Sunday, May 11, 2008

Are Prisons Gradually Turning into Concentration Camps?

It appears penitentiaries are acting as both a prison to protect us from the violent and at the same time warehousing the poor and/or misfits among us.

Why not sweep all the marginalized "misfits" under one roof? Isn't that what Rudy Giuliani did? And now, the rest of America is blindly following suit without regard ?

According to Adam Liptak, national legal correspondent for The New York Times, the USA - only 5% of the global population - leads the world in producing prisoners. America jails 2.3 million people, accounting for one-quarter of all individuals imprisoned in the world. One in every one-hundred people in the United States is behind bars.

China, 20% of the global population, jails 1.6 million prisoners. Of course, China executes far more people than we do which may account for part of the discrepancy in number, however, China would have had to execute well over eight million people in order to justify that explanation alone. No matter what the reason, any lucid man would choose to live in America over any other country in the world, especially China. That's not the point. The United States is exceptional, remember? Therefore, we, the people can't afford the luxury of disregarding the weakest link and continue to live this out-of-sight, out-of mind existence burying our proverbial heads in the sand.

It wasn't always that way. At the end of the 18th century reform in American prisons took place. In 1786, the Quakers succeeded in abolishing punishment by death and the barbarous laws established by early colonists by the Legislature of Pennsylvania. By the middle to the late 19th century our penitentiaries were considered exemplary. Prison reformers successfully transformed prisons from purely punitive to rehabilitative, advocating segregation of criminals; rewarding good behaviour; indeterminate sentencing; vocational training; and parole. It wasn't until approximately 1980 that this trend of excessive incarceration started. The rate of arrest, the extent of incarceration given for each crime committed, and the number of things defined as criminal all factor into America's over crowded prisons.

The harsher drug laws and the "tough on crime" stance our nation took at this time have much to do with this gradual transformation. In 1980, 40,000 people were incarcerated for drug "crimes". Today, half a million people are imprisoned due to some type of affiliation with drugs.

Obviously, imprisoning people drives the crime rate lower. People behind bars have a much harder time committing future crimes and people are more likely to think twice about committing a crime if the results could in jail time. In addition, some argue the availability and size of the social safety net, demographics, economic conditions, policing strategies currently in place play a much bigger role in determining the crime rate.

"We arrest more people, keep them in prison longer and we define more things as crimes." Adam Liptak
The United States is the only country in the world that elects our Judges to office, with the exception of a few places in Japan and Switzerland. This puts an elected judge’s career at the mercy of the prevalent and accepted attitude and feeling - get tough on crime - of his constituency toward crime. Popular opinion is now factored into his decision and more than likely he will come down harder than the law requires. A judge’s light sentence could backfire on him if once that person he “let off” with minimal time is released from jail, commits another crime, maybe even more heinous than what he was on trial, therefore giving his opponent in the next election plenty of fuel to burn him.

New York stands out as a shining example of the “Broken Windows Theory of Law Enforcement”.
"if the first broken window in a building is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows...."
Basically, the theory suggests a zero tolerance approach to petty crime.Rudy Guiliani ordered his police to enforce the lowest level "crimes" including jaywalking, vagrancy and public intoxication and supposedly reduced the crime rate so much that New York City is a different place today.

But, what about San Francisco? They adopted less strident law enforcement policies that reduced arrests, prosecutions and incarceration rates and ended up registering reductions in crime that exceed or equal comparable cities and jurisdictions - including New York. How many people know about San Francisco? I know I didn't.

Considering how expensive it is to live in New York City today, isn't it possible that New York City is a different place, not because it was a crime panacea, but simply a result of gentrification, Rudy style? In other words, Rudy Giuliani aggressively forced out all the poor people, thus making New York City appear clean and fresh. Wealthy people and white collar criminals are much neater and cleaner when they commit crimes and their victims much less obvious to the naked eye.

Not that the "Broken Windows" theory doesn't have its merit. Cracking down on petty crime and arresting the perpetrators will cut the crime rate, however, putting those same people away for 15 years for possessing drugs and/or jay-walking serves no purpose except possibly to transform them from harmless individuals to hardened criminals.

The crime rate has dropped 25 percent since the 1980s, yet the incarceration rate continues to climb. Are prisons becoming warehouses for the poor and undesirables in society? Or a vast reserve of exploitable labor? Incarcerating people is the most expensive form of punishment. Why not use less costly methods such as community service, fines, and/or drug treatment?

To find the answer...follow the money trail or the path that leads to the rich white man profiting from the misfortune of others. President Eisenhower warned us about the Military Industrial Complex, what about the possibility of a Prison Industrial Complex? Inmates composed of the poor, illiterate (70% of all inmates), the homeless, the mentally ill; drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics fuel this industry and at the same time provides a way to blame the victims who fell through the cracks of the "broken windows".

1 comments:

Anonymous,  08:52  

If you think America is so bad, there are other places to live. Go to China, Iran, or one of the other countries on this earth if you think America is so bad.

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