On last night's Colbert Report, an amazing moment occurred when Stephen Colbert raised a major social issue that U.S. mainstream media assiduously ignore: the huge U.S. prison population. The issue quickly disappeared due to the apparent ignorance of Stephen's guest: Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, in charge of "Democracy, Human Rights and Labor."
In a sometimes jokey interview, with Posner discussing China's various human rights abuses (including prisoners), Colbert tried to steer the conversation to human rights problems in our own country.
COLBERT: We've actually got more people in prison than China does.
POSNER: Well I'm not sure that's true.
Colbert's assertion is indisputably true. Posner's denial is false. Does the State Department's man in charge of human rights not know the facts?
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According to statistics gathered by the authoritative International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States has by far the largest prison population in the world: almost 2.3 million people behind bars. China's prison population is second in the world: roughly 1.6 million.
The United States is also number 1 in the world in its "prison population rate": 748 inmates per 100,000 citizens. Russia is 3rd. China is tied for 114th.
This is a U.S. human rights problem of enormous proportions. Our bloated prison population has many causes: the "drug war," mandatory minimum sentencing, poverty, racism. And there are corporate profits to be made from "The Prison-Industrial Complex" -- as independent journalists like Eric Schlosser began documenting a dozen years ago.
Wouldn't it be great to see this issue tackled by some mainstream TV voices . . . other than Stephen Colbert?