Saturday, December 5, 2009

Inspiration From Citizen Havel

Vaclav Havel, a playwright by profession, spent five years in prison for resistance to the Communist regime in Czechoslavakia. But in 1989, when waves of change swept Eastern Europe, he became one of the leaders of the "Velvet Revolution," and the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia.

A remarkable documentary film, Citizen Havel, follows his career as president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

At one point, the dissident-turned-president explains why it is necessary to speak out against a particular political practice that is based on false premises. When lies are not confronted, he argued, they can become the truth.

In the context of this blog, which is largely devoted to criminal justice issues, my question is this: Is America's off-the-charts incarceration rate (2.3 million in jail or prison) based on the false premise that this level of incarceration actually improves, rather than harms, public safety?

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