Race, Class and Prisons

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If you’re talking about our country’s racial disparities, or class disparities, at some point you have to talk about prisons. In fact, after a certain point, you can’t not talk about prisons.

We did two shows about the lives of black men in America – one that looked at the numbers and one that looked at the stories behind the stats. For a lot of the men we talked to, prison was a clear part of the well-documented constellation of broken homes, poor education, underemployment, and drugs. For these men, prison is not just a constant – increasingly, it seems like a lynchpin.

To reiterate the stats – prison rates are radically, racially disproportionate relative to the general population. Blacks are seven times more likely to go to prison than whites. (Hispanics are about twice as likely to go to prison as whites.) Rates of arrest, conviction, and sentencing are similarly disproportionate.

But common doesn’t make it natural. Crime rates have fallen in America, even as prison numbers have continued to rise. The astronomical growth in the number of prisons and the number of Americans incarcerated inside them (200,000 in 1970 to nearly 2 million today) is historically grounded in an increasingly punitive criminal justice system, mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, a political climate that mandates politicians be tough (or at least talk tough) on crime, and a rapidly de-industrialized economy that left the poor and undereducated with few good options for stable, well-paid employment.

Because prison rates are racially disproportionate, everything else gets thrown out of whack – especially the numbers about gainful employment post-prison, and the ability of the formerly incarcerated to reconnect with their families. And that’s just the beginning. Want to talk about the fact that most formerly incarcerated can’t vote? Or the fact that prisoners are counted not in the census of the places there from (usually urban) but the place where their imprisoned (usually white and rural or suburban)? Or that women who are imprisoned (again, disproportionately minority) routinely lose custody of their children? The list goes on.

It’s overwhelming, but we’re going to try to talk about this in the course of an hour. Where should we start, and where should we end up?

Update, 4/10/06, 2:18pm

In this morning’s story meeting we decided we felt compelled to focus tonight’s show on the scary possibility that the Bush administration may be planning some sort of pre-emptive attack on Iran. So the prisons show is still on track, but postponed one week to Monday, April 17.

After reading everyone’s comments and doing some pre-interviews, we’ve come up with one possible way to focus the show. avecfrites hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

It’s quite easy to say that locking up an offender removes him or her from the streets and therefore makes the country safer. But this ignores the more subtle effects of locking people up, such as the fact that more kids grow up without intact families and they then are more likely to act antisocially or criminally.

avecfrites, on the Open Source comment thread, 4/6/06

We’d like to talk about how prison impacts the lives of the prisoners, and the lives of the families they leave behind. And how that builds to larger consequences for their neighborhood, city, and the country as a whole.

Bruce Western

Sociologist, Princeton University

Author of the forthcoming book, Punishment and Inequality in America

Kathryn Edin

Sociologist, University of Pennsylvania

Author of the forthcoming book, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage

Did research in Camden, New Jersey on the impact of prison on the women and children left behind

Divine Pryor

National Co-Chair and Executive Director, Nu Leadership Policy Group, a criminal justice institute and public policy think tank whose leadership and faculty is comprised entirely of people who are formerly incarcerated

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  • h wally

    I think the statistics will only tell you so much. Behind every one of those numbers is a living person with a personal story. Don’t put on the blinders. This problem has its roots in every aspect of our society. I’d like to see us tie some of these topics together and see if we can learn something and perhaps even do something to make the world a better place.

  • avecfrites

    Behind this problem is our national penchant for simple answers to complicated questions. It’s quite easy to say that locking up an offender removes him or her from the streets and therefore makes the country safer. But this ignores the more subtle effects of locking people up, such as the fact that more kids grow up without intact families and they then are more likely to act antisocially or criminally.

    The oversimplification desire leads to faith-based initiatives, bumper sticker slogans, and lots of our current ills.

    One of the things I hold against Ronald Reagan was his popularization of over-simplification — he always seemed to be saying “if we could just get rid of all the eggheads then we’d have our simple society back.”

    The race, class, and prisons issue, like many important issues, is worthy of intense discussion, probing study, our best efforts. But unless we break the back of the oversimplification instinct it will never get these.

  • I would like to hear someone knowledgeable speak to the issue of privatization of the prison system.

  • Nikos

    Robin: thank you for keeping after this most appalling tragedy of the larger issue.

    This is an area where the pseudo-science ‘evolutionary biology’ and its offshoot called ‘behavioral genetics’ serves not merely no useful purpose, but a destructive one.

    To learn what the hell I’m talking about, try my favorite new book:

    What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee

    http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/petto.html

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006AG20/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=551440

    which stands on its head the nonsense that humans have ‘violence’ genes (and even, of all things, a genetic source for genocide!)

    I cannot recommend this book highly enough – especially since this thread runs the risk of accidentally tripping over some of the utter nonsense it debunks.

    Aside to Robin: were you taking poetic license with this?

    http://www.bartleby.com/61/75/L0177500.html

  • Nikos

    oOpS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    not ‘evolutionary biology’!

    EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY!

    big, big apology!

    double and triple ‘doh!’

  • I’d like to know more about prisons and mental health, especially the real-life stories and not just the numbers.

    I read on the Human Rights Watch homepage,

    “One in six U.S. prisoners is mentally ill. Many of them suffer from serious illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. There are three times as many men and women with mental illness in U.S. prisons as in mental health hospitals. ”

    “According to the 215-page report, Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness, prisons are dangerous and damaging places for mentally ill people. Other prisoners victimize and exploit them. Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness, such as being noisy or refusing orders, or even self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, such as isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis. ”

    http://hrw.org/english/docs/2003/10/22/usdom6472.htm

    http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa1003/

  • reality_bytes_it

    And after 2 shows on the subject it was impossible to get any credible arguement that the number one root cause is culture.

  • Nikos

    reality: I don’t disagree — but culture is molded by economic forces.

    Consider that this one ignorant Greek-American’s ‘law of culutral influences’.

    And remember, now: I’m self-admittedly ignorant! Even so, maybe “It’s the economy, stupid” isn’t so far off the mark after all!

  • Nikos

    Ignorant and a bad spelir tou.

  • reality,

    Why do you need to find a “root cause”? Can we really wrap up such difficult social/personal problems in an amorphous term like “culture”? And are you talking about American Culture?

  • I would love to hear someone talk about the Restorative Justice Programs used in Australia and elsewhere.

    http://www.aic.gov.au/crc/reports/strang/intro.html

    The fact that these programs which can reduce recidivism, help offenders reconnect with community and stay with their families, lower the costs of prison systems and general lead to a lot more healing has not even been a topic of public discussion in the US suggests that we just can’t let go of racism in this country. We used to enslave black people on plantations. Now we do it in prisons and ghettos. Its all a sort of psychogical warfare.

    I’m willing to bet that if the vast majority of people in prisons were white, we’d be open these ideas.

    On another note, I’d like to request that we refer to “people who have committed crimes” rather than “criminals”. It goes a long way to rehumanizing people, and remaining open to their potential, if you stop defining them by one or a few acts. Any chance you can get Chris to push for that with his guest and callers? Not to mention, that if someone has a mental illness – re:sidewalker’s April 6th comment above – its not appropriate to call her a criminal.

    Thank you.

  • reality_bytes_it

    Sidewalker – the reason why you identify a “root cause” is so that you can prevent a problem i.e. kids that eat to much candy / drink too many sodas get cavities so you try an influence them to not eat candy / drink sodas.

    And the culture that not just I, but at least 4 of the guests of this show, have tlaked about is African American Culture. You know, the one that FACTS show teaches black children that “marriage is for white people” so that the vast majority of black children grow up in poverty. The same culture that teaches black kids that it is “white” to suceed in school. How about Rap and Hip Hop?

    It is really incredible to me how people of intelligence can listen to this show and not agree that on the 2 shows on this subject that VAST MAJORITY of the time was spent, BY THE EXPERTS AS CHOSEN BY THIS SHOWS PRODUCERS, was spent discussing the problems with African American Culture.

    I guess that if Robin and the producers don’t like the answers to the questions that they get from the guests that the invite on the show they will just keep asking the questions until they get the answer that they want.

    Reports offer grim forecast for young black men

    The new books, and an earlier one from Harvard, find them losing ground in mainstream American society, despite advances made by black women, presumably part of the same socioeconomic experience.

    “The 1990s were an eye-opener,� said Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “You had the strongest labor market in 30 years; all things being equal, those were good times for African Americans. A lot of black moms were entering the labor market, but the dads kept dropping out.�

    He says solutions will be rooted in education and employment. “I think we need to emphasize three broad approaches: first, a range of education, training and youth development, especially in middle school and high school, to prevent boys from disconnecting and to prepare them for the labor market.”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12154123/

    So how do you educate a young black man when his culture tells his its “white” to do well in school? Or that being a sports or music star is the only way to get “respek”.

    So what is the “fix” for this root cause – how about a denunciation of the culture?

  • That’s an important point allison. Thanks for rasing it. We first criminalize in our minds and then turn this into institutional structures and the built environment. Too much naming, framing, shaming and blaming.

    In Japan people are always going on about illegal immigrants, as if they are serious criminals because they overstay their visas to help keep companies here rolling along and to help support their families. Maybe we need a show on what is legal and criminal and how this line has shifted back and forth over time.

    It reminds me of an old song from British Columbia (maybe this should be on the other thread…) Sorry if I have gone off topic, Robin.

    The Story of Weldon Chan

    There was an enterprising man. He lived in old Hong Kong.

    He thought he’d move to Canada, but here’s what he did wrong:

    He falsified a statement. That’s when the fuss began.

    Now he’s an outlaw and his name is Weldon Chan.

    Oh, ho ho Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Don’t you know the Mounties always get their man.

    Did he import bags of opium? Did he smuggle men and rice?

    Did he bribe a poor young lawyer? Did he run a den of vice?

    Did he play a crooked Majon game or cheat while at Fan Tan?

    No! He falsified a statement. That wicked Weldon Chan.

    Oh, ho ho Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Don’t you know the Mounties always get their man.

    Oh, mommy, mommy where is dad? Our home is incomplete.

    Why must you run this grocery store way out on Fraser street?

    Yes, old Weldon, dear, you must return and and face it like a man.

    “It’s never been so peaceful,” says cunning Weldon Chan.

    Oh, ho ho Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Don’t you know the Mounties always get their man.

    They looked for him in Newfoundland and in the Yukon, too.

    They’re searching in Nanaimo and up in the Caribou.

    I hear they’re going to ‘Frisco next and afterwards Japan.

    If it takes a century, they’ll find you Weldon Chan.

    Oh, ho ho Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Oh, Weldon Chan, where are you hiding?

    Don’t you know the Mounties always get their man.

    So, listen all you immigrants, don’t do it on the sly.

    Before do check with Interpol or maybe FBI.

    Be nice to Erin Fairclouth. Make sure there is no ban.

    Or else you’ll end up hiding like poor old Weldon Chan.

  • reality_bytes_it

    And then, we all should be disturbed by the euphemisms / lack of honesty in all of these discussions.

    Euphemism

    A euphemism is an expression intended by the speaker to be less offensive, disturbing, or troubling to the listener than the word or phrase it replaces, or in the case of doublespeak to make it less troublesome for the speaker.

    When a phrase is used as a euphemism, it often becomes a metaphor whose literal meaning is dropped. Euphemisms are often used to hide unpleasant or disturbing ideas, even when the literal term for them is not necessarily offensive. This type of euphemism is used in public relations and politics, where it is sometimes disparagingly called doublespeak.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism

    So, why don’t we insist upon informing young black children that the reasons that thier fathers are in prison are, in ~ order of frequnecy of crime:

    1) Drug Possesion (that they either paid for with money from govt assistence or from stealing from (in most cases) other black citizens)

    2) Theft (from (mostly) other black citizens)

    3) Murder (of (mostly) other black citizens)

    I mean where is the outrage? Every article that prints statistics about the imprisonment rates of black men in America should have footnotes that explain the facts notes above are they are, in effect, a lie.

    Then denouncing these actions might start moving the black culture where it needs to be.

    I think that the example in Iraq today is great. The foreign terroritsts are being driven out of Iraq by Iraqis becasue the average Iraqi, even Sunnis, have figured out that killing someone of your own religion / clan does no one but the foriegn terrorists any good. Sure, some have now decided that sectarian violence may do them some political good but it is a big change from the previous situation – Iraqi civilian deaths are falling dramitically each week.

    But the point is Iraqis (here I use this term, in general and for this analogy it really means Sunnis) decided that some sub group of there society was too dangerous and worked to drive them out.

    When will black culture decide that violent black men are not good for them?

  • Is there not a one-sidedness to your argument RBI? Y

    You seem to be saying that black culture (does this mean black communities?) and those on the left of all pursuasions don’t want to admit that there is something wrong with people doing harm to their own kind.

    Does this mean then that you support powerful white men that hire poor blacks, hispanics, whites, basically anyone who can hold a gun, who then go and do harm on arabs because they are not the same tribe?

    I don’t hear anyone here saying what some black men are doing is commendable. Pointing to other factors is not to make excuses either. The guests on the shows and many of the contributors here are truely looking to better understand what lies behind the numbers. There actually might be more to it than what you keep mentioning, don’t you think?

  • Nikos

    Thank you Allison.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism

    Essentialism is the common conceptual trick that assigns nouns to people based on behavior—behavior that a person might only have engaged in once. The relevant example here is people who have been convicted of crimes – ‘criminals’ – even though in truth they might be innocent!

    Essentialism also assigns nouns to people who have before engaged or commonly engage in same sex activity – ‘homosexuals’ – even though they might ‘act straight’, and so much so that no one can distinguish them from people who have never engaged in same sex activity (but might in future) ‘heterosexuals’. I’m one of the latter, and though I’m putatively ‘a heterosexual’, I don’t wear that label like people who are proud to engage in homosexual relationships wear the label ‘gay’, because my society doesn’t have an imbedded prejudice against people who have only engaged in heterosexual sex. I’m in a position of comfort as ‘a heterosexual’, and so much so that I don’t like the label: it earns me nothing. It’s about as meaningful to me as ‘apple-pie eater’.

    ‘Gay’ on the other hands earns its claimants an emotionally significant measure of pride in the face of public castigation.

    Am I a ‘runner’ because I jog between 18 and 30 miles per week? I know ‘runners’ who run many more miles/week than I do, and at a faster pace (lucky young-uns!) who might feel my use of ‘runner’ cheapens their use of it, since they are so much more athletic in their running than I am.

    The point is that ‘running’ is an activity – and that the application of nouns to label people based on activity – whether it’s frequent behavior or infrequent behavior – is a kind of sloppy thinking called essentialism.

    We are all guilty of this sloppy thinking called essentialism, because it’s a socially pervasive use of language. But it’s not merely sloppy – it can be socially demeaning or even destructive.

    Essentialism also assigns a fictional ‘race’ to people with just enough recent ancestry from Africa to ‘look black’. Jonathan Marks, in What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee, points out that: “One can read an article about the legal scholar Lani Guinier…and learn in one place that she is ‘black’ and in another that she is ‘half-black’. How can somebody be both black and half-black at the same time? Algebraically that would seem to describe the equation x = 1/2x, to which the only solution is x = 0. Of course, the confusion stems from the fact that, as the product of a ‘mixed marriage’, she is ‘half-black’ biologically, and ‘black’ socially. Half of the biological contribution is ignored in the construction of a social identity. The biological and social realities contradict each other, and the social reality, based on a folk model of heredity, dominates.

    “Race turns out to be an optical illusion. It’s not the pattern of human differences we encounter empirically. Humans vary principally locally, not continentally.�

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006AG20/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=551440

    Moreover, how do we know that Guinier’s ‘black’ ancestry might not have had more European ancestry than her ‘white’ ancestry has (recent) African? (I used ‘recent’ because we’re all of African decent.) She might be genetically more ‘white’ than ‘black’ – that is, if we seriously care to consider her ‘social identity’ from the folk heredity basis of fictional ‘races’.

    In this use of essentialism, we’re labeling Guinier on the sexually reproductive activity of not her but of her ancestors!

    I submit that in this thread essentialism is also being used to assign a noun to one cause of a complex social tragedy. The activity in this case is the titanic group of multiple behaviors called ‘culture’.

    Is it culture?

    Sure it is, but it’s also a legacy of several hundred years of recent global history, including racism, and capped by a pattern of economic domination that requires surplus labor and thereby funds the continuing existence of an underclass instead of thinking out new ways to eradicate the ‘underclass’ by integrating its victims into the economy of gainful employment.

    Focusing on culture is treating the symptoms, not the disease.

    H.L. Mencken said: “To every complex problem there is a simple solution…and it’s wrong.�

    That just might apply here.

    Of course, I’m often wrong…

  • hurley

    Gang culture behind bars might be worth considering, particularly in light of the ongoing trial of the Aryan Brotherhood.

    Rape in prison: years ago I read a provocative article in the LA Reader about the long-term societal effects of prison rape: men in their tens of thousands, victims of rape, released annually into the general population, either intent on or helpless to prevent themselves from wreaking violence on a society…A bit like the next wave of domestic violence sure to follow upon the return of soldiers from Iraq. Those to whom violence is done…

  • Raymond

    The premise of this show confuses the relationship between race and class and imprisonment rates. For example, Robin writes:

    “prison rates are radically, racially disproportionate relative to the general population.�

    but then that the growth in the prison population:

    “is historically grounded in … a rapidly de-industrialized economy that left the poor and undereducated with few good options for stable, well-paid employment.�

    So which is it? Higher imprisonment rates of Blacks, or the poor?

    Or as another example, regarding “African American Culture� RBI writes that it teaches Black children:

    “that ‘marriage is for white people.’ and “that it is ‘white’ to succeed in school.�

    concluding that these cultural effects lead to higher imprisonment rates for Blacks. Nikos agrees it is culture but writes:

    “it’s also a legacy of several hundred years of recent global history, including racism, and capped by a pattern of economic domination ….�

    So again, what are we asking? Higher imprisonment rates of Blacks, or the poor?

    If the poor, then why are we discussing prisons? If race, why have we not discussed the difference between the imprisonment rates of Blacks (3,218/100,000) and Hispanics (1,220/100,000)? Or of men (926/100,000) and women (64/100,000)? Or of men who are younger (2,373/100,000 age 25-29) and older (231/100,000 age 55 or older)?

    If we are assuming race explains the disproportionate imprisonment of Blacks, then we must explain the much less disproportionate imprisonment of Hispanics, or of women, of of older men.

    All numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin of October 2005, NCJ 210677.

  • Nikos

    Raymond: touché.

    But it really is an ‘all of the above.’

    My point isn’t that we ignore culture, but I do feel it’s more a symptom than the root cause.

    My point is that the larger problem is extremely complex, and deeply imbedded in the current national economic model. Simple approaches won’t affect it.

    We’ve got to start anew, and retire the failing schemes from social conservatives who think that ‘those people’ are hopeless, or genetically impaired, or deserving of their fates because ‘God helps those who help themselves.’

    People caused this unacceptable mess, and only the well-off descendants of those slave-owning people, working hard and with a national sense of urgency, can begin to clean it up.

  • h wally

    A lot of time is spent on this show examining what is wrong with black men/women. Would it be possible to do a show on some positive things about black people. I’m not just talking about the normal black history sort of thing but real life examples of people who have come through some terrible beginings or experience. We could learn something from those experiences also. I especially admired Malcom Z’s story.

  • Nikos

    PS to Raymond: I’m a descendant of Englishmen who probably shared at least some responsibility for the slave-trade. Many if not most Americans have ancestors linked to the slave-era. So my point is that we’re all in this together.

    We can choose to view the nation as an extended family, or as an unhappy social confederation of mutually mistrustful tribes.

    It’s up to us.

    Collectively.

  • Nikos

    h wally: right on. This show will focus on the disproportionate numbers of black men and boys incarcerated, however. So perhaps you can make your 2:57 PM into a show suggestion for another installment of this series?

    ‘African American Successes’, perhaps? We’d all feel better for it. My only question is whether it’s time yet to ‘feel good’ about it when 40% of males of recent African descent will spend time incarcerated.

    That’s simply an inexusable failure of our society. Not merely of a culture, but of all of us.

  • I’m not sure how parallel this is but when I was blockading logging roads in Idaho I ended up in jail a few times. This wasn’t anything like a long prison term but I did serve 90 days in Idaho County. I had plenty of respect in my Earth First! community and going to jail was like a badge of honor. After that I went back to school, got my MFA, and moved back to my home-town where the rich had gotten a lot richer and the poor poorer in my absence. I’ve had to do very crummy low paying demeaning work just to get by. Now I work in a book-store which is a respectable occupation though I still live below the poverty level. I do not have a criminal mind but I do understand the frustrations of demeaning work and poverty. While I was washing dishes, cleaning toilets or setting up a salad bar I had fantasies about becoming a pirate on the high seas (except I don’t want to hurt anybody so I’d be a bad pirate). Probably art forgery would be the crime most suited to my skill-set but I’ve never been a good liar either. So far I have managed to stay out of trouble. The point I’m making is that I can easily see how a person’s sense of pride and dignity could lead them into a life of crime when the only other choice is the degrading grind of poverty.

  • h wally

    Nikos, It’s true 40% is a terrible number and something that needs to be dealt with. Let’s not ignore the 60% who aren’t. Positive examples can also be a force for good. Imagine if you were a small black child and you were continually reminded how bleak the future looks for you. To Peggy Sue, There’s a world of posibilities between low paying jobs and the degrading grind of poverty. Again if children were given examples of people who found a way out. There is a lot of emphasis on million dollar sports contracts or million dollar contracts of one sort or another. Not many people are going to make that leap. If they had some other examples of people who made less spectacular leaps they might find something they could achieve. Let them see successful scientists and business owners etc. I used to work in a group home with boys who had some horrible problems. The first thing we did was give them a stable environment. Next we had them tested to see where they were as far as education. If they were lacking we got them tutors and helped them catch up. We also got them medical care and counselliing. A big part of our program was responsibility. If they broke the rules it effected all the boys and certain privilages were denied. It was exhausting work but meaningful. That work was low paying but worth doing. My biggest disappointment was after we’d made so much progress with these boys we had to send them home and most of the time there was no one from the community to take over where we left off. We have some big problems out there. Another problem is that most work like this is very low paying but people do it anyway because it is meaningful and positive. At the begining of this segment I suggested we try tying some of these topics together. I think it would help.

  • Matt_Eldridge

    I agree with peggysue. Please address the increasing number of prisons run for profit.

    I hope that most Americans would aggree that in a country where you can essentially buy legislation through a sometimes not-so-convoluted process of lobbying; it is a VERY bad idea to have an industry whose profits go up with each additional person incarcerated.

    I would be curious to look at the numbers related to the increase in our rates of incarceration and see, over time, how closely they might be linked to the increasing privatization of prisons.

  • Nikos

    Matt: Raymond is a statistician. I’ll bet if you feed him some numbers, he’ll give us an honest analysis. He’s offered to do it before (although my mind for numbers is so awful I failed to provide a workable formula).

  • This issue really speaks volumes about our society. I’m very troubled that it almost seems as though there is an underlying concept of “throw the black in prison.” Taken at face value when you break the law you get punished, obviously I think we all agree that it goes far deeper than that. Education, oppertunity, class, location (or forced location), on and on and on.

    Let’s look at just education for a minute. The schools in our city have all been rebuilt or we’ve built an entirely brand new one… except one. That one being the school attended by minorities for the most part. It took a recent special election to fund a new school to replace the above school. Why is that? All the other schools we built we could not do it fast enough but this one, it took a special election. Education continues to be an area where minorities continue to get short changed.

    In this breif post I just took the education issue as an example but there is so much more that contributes to the vicious cycle. Hurley touched on a subject… prison rape. Why do I find it so hard to understand this issue? Should prison not be about the safest place you could be? I find it disturbing that prison rape is widely excepted. I’m a firm believer that there are some in society that have the idea that “hey they are just blacks, who cares.” I firmly believe that we have elected officials that think this way but of course would never admit to it.

    As a side bar to the story, my wife and I watched Crash last night, the award winning movie. It delt with racism and how we view our fellow global citizens. So many people, so many harbor some form of racism. The movie really enforced my idea that we all need to be tolerant of each other and we all have different needs. I as a white global citizen may have different needs that my next door neighbor the black global citizen.

    The Cycling Nomad….out

  • Matt_Eldridge

    The title of the show is Race, Class, and Prison. We could eliminate the Race bit without really losing much from that equation. To ask why a disproportionate percentage of minority citizens are in prison is nearly indistinguishable from asking why a disproportionate percentage of the poor are in prison. The harsh reality of our past is one of economic oppression of minorities, especially African Americans. I’m not saying anything we don’t already know, people with less money end up in jail far more often, and for much longer when they do, than people who are well off.

    The question has merit one way or the other. Let’s just look at it as a class issue, why do poor people end up in prison more often and for longer periods of time? It could be a deficient public defense system that leaves indigents accused of crimes to the mercy of the courts; wherein over-worked/under-paid Public Defenders can’t even come close to handling their caseloads.

    However, I think a large part of the issue may be cultural. This was mentioned by someone else up above. Many of the most egregious offenders in our criminal justice system today are being charged with drug offenses and violent crimes. These are two of the central bailiwicks of modern gangs. Individuals who subscribe to this aesthetic, and wish to be identified with the “bling” culture, are constantly being bombarded with images, from the ever growing streams of media, of the romanticism of gangster life. This is something to which adolescent males are especially susceptible, particularly if they may be predisposed by reasons of race (or immigrant status for that matter) to feel that many aspects of the mainstream culture are not available to them.

  • Willow

    I listened to a bit of this show and gave up when it became clear the reason for the present condition was not being addressed. The present condition is analagous to a china-shop with a rampaging bull passing through. You are looking at the shards, some of which have been restuck, and asking them how they got that way. You need to address the cause, and it is not to be found among the shards. My perception is that the root-cause is the lack of legitimate employment which drives this social segment to illegitimate means. The sports and entertainment fields are representative of the larger American society, which in the same manner supports only a limited number of non-caucasians. Until this limit is removed there will be shards. The removal of limits needs to be addressed and, now that we are approaching the end of abundant energy, is whether this even likely, or will there be a return to servitude? The bull is still in the china-shop!

  • nother

    Wow, Peggysue, your 3:23 post is spot on!

  • dbragg

    Drugs usage rates are about equal for white and black men; simple

    possession arrest and incarceration rates are much higher for black

    men. One black dealer can easily serve twenty white suburban

    customers in an afternoon, but guess who’s more likely to get arrested?

    We were founded by men who believed that some were the Saved and

    others Preterite, and anxious to discern signs of their own salvation,

    or failing that, others’ preterition. We invented Hell in the image

    of prison, and now don’t mind when prison approaches the condition of

    Hell—if you cross that line, be damned with you, we don’t give a

    damn what happens to you.

    “Crossing the line” has historically

    meant anything from rape and murder, to looking at a white woman

    funny, to adults’ mutually violating local sexual norms, to ingesting

    the Wrong Plants…the sheer variety of ways to be “a criminal” makes

    the term useless except as a way of turning off rational thought, and

    even harder to tell real threats from bug-a-boos.

    Most people are killed by acquaintances; given the high rates of

    social segregation, this means that it would most probably be someone

    who looks sort of like you.

    Most people live their lives acting faute de mieux; the paths of least

    resistance are different in the suburbs and the ghettoes, and

    different still at Andover and Yale….

  • reality_bytes_it

    Washington D.C. Group to Set the Record Straight Regarding Marriage in the African-American Community

    The DC Campaign for Healthy Families, Marriages and Communities is a citywide effort to promote the well-being of children by helping couples develop skills and knowledge to form and sustain healthy marriages.

    Over the last four decades of the 20th Century, very large increases in non-marital childbearing and cohabitation, as well as higher rates of divorce and separation-have had a direct and profound impact on the well-being of American children. In 1998, only 68 percent of all children in the United States lived with both parents (Lang and Zagorsky 2000), and more than half of all children can now expect to spend at least some part of their childhood in a single-parent family. In 2000, two in five children in families headed by single women (39.7 percent) were poor compared to only 8.1 percent of children in married families (U.S.

    Census Bureau 2000).

    Says Curtis Watkins, president of the East Capitol Center for Change, “Any clear-thinking person who is concerned about the well-being of children – especially those in hard-hit neighborhoods like those East of the River – must look at the advantages of healthy marriage for the children involved. We need to set the record straight on this subject.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnw/20060407/pl_usnw/washington_d_c__group_to_set_the_record_straight_regarding_marriage_in_the_african_american_community311_xml;_ylt=AlrcyCx5Zsm1ekP5Zx4fFL0EKekE;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvMDdwBHNlYwN5bmNhdA–

  • reality_bytes_it

    Pulse Check: Trends in Drug Abuse

    April 2002

    Blacks are twice as likely as Whites to be reported as the predominant user group.

    Crack is named as the drug with the most serious consequences in Pulse Check communities by 19 sources in 12 cities: Boston and New York in the Northeast; Columbia (SC), El Paso, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington, DC, in the South; Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis in the Midwest; and Los Angeles in the West. In eight of those cities—Chicago, Columbia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and Washington, DC—sources also consider crack the most widely used illicit drug.

    Crack sellers are frequently involved in violent crime, as reported by the majority of law enforcement (12 of 16) and epidemiologic/ethnographic (10 of 13) sources who discussed this question.

    http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/drugfact/pulsechk/apr02/crack.html

  • nother

    Robin, Laura mulvey spoke and screened at the Harvard Achive tonight. (last night) It was nice, I really enjoyed her movie on Frieda and her art. Hope you caught it.

  • Raymond

    dbragg provides the first real evidence for race as the basis for disproportionate imprisonment rates:

    “Drugs usage rates are about equal for white and black men; simple possession arrest and incarceration rates are much higher for black men.”

    Well dbragg provides the first real evidence if it is true that drug usage rates are race neutral but arrest, conviction and incarceration rates are race disproportionate.

    First the drug usage rates:

    It is true that drug usage rates are the same when comparing Whites and Blacks for which 15% of all ages 12 and older indicated illicit drug use during 2003-2004.

    But it is not true that drug usage rates are the same when when comparing other racial or ethnic groups. For example, only 4.7% of Chinese and 4.8% of Asian Indian of all ages 12 and older reported illicit drug use during 2003-2004.

    Numbers from Table 1.73B of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration publication “Results from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.”

    Now for the arrest, conviction and incarceration rates.

    We have already discussed the incarceration rates. I could not find any information on conviction rates, but I did find arrest rates for drug abuse violations:

    Race or EthnicityArrestsPop (k)Per 100,000

    White821,047236,058348

    Black406,89037,5021085

    American Indian or Alaskan Native7,8502,825278

    Asian Pacific Islander8,34712,83265

    Numbers from Table 43a of the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation publication “Crime in the United States, 2004,” and Table 13 of Section 1 Population of the U.S. Census Bureau publication “Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006.”

    So what’s the bottom line?

    dbragg is right. Drug use among Whites and Blacks is about equal, but Blacks are arrested disproportionately more, though some ethnic groups indicate disproportionately lower drug use than Whites or Blacks.

    So we should be discussing arrest rates, not incarceration rates.

  • Raymond

    Oh well, can’t post an HTML table. Maybe this will be easier to read:

    Race or Ethnicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arrests . . . . Pop (k) . . . . Per 100,000

    White . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 821,047 . . . 236,058 . . . . 348

    Black . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 406,890 . . . . 37,502 . . . 1085

    American Indian or Alaskan Native . . . . 7,850 . . . . . 2,825 . . . . 278

    Asian Pacific Islander . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8,347 . . . . 12,832 . . . . . 65

  • Nikos

    Raymond: thanks for the work. Being a statistical imbecile, I’m not sure what inferences to draw from your offering, but I’m hoping the second set of numbers and analysis will make it plain. I’m assuming that’s what you mean by arrest rates, anyway. Looking forward to the next installment.

  • reality_bytes_it

    Raymond and dbrag are factually incorrect. The self identified useage of drugs for white and blacks are about the same but as the data above, that I linked to above show, blacks are twicew as likely to use crack as whites. Takeing a toke ain’t the equivelent of a drag off of a crack pipe.

    You are conflating the use of all drugs with the use of drugs that make black men 8 times more likely to commit violence against other blacks than all white criminals agasint anyone.

    This paleo-liberal excuse mongering is the problem that keeps black culture from realizing that it is they, who “grow” black men who prey upon them, father babies who they can’t / won’t / and will never care for then write songs about.

  • I heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak on a recording about being in jail. He said he talked with his jailers and at one point asked them how much they got paid. When they told him he laughed and told them they should be out marching with the black folks. As he saw it, it was in the interests of the wealthy class to employ racism as a means to keep the poor working classes black and white divided and weak.

  • the privatization of prisons should be its own show. at some point microsoft (i think they still do) was packaging their software in Washington State prisons while some airlines had prisoners as their customer service operators earning slave wages in the name of “reform”.

    Mandatory sentencing is one of the worst traditions in the history of american law, someone who worked very hard up until his death on this issue, was Grandpa Al Lewis. His wife Karen still does their radio show on WBAI (http://wbai.org) in new york. You should contact her to hear first hand accounts of the legal and grassroots struggle against m-m sentences.

  • nother

    Tonight I’m proud to say that I put on my ROS cub reporter hat, I interviewed a current convict. Over a year ago at the bar/restaurant I work at, they started hiring prisoners that are at the end of their sentences. It was a way for them to cut down on hiring the illegal immigrants.

    Tonight I literally sat down with one of the guys that I have gotten to know and told him that I was contributing to a national radio program which was doing a show on prisons. With a notepad in hand, I asked him if he could give me some of his thoughts. I got more than I bargained for, he laid a lot on me, more then I can fit here or is even pertinent here.

    My friend is 37 years old and has spent 17 years in prison, almost half his life. He is in for drug related offences. He is Latino, has two kids and an easy going personality. I will try to give a brief summary of his complex feelings. First and foremost, he states (repeatedly) that we need more programs, especially for the younger guys, the 17 to 19 year olds that come into the system and can still be changed. Later he tells me about how many guys he knows that can’t read and write, and how the prison do little about it. I’m amazed, I tell him that should be the first and basic priority of a prison, to get the inmates to a reading and writing level. He shrugs. He talks about the idea of institutionalization, he says that’s why it’s so important to catch these guys young, because guys quickly become institutionalized, they get comfortable within the systems. We only explored this idea a little, but I have a feeling it’s an idea that runs deep.

    He talked about the “truth in sentencing� law and how detrimental and discouraging that was for the prison population. The incentives for change were taken away.

    He talked about (and this fascinated me) the idea that the prison system is not set up to reduce the prison population, it’s set up to at the very least, maintain it and maybe even to increase it. When he started to talk about the money he sees spent in the system on infrastructure and guards and so on, I immediately thought of the Military Industrial Complex and I realized that what we might have is a Prison Industrial Complex.

    He spent most of his time talking about the gang life he is now apart of. The revelation for me was that this was not about isolated gangs within the different prisons; this is about elaborate sophisticated gang networks that go beyond the gates of specific prisons, and beyond the gates of prisons themselves. He told me that these young kids go to the street and ultimately to prison with no family structure and these huge gangs fill this void. He did not say this with irony; he said it straight, with sincerity. He said it with the conviction of a surrogate father, conveying to me that he lives a system of values. He took pangs to tell me of the lengths they will go to get their guys help if the have financial or drug problems. If, in the end though, they are still a “knucklehead�, other measures might have to be taken, he told me.

    What I’m going to write next you might not believe, you might not believe anything I already wrote, or ever write. All I can do is report what I heard and felt, and all you can do is realize that if I’m a ROS regular, I deserve the benefit of a presumption of integrity. After talking for a long time with this guy who wears braids, is about 5-10 and a muscular 250, who showed me scars of various sorts, he started to delicately imply to me the extent of his gang affiliation. He must have said three times to me softly, “if you only knew who I am.â€? Basically, from what I can gather, he is a leader (possibly, the leader) of a major faction in the Latin Kings. A gang I didn’t know of before but I now know is one of the most dangerous in the country and one of which he told me has a home base in Springfield MA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Kings I believe this, not just because of his intimidating physical appearance, but because of his cool temperament, because of his confident poise, and I believe it for other reasons I can’t pinpoint. What I thought would be a casual interview about prison for ROS, turned out to be something bigger. He appreciated my listening, he seemed to yearn for this outlet, but he also threw in some implied warnings. I should say that I don’t feel any danger. I never prodded him for information and he knows me well enough that I’m generally just curious about these things.

    He may leave prison soon, but he will never leave that gang. You and I see prison and life outside prison as opposites; he seems to see it all as two sides of the same coin. Most of all though, in that world he is – somebody.

  • Nikos

    nother: wow.

    Of all your many contributions worthy of an end-of-year nomination for Best ROS Post, that’s your most riveting and outstanding. Not just for the interview but for the compassionateness of the reporting.

    In fact, you might just have won my personal version of the (fictitious) award.

    (A gilded Guttersnipe? Or Rosbat?)

    Thank you. Sincerely.

  • nother

    Thank you Nikos.

  • Raymond

    RBI: “You are conflating the use of all drugs with the use of drugs that make black men 8 times more likely to commit violence against other blacks than all white criminals agasint anyone.”

    This is true … but I would say only that I am taking a first, high level view of the numbers. If it is true that drug use is different among Whites and Blacks, and that the specific drugs used by Blacks are targeted for more enforcement for a non-racial reason, then your interpretation would a next more detailed view of the numbers.

    But …

  • Raymond

    Nother makes a far more compelling case about what to focus on in his posting … but then it is all about culture.

  • Thank you, nother for the personal testimony. It’s powerful.

    There have been comments here about personal responsibility. I, again, say that it is not mutally exclusive to the societal responsibility. I also say that it is way too easy to claim that position when you sit in the catbird seat. The catbird seat, in this case, can be occupied by someone who did not grow up in the poorer neighborhoods of an urban environment with only one parent.

    I am struck by the Prison Industrial Complex thought. And peggysue’s comment earlier about the interests of the wealthy class.

    My cynical and economic heads are wondering if the larger society doesn’t do anything to seriously offer the poorer classes real opportunities for improvement because it doesn’t suit them economically. If there are prison management companies, who have an economic interest in having more people in prison, then they are not going to build into the system mechanisms to reduce recidivism. On the other side, middle and upper class people may not want more competition in the job pool. We’ve seen some of the fears of men as women entered the workplace.

    Another thing that I consider when I look at this is the need for people to feel better than. It is highly possible that one group of people forces another group into primitive violent and self-destructive behaviors in order to have their own shadow side played out. Its like the glorification of mob life in moves and TV series.(It appalls me that Sopranos is considered quality entertainment.) We are fascinated to see the more dangerous side of our nature expressed. We can then get a vicarious thrill while also denigrating the people to assure ourselves that we would never be like that. Then we can’t afford to have those people change, because who will act out our shadow side.

  • h wally

    Alright Nother, Your interview is a good peek behind the statistics and has a lot more impact. I for one have full confidence in your credibility. You mentioned he’d spent 17 of his 37 years in prison. I’ve run into many other men in the same boat which leads me to believe that our prisons are nothing more than storage units for the people our government doesn’t want to deal with. They aren’t made to rehabilitate. They’re designed to institutionalize and create lifelong customers to a money making enterprise. The prison business is thriving, 2 million customers and counting. They should sell franchises like MacDonalds.

  • nother: Thanks so much. I’m on the run this morning but I’m going to read that again.

  • nother

    Thanks guys. Allison, my friend talked a lot about the economic suppression that you touch on in your post above. You remind me of a powerful point in our conversation. After I sat down with him we were still talking at his work station, he runs the cold line, making salads and desserts. I can’t remember the exact context, but he was talking about dehumanization and exploitation and he pointed 10 feet away to the dishwasher, a Guatemalan guy who I presume is undocumented. He said “I’m in jail, and I get paid more than him, what does that tell you.”

    One more quick idea for change he made. He said that those 17 to 19 year old low level offenders should be given more ankle bracelets for house arrest. He said that instead of getting institutionalized, these young guys would be forced to go from home to work and maybe to drug treatment programs.

  • nother

    Also, I don’t know who caught it, but we had a guest (Abrigal Forrester) from the “Black men in America behind the numbers� show, return and blog on the thread a week after the show.

    http://www.radioopensource.org/black-men-in-america-behind-the-numbers/

    Anyone who is skeptical about the capacity for change need go no further than Abrigal Forrester. This man spent 10 years in prison and has emerged (despite the system) as an inspiration, not just to young black men – but to me – to humanity.

  • frobisher

    A few years ago I got tapped to meet with our state legislators on pending cuts in tobacco prevention funding. Our state Rep., a caring and thoughtful Republican got vexed and said “Everyone’s telling me what not to cut, but the money isn’t there! Tell me what to cut instead.” I looked him in the eye and said, “Cut the Department of Corrections. They aren’t correcting offenders; they’re creating more hardened criminals out of non-violent drug offenders, and you know it.” His response: he’d like to do it, but the Governor was opposed to other forms of punishment. Later, he admitted that the for-profit prison industry had the ear of the Governor, and the votes in the state legislature.

    Racism just makes it easier for that Governor to collect campaign contributions as he rewards the prison operating companies. It has always been easy to campaign against criminals. Racism makes it easier, and code-word campaigning makes it possible. Combine racism with campaign contributions, and cronies rewarded with our tax dollars, and you begin to see how much political will it will take to reverse these failed poicies.

  • Yes, nother, your friend understand first hand that which the oppressors cannot face in themselves. Human economies have for a very long time run on the backs of forced, free labor. The South didn’t fight a war over slavery because they really believed that these human beings were less than deserving of humane treatment. They fought it because they couldn’t imagine how their plantations and other enterprises were going to afford them the lifestyle they desired without this free labor. Indeed, once they had to factor in the real costs of production, we promptly started buying our goods elsewhere. From countries where the labor is not fully accounted for.

    At the bottom of this lies an issue that I find so many paths lead to: our unwillingness to be conscious of and pay the real costs for the products we consume. Like toddlers, we only know what we want and we don’t want to know what it really costs. Only when we are willing to curb our consumer appetite and pay the true costs for our products will we begin to value all people and the planet.

  • Raymond

    Privatization of prisons is all about saving money for the state. At least, that’s what the research cited by the Corrections Corporation of America finds, and apparently, how CCA sells its services.

    The problem with privatizing prisons is not that companies operating prisons for profit will seek to increase the prison population, but that the state is paying for the service: the private providers compete on price, not on quality, since the state will award the contract to the lowest acceptable bidder. So the incentive is to charge as much as possible for the service, and spend as little as possible providing it.

    Perhaps surprisingly, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, an agency of the Department of Justice, places the blame for the increased prison population squarely on legislation during the late 1980s:

    At the end of 1930, the agency operated 14 facilities for just over 13,000 inmates. By 1940, the Bureau had grown to 24 facilities with 24,360 inmates. Except for a few fluctuations, the number of inmates did not change significantly between 1940 and 1980, when the population was 24,252.

    As a result of Federal law enforcement efforts and new legislation that dramatically altered sentencing in the Federal criminal justice system, the 1980s brought a significant increase in the number of Federal inmates. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and reduced good time; additionally, several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions were enacted in 1986, 1988, and 1990. From 1980 to 1989, the inmate population more than doubled, from just over 24,000 to almost 58,000. During the 1990s, the population more than doubled again, reaching approximately 136,000 at the end of 1999 as efforts to combat illegal drugs and illegal immigration contributed to significantly increased conviction rates.

  • Raymond

    And regarding spending as little as possible, the Massachusetts Division of Inmate Training and Education has a budget of $3.7M and grants of $407k to “provide comprehensive academic and occupational (vocational training) programs and services that will assist offenders in becoming more productive citizens upon release” for the approximately 10,000 prisoners in Massachusetts. This compares to the $23M the town of Concord, Massachusetts budgeted for K-5 and Middle school during FY05 for a school population of about 1,900.

    Does anyone in the ROS community seriously believe that either political party has the will to increase the budget for “Inmate Training and Education” by more than an order of magnitude?

  • Nikos

    Raymond wrote: “Does anyone in the ROS community seriously believe that either political party has the will to increase the budget for “Inmate Training and Educationâ€? by more than an order of magnitude?”

    Believe it?

    No.

    Wish for it?

    Yup.

    (I wish I could fly, too.)

    Sigh.

    This is the age old question: is prison meant to offer rehabilitation, or nuthin’ but vindictive retribution?

    And doesn’t classism/racism play a unsavory role in this question?

  • Potter

    Chris did a wonderful program from Jamaica for his innovative Parachute Radio series (of which I am a big fan- we need more of this!) in which he spent time looking into their prison reform program.

    Read part IV Starting in Prison http://www.transom.org/guests/review/200201.review.clydon.html

    This is the link to an audio clip: http://www.transom.org/guests/review/200201.review.clydon.audio.html

  • Raymond

    Nikos wrote: “This is the age old question: is prison meant to offer rehabilitation, or nuthin’ but vindictive retribution?”

    I don’t think this is the right question at all, Nikos, especially given everthing contributed here to date.

    I think a better question is “Why can some in our country only ‘be somebody’ in a gang?” Or, “Why are Blacks arrested so much more often than Whites for the same offense?” Or, “Why has education of prisoners been so under-funded?”

  • Nikos

    Raymond, that’s right: you’re raising valid questions.

    I submit however, that your closing question — Why has education of prisoners been so under-funded? — is in substance no different than the ‘rehabilitation’ question.

    Doncha’ think?

    Or am I missing a nuance? (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

  • Nikos

    Note to everyone: this Race, Class, & Prisons show is now rescheduled for next Monday, the 17th. If you’re like me and you just link to the comment thread without stopping on the Home Page, you might miss it.

    So, no complaints now. 🙂

  • charlieevett

    For a much more personal perspective on women in prison, I want to recommend Christina Rathbone’s most recent book, “A World Apart”, which has lenghy interviews and stories of women incarcerated in Framingham, MA.

  • Raymond

    Nikos, I don’t think that it is the same question at all, and I do not think it is a matter of nuance.

    You are suggesting that those making policy have chosen to underfund educational programs for prisoners because they view prison as retribution. I am saying that those making policy have chosen to underfund educational programs for prisoners because there is no political incentive to provide “quality” in prisons. To do so would requrie diverting funds for educating our children, say, in order to provide funds for educating prisoners.

    Such a proposal, from either party, would go nowhere.

  • hurley

    J.C. Amberchele is a pseudonym for a talented writer imprisoned, at last word, in a maximum security nightmare in Colorado. I read his book of stories, How You Lose, a few years ago. The book uneven, but the title story beautiful and moving — one of the better American short stories I’ve read in a long time. Possibly an interesting guest, if it could be arranged. A recent article of his:

    http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/180

    He’s worth looking into.

  • hurley
  • fiddlesticks

    Oh goody, another program about “race, class, and ….(fill in the blank)”

    I can ignore this program again and catch up on my reading.

  • serious lee

    Race, class and a side order of french fries. To go.

  • jazzman

    What is a crime? To the STATE it is engaging in behavior that is proscribed by fiat, codified in a body of various legislative actions, known collectively as the LAW. Since the first laws were legislated back in the 1700’s there are millions of extant laws that have aggregated over the years. Some are contradictory, some represent the prevailing fears during the times of their enactment, and others were enacted due to special interest lobbying. The vast majority of these laws are never re-examined or repealed – even if they are nonsensical. (Jesse Ventura, while Governor of MN, venturaed that a quarter of the legislative session should be devoted to review and removal of useless laws from the books.) A person is required to be cognizant of the entire gamut of these laws, ignorance is famously no excuse, and if one runs afoul of any of these laws and is charged, one had better hire a lawyer who is motivated to enhance his reputation and/or bank account by winning the case.

    Poor legal representation is a major reason for the disproportionate incarceration rates for people in poverty. The simple reason there more prisoners per capita (~700 per 100K) in the U.S.A than any other country in the world is that there are too many laws (especially victimless laws.) The uneven application of those laws breaks down along racial and financial lines. The societal ills that are adduced to pass anti-whatever legislation for dealing with those ills are largely due to the unintended consequences of making the behavior illegal. Prohibiting human behaviors that affect the individuals themselves was shown to be a poor idea during the prohibition era and it isn’t a better idea today. The huge monetary incentives that are engendered by circumventing “morality� based laws create the sub-cultures that exploit human predilections for excitement. Remove the illegality (this negates the money incentive and ancillary crime associated with the profit) and tax the product or behavior, and use the profits to control it with education and social stigma (it’s working with tobacco!) Unfortunately there are too many in power who benefit from the status quo so there is no incentive to reform the laws. This, coupled with the vengeful nature and puritanical streak (meme) (fun = sin) that infests the general populace, practically guarantees the prison population is in no danger of zero population growth.

    IMO there are only 2 laws that are necessary: One cannot harm or assault another physically and one cannot steal tangible property from another. These laws and subsets are the only JUST laws that would require the state to intervene on behalf of wronged individuals and violations of these laws constitute a crime. I also believe that all criminal laws should be uniformly codified at the federal level and civil laws at the state and local level.

    Rehabilitation is a noble goal but only works if rehabilitees are convinced they were justly incarcerated. As the majority of incarcerations are unjust, probably just a few motivated self reflective types would benefit from the injustice. The rest would likely be bitter and more sociopathic than before. Most people who commit TRUE crime (violations of the 2 laws) misguidedly believe that they were justified in their actions. In order to be rehabilitated they must believe that the behavior was incorrect and understand the causes of their acting out.

    Private prisons IMO are an abdication by the STATE of its responsibility. It criminalizes behavior and then expects profiteers to mete out the consequences. If society (thru its representatives) wants to incarcerate violators of the LAW then society has to bear the responsibility and cost of providing humane treatment to its victims not ship they that fail to conform to their fear based codes to the lowest bidder.

  • Rycke

    The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal “except as a punishment for crime.” It is no coincidence that laws multiplied after the Civil War.

    All of a sudden, concealing a weapon became a crime, despite the 2nd Amendment. White men could go openly armed without being harrassed; people of color had no such assurance, and tended to conceal their weapons. What’s the point of a law against concealed weapons? A mugger might get a nasty surprise? Or might a deputy sheriff, when harrassing a black man?

    And about the time that our great-grandfathers passed a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol, the favorite drug of whites, they passed mere statutes to ban various drugs favored by minorities: marijuana; cocaine; heroin; opium. Prohibition of alcohol ended; other unconstitutional statutes stayed on the books, defended by the Supreme Court in a 1921 decision without argument or citation of authority, but cited forever thereafter by state appeals courts.

    The courts of appeal exist to keep the supreme courts from having to consider any argument they don’t want to. The courts of appeal are not courts of record, and can issue a “memorandum decision–not for publication,” in which they can say anything they wish. In my case, they simply cited the cases the state cited, and which I had shown were not on point for my argument, which was totally novel.

    We have the largest slave labor system in the world. Prisoners compete with poor freemen for phone bank jobs, janitorial jobs, landscape maintenance, and that’s just what I saw down in Arizona. And people who are doing “community service” sentences are part of the slave system, too, and also compete with freemen. So when one gets out of prison, there is less work available.

  • Rycke

    Aye, parole is a trap, but probation is even more so. Getting violated over and over just prolongs the process of punishment. One is better off fighting in court, taking the sentence if you lose, and serving the whole sentence. Then you are free.

  • Rycke

    The prison industrial complex works hand-in-hand with the black market, which provides both a source of slaves (people who get caught), and jobs for released prisoners, who tend to cycle back through the slave labor system when they get caught again.

  • serious lee

    Never mind.

  • Washington Department of Corrections’ “Jewish” Con Disinformation Campaign:

    An Invitation to INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS:

    For a detailed play-by-play description of how rogue employees of the Washington Department of Corrections develop their skills for big-time corrupt practices, read this analysis of the Seattle Weekly article:

    “THE ‘JEWISH’ CON. Incarcerated gang members and murderers here and elsewhere are abusing freedom of religion to get special treatment.”

    http://walterkarp.tripod.com/id48.html

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    M A N I N B L A C K

    Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,

    Why you never see bright colors on my back,

    And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.

    Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

    I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

    Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,

    I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

    —-

    And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,

    Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,

    I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,

    Believen’ that we all were on their side.

    —–

    Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,

    And tell the world that everything’s OK,

    But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,

    ‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

    By: John R. Cash, © 1971 House of Cash, Inc.

    Recorded February 16, 1971

    Number 3 – Country Charts; Number 58 – Pop Charts

    http://www.toptown.com/hp/66/maninblack.htm

  • serious lee

    One more then I’m gone. Stop already. Quit kidding yourselves. No matter how hard you try you’ll never know what it’s like to be black. If you really did know you’d pray to God to remove your memories. This is just another worthless attempt by a bunch of guilt stricken white people to flog themselves into a coma over the sins of their forebearers. Wake up dummies, it’s not your fault. The reason more black men are in prison is because the’re out there committing a lot of crimes. Sure there may be a few inocents among them but face it there’s lots of innocent other races in prison right now. Life’s hard and that’s how it goes. Everybody goes before a judge before they’re sentenced. Perhaps all levels of society are corrupt and unevenly poised against our black brothers. If that’s the case, so be it. They’re probably going to be appropriately harsh on your marshmellow complexions when you show up accused of molesting your children. Just relax you’ll have you’re chance at true American justice. Until then keep your mouths, shut and listen, you might just learn something.

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