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August 16, 2007

Another strong piece examining incarceration nation

Thanks to this post at Think Outside the Cage, I see that The Nation has this new piece that is the must-read of the week.  In "Stars and Bars," Daniel Lazare examines the realities of mass incarceration in the United States and critically reviews recent academic literature examining its roots and results.  Here is how the piece begins and one of many notable passages:

How can you tell when a democracy is dead? When concentration camps spring up and everyone shivers in fear? Or is it when concentration camps spring up and no one shivers in fear because everyone knows they're not for "people like us" (in Woody Allen's marvelous phrase) but for the others, the troublemakers, the ones you can tell are guilty merely by the color of their skin, the shape of their nose or their social class?

Questions like these are unavoidable in the face of America's homegrown gulag archipelago, a vast network of jails, prisons and "supermax" tombs for the living dead that, without anyone quite noticing, has metastasized into the largest detention system in the advanced industrial world. The proportion of the US population languishing in such facilities now stands at 737 per 100,000, the highest rate on earth and some five to twelve times that of Britain, France and other Western European countries or Japan....

Several of the leading Democratic candidates ... have recently come out against the infamous 100-to-1 ratio that subjects someone carrying ten grams of crack to the same penalty as someone caught with a kilo of powdered cocaine.  Senator Joe Biden has actually introduced legislation to eliminate the disparity -- without, however, acknowledging his role as a leading drug warrior back in the 1980s, when he sponsored the bill that set it in stone in the first place. At a recent forum at Howard University, Hillary Clinton promised to "deal" with the disparity as well, although it would have been nice if she had done so back in the '90s, when, during the first Clinton Administration, the prison population was soaring by some 50 percent.  Although he is not running this time around, Jesse Jackson recently castigated Dems for their hesitancy in addressing "failed, wasteful, and unfair drug policies" that have sent "so many young African-Americans" to jail.  Yet Jackson forgot to mention his own drug-war past when, as a leading hardliner, he specifically called for "stiffer prison sentences" for black drug users and "wartime consequences" for smugglers. "Since the flow of drugs into the US is an act of terrorism, antiterrorist policies must be applied," he declared in a 1989 interview, a textbook example of how the antidrug rhetoric of the late twentieth century helped pave the way for the "global war on terror" of the early twenty-first.

In other words, cowardice and hypocrisy abound.

As highlighted in posts linked below, The Nation is not the only outlet giving serious attention to these important matters:

August 16, 2007 at 11:08 AM | Permalink


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gee, politicians and hucksters like Jesse Jackson are ideologically impure--quelle surprise

Posted by: federalist | Aug 16, 2007 12:26:45 PM

See when I read in the first sentence that prisons are like concentration camps (that surely is what he is implying) I read no further. It's a preposterous claim that if I was Jewish, I would be utterly outraged with.

Doesn't anyone consider credibility important when they read things like this? I guess I'm just old-fashioned. Kinda of like common sense.

Posted by: | Aug 16, 2007 12:30:22 PM

The Nation is not exactly known for its lack of anti-Semitism. A comparison between death camps and federal penitentiaries is not surprising from that rag.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 16, 2007 12:48:29 PM

It is ideal for the Right, a perpetual incarceration machine, since child abuse goes up so drastically when the father is away and the mother is under stress,

Child abuse in military families up

The stress of deployment is blamed for a 60 percent increase in abuse and neglect, usually committed by a wife left at home.

Why wouldn't the same be true for mothers left at home because the father is incarcerated?

Once again, victim's rights is a sham and actually perpetuates the cycle of abuse, the crime rate and the resulting incarceration. Probably more important is that a negative relationship with the mother (r = .16)is a better predictor of violent sexual recidivism than is 11. Antisocial personality disorder (r = .14).

So if the goal is more crime, more victims and more prisons, all we have to do is keep doing what we are doing.

Posted by: George | Aug 16, 2007 1:16:37 PM

Have any of you ever been in prison? If not,how can you possibly know what it is like? You all are shams for even trying to make comments that you have no experience in. Reading books and articles can never replace actual experiences. In case you don't know, prisons are slave labor camp. Torturing and suffering do take place.

Posted by: | Aug 16, 2007 1:26:57 PM

This article is hogwash! We all know that liberal judges have emptied the prisons on technicalities. Indeed, at this rate, because of the abuse of AEDPA, there will be nobody in prison by 2012.

Either that, or Americans are really bad people, and more people should be in jail.

I don’t really see the problem comparing concentration camps to prisons. Sure, it isn’t spot on, but it does seem in the same ballpark. But, most of the people complaining about such comparisons have done time in neither. Indeed, most (non-lawyers) members of the middle class have absolutely no knowledge of prison life, but just make stuff up about it.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 16, 2007 1:40:54 PM

The article makes a lot of good points, and as Doug notes, many others have made those points.

I don't think you need to have been in prison to be able to write about prison. The decision to create the system we have was made, predominantly, by people who had never been to prison.

Unfortunately, the article is full of hypoerbole, which I think diminishes its credibility. There's a long list of problems politicians have had trouble solving (e.g., Social Security), but it doesn't mean that "democracy is dead."

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 16, 2007 1:50:29 PM

"I don't think you need to have been in prison to be able to write about prison."

Marc, although, I respect a lot of your opinions, I have to say that people who write about prisons with no actual experience could never capture the true realities of what prisoners goes through. They can try to imagine but the feeling could never be felt.

Posted by: | Aug 16, 2007 3:03:41 PM

Oh, I totally agree that someone with the experience will have a perspective that others could never duplicate. But someone who has researched many prisons and interviewed many prisoners might have a perspective that an individual prisoner does not.

As a general matter, if only those who've had an experience can write about it, then there are many subjects that nobody could write about—''e.g.'', slavery.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 16, 2007 4:11:51 PM

Every civilization experienced slavery at one time or another. In fact, slavery is prevalence now. But I do get your point.

Posted by: | Aug 16, 2007 7:18:00 PM

"Slavery is prevalence now" What does that mean?

Posted by: PSIWRIT | Aug 17, 2007 5:44:15 PM

Likely, our friend sans name is talking about what used to be called "White Slavery". Sex trafficking in women/children in the world is prevalent, and it is appalling. While many in here do not like (snark here, I twice voted for the guy) ChimpyMcBushitlerHalliburton, no one can deny that this Administration has taken an admirable stand against sex slavery here in America (it does happen) and around the world.

In my view, as an aside, there is a special place in hell reserved for pimps.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 17, 2007 10:39:47 PM

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