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Koch Institute’s Vikrant Reddy On The Prison System

Where did we go wrong with the prison system in the United States? How does a country that values freedom, end up with the highest incarceration rate out in the developed world?

Even more important, is prison the best way to reduce crime? Intuitively, one would think that locking offenders in jail is a great way to reduce crime, it provides an incentive to obey the law and prevents the lawless population from committing crimes at least for the duration of their prison sentence.

But Vikrant Reddy, Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, takes a bold stand suggesting that prison itself may be the wrong approach for most criminals. In a recent interview in NYC at ImpactNYC‘s event on Criminal Justice Reform,  Reddy suggested incarceration may be effective in only some instances; but as it stands today, tough prison sentences exacerbate the problem of crime.

It’s a complex issue and certainly a difficult one to untangle, but Reddy suggests that harsh prison terms leave offenders scarred and marginalized for life. Parolees leave prison with no opportunities for employment and they often return to crime as the only avenue for survival. At the end of their sentences, parolees have no formal job training, no savings, no positive social network; and prison is certainly not the place to learn self-respect, manners, or how to behave in civil society. If the goal is to produce responsible self-directed citizens, prison is the last place to achieve it.

“At a certain point, incarceration becomes counterproductive”

If prison breeds crime, then our extraordinarily high incarceration rate does not bode well for the future. In fact, we may eventually see crime rates rise dramatically if Reddy’s concerns turn out to be true. But many question the claims that our incarceration rate is particularly high. The following statistics make it clear that there is no doubt that we have one of the highest incarceration in the world, even if there is error due to lack of transparency in some countries.

Perhaps one reason we have so many citizens in prison, is that there are simply too many laws.

Does the United States have the highest incarceration rate in the world?

No, they do not. The United States has the second highest. The tiny nation of Seychelles, which also tries and incarcerates Somali pirates, has the highest rate in the world, squeezing past the United States. The U.S. takes the lead rather handily after that.

US Tops Incarceration RatesEven this listing doesn’t make the United States outlier status entirely clear, because it was selected somewhat randomly, it is just a list of countries and places around the world that would be familiar to most readers and yet operate with a variety of economic and political systems.

Out of 221 countries and territories, only seven have an incarceration rate that is above 500 per 100,000 of population. They are Seychelles, U.S.A., St. Kitts, Turkmenistan, Virgin Islands, El Salvador, and Cuba. This is hardly the company one would expect the leader of the free world to keep.

And even that statistic fails to demonstrate the true outlier status of the United States in terms of incarceration. There are only 70 countries on the list of 221 that incarcerate more than 200 citizens out of every 100,000.

75% of the countries and territories worldwide incarcerate fewer than 200 citizens per 100,000.

89% of the world incarcerates fewer than 400 citizens per 100,000.

If the United States is aiming for world leader status in social dysfunction, the expansion of the prison state is one of the best ways to get there. It is tremendously expensive and wasteful on a dollar-cost basis. It is even more wasteful in terms of human dignity and achievement.

Ancient Grains Are Becoming The New Food Trend

Ancient grains are fast becoming the new food fad among Americans, but as the name suggests they’ve been feeding people around the world for centuries. Their rise in popularity is thanks in part to their health benefits, but mainly because they’re extremely fashionable.

The new fashion food trend is taking off in a big way in the United States, claims The Economist, and is being used in everything from cereals, salads, breads and crackers to pizza, quiche and light snacks.

According to Oldways’ Whole Grains Council, ancient grains are those that have remained unchanged for thousands of years. The category includes “teff, and pseudograins, such as quinoa, and seeds, such as amaranth. Pseudograins are non-grass seeds that are used in the same way as cereal grains. Edible seeds are a larger category that includes grains, legumes, and pseudocereals.”

A recent HealthFocus International survey, highlighted by Today’s Dietitian, found that 35% of Americans are interested in ancient grains. They’re high in protein and fiber, rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and some are gluten-free. They can grow and thrive more easily than wheat, and they require less maintenance and irrigation, which means a lower carbon footprint, making them an environmentally-friendly option.

Cafe GratitudeFood preferences - ancient grains - quinoa, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles, has incorporated menu options from einkorn and Kamut, and side dishes include brown rice and quinoa. Einkorn and Kamut are types of wheat, and have escaped being meddled with by humans and scientists for hundreds of years. Quinoa is an already established name that has taken off in a big way.

This fad for ancient grains is spreading way beyond California, right across the country in fact. General Mills has introduced a Cheerios + ancient grains breakfast cereal containing Kamut, quinoa, oats and spelt, while Ronzoni has created a pasta using amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. Quinoa is a regular on the menu of restaurants across the United States and grains once used to feed animals, like millet and sorghum are creeping onto our menus.

According to The Economist, it is too early to tell whether ancient grains are more than just a fashion food faze. Statistics show that global quinoa production rose from 58,000 tons in 2008 to 193,000 tons in 2014, so there is a growing market but it is still significantly smaller than rice, wheat or maize.

Research has shown that it is consumers who drive change in diets, and they have a taste for what is fashionable. Ancient grains might be the latest fad now, but next year it could be something else.

Environmental and Social Business Responsibility

Companies across the globe are demonstrating they can show environmental and social responsibility without government regulatory “encouragement.” To at least 348,000 bold leaders, creating a sustainable future makes good business sense.

Social and environmental responsibility - BrandsStella Artois is one of the 348,000 forward thinking leaders supporting Sustainable Brands, a collaboration of bold innovators committed to environmentally and socially responsible business practices. In 2015, Stella Artois initiated the Buy a Lady a Drink campaign in partnership with to raise awareness of the global water crisis. This year, the company is amping up their commitment to having a bold impact by announcing the goal of providing 3.5 million people with sustainable access to clean water by 2020.

In another exciting joint venture, to celebrate World Water Day, Stella Artois and National Geographic are raising awareness of the global water crisis through a documentary, Our Dream of Water (premiering on NATGEO on March 22). Crystal Moselle, winner of the 2015 Sundance Jury Prize, directed the film. Working on this projected triggered another socially responsible objective. “Having partnered with Crystal throughout the making of Our Dream of Water, I have seen how impactful female filmmakers can be when sharing the stories of other women around the world,” commented Harry Lewis, Stella Artois’ vice president. “Our commitment doesn’t end here. Through Stella Artois’ partnership with Women in Film we’re going to continue this legacy of supporting female filmmakers, like Crystal, who are using the power of film to provoke change.”

By exercising brand power, a documentary from Stella Artois and Nat Geo shines light on the Global Water Crisis.

Sustainable Brands is the collaborative effort of bold business leaders across the world committed to conducting business in a way to assure “a sustainably abundant future” for all. Since 2006, the organization has fostered innovation for sustainability through live and online events, learning groups, an online resource library, and access to member solutions providers.  Change drivers from the world over will attend this year’s annual conference, Redefining the Good Life, May 22 – 25 in Detroit, Michigan.