Monday, July 26, 2010

"Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little"

I should reference this notable Economist piece on US incarceration policies, "Too many laws, too many prisoners: Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little," which touches on many themes common to this blog. Here's a taste:
Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them. 
Definitely read the rest. I agree with most of what's written here, and most of it goes double for Texas, where one adult in 22, as opposed to one in 31, is under the control of the criminal justice system. An excellent macro-analysis; the comments were interesting as well.


Anonymous said...

I’m a bail bondsman and our views on issues differ quite often but certainly not always. I agree with you on many subjects and this has always been one of them.

Stories like these are not made mainstream which is true for the criminal justice system in general; the public gets the bias bits and pieces and all is forgotten by lunchtime.

The article that generated this post is eye opening and in my opinion if such stories were made into an ongoing documentary for one of America’s favorite pastimes (the reality TV show) two things would occur.

1. Hollywood would have an immediate hit TV show, because it is impossible to see and hear about the reality of such injustice without wanting more information, so stay tuned for our next episode.

2. A significant awareness could very possibly effect change.

Strangely enough I’m almost afraid to use the word change anymore.

There are fundamental ideals that resonate with the majority of Americans and even though the views of for and against the Tea Party movement have politicians scrambling for the answers of how to either reel-in or combat something that has yet to be completely defined as a well organized political machine, the movement in and of itself has raised an awareness by politicians throughout the country that a large constituency is unhappy with business as usual.

The most fundamental ideal of America is freedom. It would be interesting to see how bringing to life the stories such as these would affect lawmakers nationwide very quickly.

I’m not saying that lawmakers are not well intentioned, but it is reasonable to assume that once they have taken action the results of that action will then become of little consequence to them personally or politically without having the benefit of real life feedback.

Government studies show numbers and ratios, graphs and analysis, they are not looked at by John Doe nor do they hold any real significant meaning to the public. If given a stage to turn studies into the effected lives of defendants and their families and if given the opportunity to be made aware of how justice has been served as well as the cost analysis the topic of fairness and justice, and (why do we have so many people locked up?) may be served up as morning conversation along with grits for breakfast.

This is just a thought, unless somehow reality finds its way to the breakfast table.

Don Dickson said...

As far as "reality TV" is concerned, it's interesting to me that the MSNBC "Lockup" documentaries tend to focus on the maximum security penal institutions, and the hard-core violent criminals housed in them; but they rarely visit a county lockup to show some dude who's been in there seven months awaiting trial (ergo, still presumed "innocent") for possessing "residue" of some sort of controlled substance.

Hook Em Horns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hook Em Horns said...

Indiana is preparing for a review of it's criminal code to try to reduce recidivism and the need for so many prison beds.

Anonymous said...

Once again I will make my case for a "Texas Amnesty Program" for ex-offenders 50+ years of age. It makes absolutely no sense to keep spending precious tax dollars on this segment of the parole population that has matured out of a criminal mind set. Think about it. If you know any TX politician that may have the intestinal fortitude to propose such an idea in Austin please let me know via this site.