federal courts in Michigan, Connecticut and New York to monitor the medical care of prisoners.