Tag Archives: prison

Cronkite on War on Drugs

Walter Cronkite died today. I’ll remember him by what he fought for:
It surely hasn’t made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people…disproportionately people of color…who have caused little or no harm to others – wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort – with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clich├ęs of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we’ve become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

5% population, 25% prison population: U.S.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia met with people who work in prisons:
But once we were inside the presentation room, where about a dozen people who work in corrections and social services had assembled to talk about the criminal justice system, Webb’s evident passion and fluency with the issues created a palpable bond with the attendees. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the people in prison,” he said. “Either we’re the most evil people on earth, or we’re doing something wrong.” As for the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders: “I saw more drug use at Georgetown University Law Center when I was a student there than I’ve seen anywhere else in my life,” he said, to knowing laughs. “And some of those people are judges.”

Webb then listened as attendees enumerated the various dysfunctions, injustices and perverse incentives created by the metastasizing prison-industrial complex: “I can get $600,000 from the state for a new jail,” said Fredericksburg Mayor Tom Tomzak, “but I can’t get $40 for Healthy Families.”

We need to change that.

U.S. Leads the World and South Leads the U.S.: In Prisons

incrt.gifAccording to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of sentenced inmates incarcerated under state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population has increased from 139 in 1980 to 507 in 2007. That’s more than tripled.

That also gives the U.S. the highest per-capita prison population of any country in the world. Also the biggest prison population; bigger by far than China or Russia:

The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world. Even though the United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates.
prisonstudies-org.jpg And in the U.S., according to the Institute for Southern Studies, the South has even higher prison populations per capita.
When it came to locking people up, Louisiana leads the South, and the South leads the nation. Simply put: the South has more of its population in prisons or jails than any other part of the country.

Since 1980, the country’s prison population has quadrupled to more than two million, with the South accounting for nearly half of that increase. The prison population increase can be attributed largely to “tough-on-crime” criminal justice policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. Among them are mandatory drug sentences, “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” laws for repeat offenders, and “truth-in-sentencing” laws that restrict early releases. These draconian policies uniquely hurt the South, especially where enacted with key backing from “get-tough-on-crime” lawmakers (resulting in, among other things, the disenfranchisement of millions of potential Democratic voters).

208px-Federal_Prisoner_Distribution.png The effects of the Drug War and its resulting surge in incarceration were also especially hard-felt in the South. By 2000, nine of the 20 states with the highest incarceration rates were in the South. And by 2008, 10 of the 20 states with the highest rates were in the South. Prevention, treatment and re-entry programs have been slashed while prison budgets continue to rise.

The racial disparity of these policies has been tremendous: Nationally, black adults are four times as likely as whites to be under correctional control. One in 11 black adults — 9.2 percent — was under correctional supervision by 2008. And because the majority of African Americans live in the Deep South (the highest populations are in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia respectively), the racial disparities of “get-tough” policies have been disproportionately felt there.

It seems that crime and punishment is now a dominant industry in the Deep South. By 2008, the top five states with the highest adult incarceration rates were in the South: Louisiana leads the way, with one out of every 55 residents behind bars. Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama finish off the top five.

So, even if, as the VDT says, jail deaths in Lowndes County, Georgia, are no higher than in Fulton or DeKalb Counties, why are the jail populations in all those counties so high in the first place?

Is it because there are more criminals in the South? Apparently not:

Dealing out longer sentences and putting more people behind bars have been the hallmarks of Southern states, Gelb told CNN. “The huge differences between states are mostly due not to crime trends, or social and economic forces,” he said. “The rates are different mostly because of choices that the states have made about how they respond to crime.”
The ISS article goes on to suggest several alternatives already tried and shown to work in Texas and other states.