Monday, December 19, 2005

Deepak Chopra: Texas' overincarceration "in a class by itself"

Deepak Chopra says the Bush Administration's penchant for torture isn't the only reason the United States can no longer claim to provide the gold standard for human rights in the world. Our criminal justice system, especially in Texas, he argues, also disqualifies us for the role:
America leads the world in executing criminals and is among the few Western countries that still retain the death penalty.

We have among the harshest sentencing guidelines for non-violent felonies, including the three-strike law in several states, mandatory drug sentencing, and a federal policy (as ordered by former Attorney General John Ashcroft) that forces prosecutors to seek maximum penalties without leeway for plea bargaining.

More than half the prison population is being held for drug-related offenses, often for draconian periods of time--see the Rockefeller laws in New York where a few marijuana plants can land someone in jail for a decade or more . This, despite the well-documented research on the medical harmlessness of marijuana if used recreationally, the way millions of people use alcohol.

We imprison a far higher proportion of our population than any other Western country and perhaps more than any country in the world. On a state-by-state basis, Texas is in a class by itself, with 120 new prisons, for a growth of 706 percent over 21 years.
Via Intent Blog

4 comments:

mccm said...

I would be a little concerned about taking anything Chopra says too seriously. He has already seriously discredited himself in the evolution area.

http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/moonbat_anti_evolutionist_deepak_chopra/

Anonymous said...

Whatever Chopra's views on evolution, his point here is well taken. Who could credibly say now that the US sets the worldwide human rights gold standard?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Ol' Deepak might have set a record for misinformation. And many of the points he makes do not apply to Texas. Among his errors:

"America leads the world in executing criminals" - WRONG, China executes dozens or hundreds for each American execution.

"We have among the harshest sentencing guidelines for non-violent felonies, including the three-strike law in several states, mandatory drug sentencing [BUT NOT IN TEXAS], and a federal policy (as ordered by former Attorney General John Ashcroft) that forces prosecutors to seek maximum penalties without leeway for plea bargaining [BUT NOT IN TEXAS].

More than half the prison population is being held for drug-related offenses [BUT NOT IN TEXAS], often for draconian periods of time--see the Rockefeller laws in New York where a few marijuana plants can land someone in jail for a decade or more [BUT NOT IN TEXAS]. This, despite the well-documented research on the medical harmlessness of marijuana if used recreationally, the way millions of people use alcohol.

We imprison a far higher proportion of our population than any other Western country and perhaps more than any country in the world. On a state-by-state basis, Texas is in a class by itself, with 120 new prisons, for a growth of 706 percent over 21 years. [FLAT-OUT FALSE; TEXAS DOESN'T EVEN HAVE THE LARGEST PRISON POPULATION (CA), THE LARGEST DEATH ROW POPULATION (CA), OR THE HIGHEST PER-CAPITA IMPRISONMENT RATE (LA)]"

Gee, other than that, he has a point. Not.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree that since he doesn't source anything and appears to lump federal and state data together, Chopra's generalizations are hard to pin down. But to point out as a rejoinder that totalitarian China executes more people than America surely is damning with faint praise. So did Pol Pot. So what? Who wants to even be mentioned in such inglorious company?

Remember, Chopra's main argument is that the US no longer exemplifies the human rights "gold standard" in the world. Does a comparison with Communist China significantly counter that impression?

Meanwhile, CA has a few thousand more prisoners, but 60% more population, thus a lower "proportion" of inmates than Texas. It's true, LA and Texas go back and forth for the honor of highest per capita incarceration rate, but both look draconian compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Plus with the New Orleans courts down, I'll bet next year's post-Katrina numbers show Texas in the lead again.

Definitely sloppier statistical fare than I prefer to serve around here at Grits, but IMO the second anonymous on this string overstates the extent of Chopra's error. Best,