Friday, February 29, 2008

We are the world's biggest jailer

By Libby

It's beyond me how anyone can still call America the "land of the free" when the latest figures reveal 1 in 100 Americans are in jail. Our president hypocritically lectures oppressive regimes about human rights when in fact the population at greatest risk of incarceration is right here in the USA.

So is this because we have a more violent society? As dday explains, well -- no.
...[L]awmakers are learning that current prison growth is not driven primarily by a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the population at large. Rather, it flows principally from a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular "three-strikes" measures and other sentencing enhancements, keeping them there longer. Overlaying that picture in some states has been the habitual use of prison stays to punish those who break rules governing their probation or parole.
The rules violations that send these people back to jail for impossibly long jail terms can be for something as small as missing a meeting with their PO or perhaps some petty crime like stealing a slice of pizza. Meanwhile, this "dumb on crime" approach leads to overcrowding so severe that truly violent offenders are released to reoffend again, which they often do. But the costs don't stop there.
And when sentencing laws eventually produce an overwhelming fiscal burden on the state (the cost of housing prisoners has jumped from $10 billion in 1987 to $44 billion last year), there aren't many choices: cut education or health care or social services to compensate, or contract the job out to private for-profit industry to reduce the expense. Of course, then those industries become reliant on "new customers" for their bottom line, and legislators are again pressured into increasing sentences, and the death spiral continues. There is a direct line between the campaign donations of the private prison industry and the states with the strictest sentencing laws.
This harebrained policy is driven largely by the new prison-industrial complex that contributes heavily to politicians and is supported by small communities whose economic security depends on housing the prisons.

What's missing in the reactions to this story is the nexus between the war on marijuana and prison overcrowding. The root of the problem and the solution both lie there. Non-violent marijuana offenders make up a large percentage of the population. The communities who benefit from prison expansion are largely those who formerly thrived on agricultural enterprises. The obvious fix would be to legalize marijuana and industrial hemp.

These communites could then make a living on raising farm crops again instead of on caging their fellow Americans. Furthermore, the industry would be contributing revenue to the tax base, rather than sucking tax dollars out of the municipal coffers simply to punish our citizens for non-violent, non-infringing lifestyle choices.

[cross-posted to The Reaction]

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14 Comments:

Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

As long as the cage rattlers can keep us incensed and obsessed about crime and as long as politicians can capitalize on being "tough" it will persist.

In my opinion, the root cause of all our woes is stupidity and the ability of politicians to keep us outraged. We don't ask why; we just turn out in the street with pitchforks and lanterns like extras in some Frankenstein sequel looking for the monster, the witch, the heretic and it will go on until nature finally cleanses the planet of its greatest evolutionary failure.

Not that I'm a pessimist :-)>

9:36:00 AM  
Anonymous lester said...

speaking of the police state

http://www.badmovies.org/forum/index.php/topic,118167.0.html


^final draft of my "punishment park" review thingy

9:59:00 AM  
Blogger For Obama '08 said...

We need a radically different sentencing system. First, no death penalty. Simply a waste of money. I suppose I could tolerate it, barely, if there's irrefutable DNA evidence, but that would be it. Also, incarcerate ONLY those who've committed truly violent acts - murder, rape, beatings, etc. Burglary and drug crimes - just community service please. We're overcrowding the jails with non-dangerous people who have addiction problems. Also, let's get rid of hate crimes, both against minorities and police -- both ends of the spectrum are covered here. Murder is murder is murder. The "hate" portion of it should be taken care of in the sentencing part of the trial under the auspices of aggravating or mitigating circumstances. For example, a white may kill another white out of pure hate; a white may kill an African-American, a cop, or a gay person in a robbery gone awry. The first example has aggravating circumstances; the second may have mitigating ones. But having separate hate crime laws could lead overzealous prosecutors to unnecessarily make the second scenario a hate crime when it is not.

11:27:00 AM  
Blogger ECOPHOTOS said...

My contrarian’s position: We should up the inmate rate to more than 3 percent to accommodate the Bush/Cheney war criminals and their minions.

3:17:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Why not just send the Bush Mafia to Iraqi jails? Hell, we outsource everything else.

9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Vleeptron Dude said...

Hi Libby et al,

I admire Reuters enormously, so I sent them a complaint about their coverage of this story:

http://vleeptronz.blogspot.com/2008/02/reuters-scrubs-those-hard-to-reach.html

In all the presidential campaign debates, Republican and Democratic, has any questioner -- pro journalist or "YouTuber" -- even raised the issue that the Land of the Free has the world's largest Gulag?

Reuters was helping keep our American elephant in the bathtub, and keep our prison the way it is (growing) as business as usual.

Before I die, this is my tawdry, trivial dream: To live in an America that has the SECOND largest prison population on Earth.

11:12:00 PM  
OpenID expatbrian said...

Think of how this population would be increased even further if we eliminated plea bargains. I agree mostly with Fogg here. We humans has proven over and over again that we are not smart enough to solve our own problems. We just creates more problems for ourselves and every other living thing on the planet. Once we have succeeded in wiping out each other, the remaining species can resume a natural life cycle.

While I have fond memories of my 'head' days, I don't think legalizing con sah will have any dramatic impact on prison populations. Any spaces left open will be immediately filled with other, more deserving inmates. Plus, the way I read the report, crack is a much larger contributor to the prison population than is the killer weed.
In any case, the mind blower here, is that the world's 'most free' society incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet. I can't wait to read the foreign presses take on that.

12:46:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Fogg, it's surely the politicians, aided and abetted by the media that keep "the people" so stupid.

O08- we clearly need reform.

SC, we could simply replace the non-violent offenders with the entire administration to keep the percentages intact.

Vdude - good for you. We should all complain to the wire services more.

Brian - actually marijuana offenses contribute greatly to the overall population. The crack issue is that they get draconian sentences relative to powder coke. Legalization of ALL drugs would reduce the gulag considerably but in terms of how to create and alternative economy for prison towns, only weed would work.

Lester - that was a great review. It made me want to see both movies. If you're auditioning for a slot there though, I would clean up the few typos.

7:39:00 AM  
Anonymous rockync said...

Because I work in a large jail, I guess I'll throw in my two cents. First, legalizing drugs would eliminate about 1/3 of our population if the drugs were cheap and readily available so that the ensuing B&E, shoplifting or purse snatching weren't committed to obtain drug money. Would the place be filled up with more violent offenders? Probably, but after interacting with some of these; I hesitate to use the term "people", I'm glad they are in jail and not on the streets with my loved ones, and you should be, too. These are very bad hombres.
Even with the problems in our system, I still support a death penalty. I think there should be strict criteria, but I still think it is necessary for eliminating dangerous, wild animals from our midst. Ted Bundy would have never stopped killing young women. How many families and communities lost a bright star because of him? He may have looked like a human, but he was not; he was the bogey man. He's not the only one out there either.

1:33:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Thanks for the support on the drug angle Rocky but I'm afraid you lost me on the death penalty. There's just too many cases that have been overturned by DNA evidence on convictions based on flawed eyewitness accounts and prosecutorial misconduct. Better to lock up the Bundy's for life rather than kill innocent victims of our injustice system out of fear for our safety.

5:25:00 PM  
Anonymous rockync said...

As we've seen time and time again, they don't always stayed locked up for life. And there are people who should never have the chance to find a way back into society. Although I do think we need more stringent criteria in order to invoke the death penalty, I'm against rescinding it. Although you and I walk pretty much the same path for a time, we always seem to find a divergent fork now and again.

7:53:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

LOL Rocky. That's probably good. We cover more ground that way.

8:45:00 PM  
Anonymous rockync said...

That's right, and if we are on different paths, we won't be able to fight that much. :)

9:18:00 PM  
Anonymous lester said...

libby- thanks I gave a shoutout to vleeptron in it, not by name though

10:34:00 AM  

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