How not to run a prison system

The statistics in this article by Glenn C. Loury on racism and the American prison system are simply amazing.  Some examples (emphasis throughout in red and green):

“Crime rates peaked in 1992 and have dropped sharply since. Even as crime rates fell, however, imprisonment rates remained high and continued their upward march. The result, the current American prison system, is a leviathan unmatched in human history.
According to a 2005 report of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States – with five percent of the world’s population – houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40 percent greater than those of our nearest competitors (the Bahamas, Belarus, and Russia). Other industrial democracies, even those with significant crime problems of their own, are much less punitive: our incarceration rate is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, and 12.3 times that of Japan. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.”

and:

“One simple measure of punitiveness is the likelihood that a person who is arrested will be subsequently incarcerated. Between 1980 and 2001, there was no real change in the chances of being arrested in response to a complaint: the rate was just under 50 percent. But the likelihood that an arrest would result in imprisonment more than doubled, from 13 to 28 percent. And because the amount of time served and the rate of prison admission both increased, the incarceration rate for violent crime almost tripled, despite the decline in the level of violence. The incarceration rate for nonviolent and drug offenses increased at an even faster pace: between 1980 and 1997 the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses tripled, and the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses increased by a factor of 11. Indeed, the criminal-justice researcher Alfred Blumstein has argued that none of the growth in incarceration between 1980 and 1996 can be attributed to more crime . . . .”

and:

“The punitive turn in the nation’s social policy – intimately connected with public rhetoric about responsibility, dependency, social hygiene, and the reclamation of public order – can be fully grasped only when viewed against the backdrop of America’s often ugly and violent racial history: there is a reason why our inclination toward forgiveness and the extension of a second chance to those who have violated our behavioral strictures is so stunted, and why our mainstream political discourses are so bereft of self-examination and searching social criticism. This historical resonance between the stigma of race and the stigma of imprisonment serves to keep alive in our public culture the subordinating social meanings that have always been associated with blackness. Race helps to explain why the United States is exceptional among the democratic industrial societies in the severity and extent of its punitive policy and in the paucity of its social-welfare institutions.”

and:

“In his fine study Punishment and Inequality in America (2006), the Princeton University sociologist Bruce Western powerfully describes the scope, nature, and consequences of contemporary imprisonment. He finds that the extent of racial disparity in imprisonment rates is greater than in any other major arena of American social life: at eight to one, the black-white ratio of incarceration rates dwarfs the two-to-one ratio of unemployment rates, the three-to-one ration of non-marital childbearing, the two-to-one ratio of infant-mortality rates and one-to-five ratio of net worth. While three out of 200 young whites were incarcerated in 2000, the rate for young blacks was one in nine. A black male resident of the state of California is more likely to go to a state prison than a state college.

The scandalous truth is that the police and penal apparatus are now the primary contact between adult black American men and the American state. Among black male high-school dropouts aged 20 to 40, a third were locked up on any given day in 2000, fewer than three percent belonged to a union, and less than one quarter were enrolled in any kind of social program. Coercion is the most salient meaning of government for these young men.  Western estimates that nearly 60 percent of black male dropouts born between 1965 and 1969 were sent to prison on a felony conviction at least once before they reached the age of 35.

Whether it is fighting wars for Zionism, the health care system, or the penal system, the United States can always be counted on as a cautionary example.

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