Yet another theme running through the Democrat primary this year is the idea that America locks up too many people. We’re an incarceration nation according to the American Psychological Association. We lock up more people per capita than any other nation in the world, which is seen by many progressive observers as a symptom of deeper illness or fundamental evil in the American brand, primarily because the inmates are viewed as being disproportionately people of color. This has led a group of activists, including some inner city police officials, to take their case directly to the President. (Mother Jones)

The United States has way too many people in jail. Our incarceration rate of about 500 prisoners per 100,000 people is the highest in the world, and those who are locked up are disproportionately people of color. A new group, including some of the law enforcement heads from some of the biggest cities in the country, will urge President Barack Obama on Thursday to help them to lower those rates, while also increasing public safety.

“We’re incarcerating the wrong people, and we’re measuring the wrong things,” said Garry F. McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, during a question-and-answer session with reporters in Washington on Wednesday. He was in the capital for the meeting with Obama and the public launch of a new organization of law enforcement officials that is calling for massive changes to the criminal justice system.

Much of the conversation revolves around people arrested for drug related crimes. These are viewed in some quarters as largely “victimless crimes” which signify some sort of mental disorder on the part of the suspects rather than criminal activity, leading for a push to put people in treatment rather than jail. And who knows? There may be some people who could be straightened out in that fashion, but clearly not all of them.

Case in point: Tyrone Howard, a New York City resident, was arrested last October for selling crack to an undercover cop. He had been arrested 28 times since age 13, previously convicted four times for felony drug charges and had been arrested (though not convicted) in a shooting. The judge, apparently unaware of the shooting arrest, was convinced that Howard was a victim of the drug culture and should be put into a treatment program rather than going back to jail.

On Tuesday he shot NYPD Officer Randolph Holder in the head, killing him. And people are not happy that he was out on the street. (Yahoo News)

“Once you met him, you loved him,” Holder’s cousin, George Johnson, said. “He was respectful. There was nothing not to like about him. Everything about him was good.”

Earlier, a visibly angry Commissioner William Bratton described Howard, 30, as a dangerous career criminal who never should have been on the streets, calling him a “poster boy for not being diverted” to a treatment-oriented drug court instead of to prison.

But the judge who referred Howard to the diversion program said he had no reason to believe Howard was violent.

“Why is this guy at least a candidate (for diversion)? Because nothing else has worked,” state Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin said.

Because nothing else has worked? What sort of an excuse is that? Tyrone Howard should be the poster child for everyone debating this “we arrest too many people” movement. Every time we hear about overcrowded prisons the conversation seems to turn to marijuana, but how many people actually go to prison for smoking pot anymore? You’ve probably got to be moving around hundreds of pounds of the stuff before you see any significant time in jail and if that’s what you’re doing then the chances are that you’re up to other crimes and probably need to be locked up. Heroin and crack, on the other hand, are far more serious matters than marijuana and lead to high rates of other crimes associated with their use, transport and sale.

So you say we lock up too many people. What exactly are we supposed to do with them? Put them in unrestricted “treatment” programs like Mr. Howard? And you say that too many of the people locked up are minorities. To that all I can say is that we arrest the people who are committing the crimes. If crime is most rampant in impoverished inner city neighborhoods then the odds are you’re going to run into more minorities. It’s not about race… it’s about failed urban management policies and a lack of jobs. But the solution clearly isn’t to simply throw up our hands and say we should tell the cops to stop arresting people.