Friday, August 9, 2013
Good afternoon to all of our friends:
Crane-Station is winging her way to Seattle today to visit her family. She will be checking in from time to time and promised to post some Frog Gravy chapters while she’s there. She returns next Thursday.
Nikko and I will be tending the home fires. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, we won’t burn the place down.
I just finished reading The Caging of America, by Adam Gropnik and I recommend all of you read it. The article was published in the New Yorker magazine.
Mr. Gropnik writes,
For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.
The numbers are mindboggling. In 1980, we incarcerated 220 people per 100,000. Over the next 30 years, that rate more than tripled such that by 2010, we incarcerated 716 people per 100,000. Among major countries, Russia is a distant second place at 484 people per 100,000. The incarceration rate for countries in the developed world averages around 100 per 100,000 with some countries incarcerating people at substantially lower rates.
There are opportunities to profit from building and operating prisons. Indeed, privatizing prisons is a growth industry. The corporations that own and operate prisons are only interested in maximizing profits. They could not care less about conditions in the prisons and are strongly opposed to any changes in existing laws that might decrease prison populations. They spend millions on lobbyists each year to influence state and federal legislators to criminalize more conduct and increase the length of the sentences. As Gropnik points out,
No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:
“Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
According to a study conducted two years ago in Washington State, even though blacks and whites commit crimes at similar rates, blacks are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to prison compared to whites. Incarceration of blacks is the new slavery.
More women are also being incarcerated. According to the Sentencing Project,
The number of women in prison increased by 646% between 1980 and 2010, rising from 15,118 to 112,797.
Including women in local jails, more than 205,000 women are now incarcerated.
The rate of violent crime has not increased since 1980. Wikipedia reports:
Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release. These policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, but instead yielded high rates of confinement for nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. 49 percent of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses. Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.
Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.
Please keep those donations coming. Although our situation is not as desperate, we are not out of the woods yet.