Prison Nation

America, Prison Nation

 

According to the lead editorial in the NY Times 3-9-08 citing a recent Pew Center on the States study, the United States leads the world in the percentage of it's population that is imprisoned--more than 1 in 100 Americans is in prison or 1.6 million people. One in 9 black men, ages 20 to 34 are serving time. The figure for Hispanics men is 1 in 36. The states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections, up from $11 billion in 1987,

The Times editorial says "These statistics point to a terrible waste of money and lives. They underscoret the urgent challenge facing the federal government and cash-strapped states to reduce their over-reliance on incarceration. The Key, as some states are learning, is getting smarter about distinguishing between violent criminals and dangerous repeat offenders, who need a prison cell, and low-risk offenders, who can be handled with effective community supervision, electronin monitoring and mandatory drug treatment program, combined in some cases with shorter sentences."

The growing trend toward for profit prisons owned and operated by private corporations, acording to the Times, presents an obstacle to convincing legislators to adopt a more rational approach to sentencing and prison policy.

Although crime rates have fallen since the 1990s, incarceration rates are up.Widely disparate sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine possession have contributed to the disproportionate percentage of black men in prison compared to whites. The U.S. Supreme Court recently took a small step toward rectifying this discriminatory and costly sentencing policy.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/opinion/10mon1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs other Nations

 

The United States has 5 percent of the world population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison.html?_r=1&ex=1366689600&en=74632d45e9a363fb&ei=5089&partner=rssyahoo&emc=rss&oref=slogin

Racial Inequity and Drug Arrests

Editorial 

Racial Inequity and Drug Arrests

Published: May 10, 2008 
The United States prison system keeps marking shameful 
milestones. In late February, the Pew Center on the States 
released a report showing that more than 1 in 100 American 
adults are presently behind bars - an astonishingly high 
rate of incarceration notably skewed along racial lines. 
One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 are serving time, as 
are 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men.
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The Board Blog
 
 
Additional commentary, background information and other 
items by Times editorial writers.
Go to The Board » 
Now, two new reports, by The Sentencing Project and Human 
Rights Watch, have turned a critical spotlight on law 
enforcement's overwhelming focus on drug use in low-income 
urban areas. These reports show large disparities in the 
rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned 
for drug offenses, despite roughly equal rates of illegal 
drug use. 
Black men are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned 
for drug convictions as adult white men, according to one 
haunting statistic cited by Human Rights Watch. Those who 
are not imprisoned are often arrested for possession of 
small quantities of drugs and later released - in some 
cases with a permanent stain on their records that can 
make it difficult to get a job or start a young person 
on a path to future arrests.
Similar concerns are voiced by the New York Civil Liberties 
Union, which issued a separate study of the outsized number 
of misdemeanor marijuana arrests among people of color in 
New York City. 
Between 1980 and 2003, drug arrests for African-Americans 
in the nation's largest cities rose at three times the rate 
for whites, a disparity "not explained by corresponding 
changes in rates of drug use," The Sentencing Project finds.
 
 In sum, a dubious anti-drug strategy spawned amid the 
deadly crack-related urban violence of the 1980s lives on, 
despite changed circumstances, the existence of cost-saving 
alternatives to prison for low-risk offenders or the 
distrust of the justice system sowed in minority communities. 
Nationally, drug-related arrests continue to climb. In 
2006, those arrests totaled 1.89 million, according to 
federal data, up from 1.85 million in 2005, and 581,000 
in 1980. More than four-fifths of the arrests were for 
possession of banned drugs, rather than for their sale or 
manufacture. Underscoring law enforcement's misguided 
priorities, fully 4 in 10 of all drug arrests were for 
marijuana possession. Those who favor continuing these 
policies have not met their burden of proving their 
efficacy in fighting crime. Nor have they have persuasively 
justified the yawning racial disparities.
 
All is not gloomy. Many states have begun expanding their 
use of drug treatment as an alternative to prison. New 
York's historic crime drop has continued even as it has 
begun to reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders in 
prison, attesting to the oft-murky relationship between 
incarceration and crime control. In December, the United 
States Sentencing Commission amended the federal sentencing 
guidelines to begin to lower the disparities between the 
sentences imposed for crack cocaine, which is more often 
used by blacks, and those imposed for the powder form of the drug. 
The looming challenge, says Jeremy Travis, the president of 
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is to have arrest and 
incarceration policies that are both effective for fighting 
crime and promoting racial justice and respect for the law. 
As the new findings attest, the nation has a long road to 
travel to attain that goal.
More Articles in Opinion »

3-29-09 Hellhole by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people....

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people....

“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” ...

The criteria for the isolation of prisoners vary by state but typically include not only violent infractions but also violation of prison rules or association with gang members. The imposition of long-term isolation—which can be for months or years—is ultimately at the discretion of prison administrators. One former prisoner I spoke to, for example, recalled being put in solitary confinement for petty annoyances like refusing to get out of the shower quickly enough.The criteria for the isolation of prisoners vary by state but typically include not only violent infractions but also violation of prison rules or association with gang members. The imposition of long-term isolation—which can be for months or years—is ultimately at the discretion of prison administrators. One former prisoner I spoke to, for example, recalled being put in solitary confinement for petty annoyances like refusing to get out of the shower quickly enough....

One of the paradoxes of solitary confinement is that, as starved as people become for companionship, the experience typically leaves them unfit for social interaction. Once, Dellelo was allowed to have an in-person meeting with his lawyer, and he simply couldn’t handle it. After so many months in which his primary human contact had been an occasional phone call or brief conversations with an inmate down the tier, shouted through steel doors at the top of their lungs, he found himself unable to carry on a face-to-face conversation. He had trouble following both words and hand gestures and couldn’t generate them himself. When he realized this, he succumbed to a full-blown panic attack....

The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels. America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons. An additional fifty to eighty thousand are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures. By 1999, the practice had grown to the point that Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia kept between five and eight per cent of their prison population in isolation, and, by 2003, New York had joined them as well. Mississippi alone held eighteen hundred prisoners in supermax—twelve per cent of its prisoners over all. At the same time, other states had just a tiny fraction of their inmates in solitary confinement. In 1999, for example, Indiana had eighty-five supermax beds; Georgia had only ten. Neither of these two states can be described as being soft on crime.

Advocates of solitary confinement are left with a single argument for subjecting thousands of people to years of isolation: What else are we supposed to do? How else are we to deal with the violent, the disruptive, the prisoners who are just too dangerous to be housed with others?

As it happens, only a subset of prisoners currently locked away for long periods of isolation would be considered truly dangerous. Many are escapees or suspected gang members; many others are in solitary for nonviolent breaches of prison rules. Still, there are some highly dangerous and violent prisoners who pose a serious challenge to prison discipline and safety.

Exerpted from Atul Gawande's article in the New Yorker 3-29-09

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Comments 19 comments

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Excellent, excellent information, as always, well presented and documented. Seems to me we've set the fox to guard the henhouse once again-- ah well why am I not surprised at the injustice of the American justice system. We all know that the law in its majesty arrests both rich and poor alike for sleeping under bridges( can't remember who said that, Dumas maybe???) Anyway so true. Thanks for yet another thought provoking hub.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment. There's an old Colombian saying that "The law is a mad dog that bites only the poor." However, that's not always true witness the downfall today of Elliot Spitzer.


pgrundy 8 years ago

Great hub Ralph! When I read that NYT article I thought, geez, why don't we just start sending young black men straight to prison when they hit puberty? It's total insanity. What a horrible waste. I can't believe what this country has become.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Very sad. Too many "wars on." I wish our politicians would stop using that expression, because when they do they seem to be affected by brain fade, narrowing their thinking about solutions to military ones as in the case of terrorism and long prison sentences in the case of drugs. Another one that tends to lead to similarly poor and often ridiculous results is "Zero Tolerance."


flread45 profile image

flread45 8 years ago from Montana

You might want to visit a prison and talk to both sides,Prisoner and Staff before you start believing every thing you read. Most people in prison know what they are getting themselves into before they get arrested.Most young,from all colors are affiliated with a GANG,and are required to Rob,Maim and Kill another person to stay in the Gang.Also are required to do time in Prison as a learning tool to follow orders,from their superiors..


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Well, my impression is that the prisons aren't doing their job, and many small time drug offenders could be dealt with more effectively in treatment programs than in prisons. Whatever the reason, the answer isn't putting more people in jail for non-violent crimes for longer sentences. Other countries imprison far fewer people than we do. BTW, I've never before been accused of "believing everything I read." I would be interested in hearing more about how and where you gained your knowledge of prisons.


Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

LOL After serving jail time for exceeding a speed limit, your numbers come as no surprise to me :D


sandra rinck 8 years ago

The United States has 5 percent of the world population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners!

Are they all citizens of the states? Just wondering. Creepy stat.


Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

No, I am not a citizen :D


sandra rinck 8 years ago

your not a criminal either. LOL.


Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

Apparently USA officials think otherwise :P


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Philadelphia Police Department must have recruited officers from Abu Ghraib!


Lorrie B. profile image

Lorrie B. 7 years ago

Whoa!!! Someone above suggested that people who go to prison tend to know what they're getting into and choose such a lifestyle. Evidently that writer has not been to San Diego? Prisons are FULL of individuals who did NOT "choose a criminal lifestyle". Suggesting that the only people who are in prison are those that SHOULD be simply feeds the stereotype of prisons and the convicts they house. There is injustice afoot, folks...even here in the good ol' USA.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago Author

Very true. Thanks for the comment.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Justice Department figures released Tuesday showed the overall state and federal prison population is at an all-time high of 1.6 million and is still rising, but the rate of growth is slowing as states look for ways to cut the cost of justice.


William R. Wilson profile image

William R. Wilson 6 years ago from Knoxville, TN

I remember reading one of the studies you refer to.

The US imprisons more people per capita than China, Saudi Arabia, or any other country. Even crazier, we have more people total in prison than China. China has 1 billion people, and fewer prisoners.

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worl...

Land of the free indeed.


Amez profile image

Amez 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I really appreciate your work on this major problem that plaques this great nation, but every day men such as your self, expose alittle bit more of it camaflouge, and there will be aday that those do have decieved the masses will have thier day of reckoning, thats if the God Lord doesn't call thier ticket sooner, I believe his patience is running a bit short lately. MAy Your writting continue to be blessed.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Amez and William. The treatment of undocumented immigrants is perhaps the worst of all.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

"The Cost of Solitary Confinement"

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/opinion/the-cost...

New York’s policy on isolation is inhumane. The prison system needs clearer guidelines from the State Legislature as to when isolation can and cannot be used.

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