It is not without irony that President Obama recently announced his plan to offer two free years of community college.

Not only does the U.S. have the highest incarceration rate in the world, with a national incarceration rate of 707 adults per every 100,000, but in fact has more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities.

The Washington Post gives the sobering stats: 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities on top of 3,200 local and county jails, a total of approximately 5,000. This is compared to 4,599 degree-granting universities as of 2011. In areas like the South, there are more people in prisons than on college campuses, according to the Post.

How did we get to this point?

In short, it is due to the sheer number of unconstitutional federal laws that are enforced not only by the feds, but through the states as well.

In particular, the War on Drugs bears a huge burden of responsibility for the glaringly high prison population. Between 2001 and 2013, more than half of prisoners serving sentences of more than a year in federal facilities were convicted of drug offenses, compared to 16 percent in 1970. In 2012, drug offenders comprised 16 percent of the total state prison population.

But this is just one of many federal laws, which are so numerous that repeated attempts at counting them all have failed. One two-year study tallied up 3,000 criminal offenses, but it was only an estimate.

This concern is shared by both the left and the right. Progressive sites like the Huffington Post correctly blame the War on Drugs for the high prison population.

As the number of people convicted of drug offenses has gone up, the federal prison population has increased — almost 790 percent since 1980, when there were only about 25,000 inmates, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report. Today, there are more than 215,000 inmates in federal prison, the BOP reports.

Meanwhile, mainstream conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have highlighted the ridiculous number of federal laws (even if their solutions are impractical), pointing out that the number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code increased from 3,000 in the early 1980s to 4,000 by 2000 to over 4,450 by 2008.

Unfortunately, the states have only aided in the problem by assisting the feds in enforcing these laws.

It’s time for Americans to put an end to the mass incarceration of their fellow citizens by nullifying federal drug laws, as well as any and all unconstitutional federal laws. Not only is this the “rightful remedy,” as Thomas Jefferson saw it, but is indescribably more sensible than trying to “vote the bums out” in D.C. and hope the new bums will change the status quo. That method has been tried and failed.

A good place to start is getting states to pass legislation effectively nullifying federal drug laws or through noncompliance i.e. anti-commandeering. Between October 2012 and September 2013, 27.6 percent of drug offenders were locked up for crimes related to marijuana.

America claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” but as long it has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and most of those imprisoned are there for violating unconstitutional federal laws, such sentiment will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

TJ Martinell

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