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1 in 99.1
February 28, 2008 10:56 AM   Subscribe

1 in 99.1 American adults are now incarcerated according to a new Pew Center study (pdf). Some interesting numbers from a NYT article on the report: 1 in 36 Hispanic adults are incarcerated, 1 in 15 blacks, 1 in 9 black men aged 20-34, 1 in 355 white women aged 35-39. Some context from the World Prison Population List (pdf).
posted by aerotive (136 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why outsource doodad production to China when 1% of your population will work locally for the same wage? Our prison system lacks serious vision.
posted by fusinski at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


1 in 9 black men aged 20-34

That 11% of young black men in this country are in prison right now is perhaps the most repulsive indicator of the the racism inherent to our "justice" system that I have ever seen.
posted by dersins at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


wow, takes a lot to surprise me these days. 1 in nine young blacks in prison, that's just fucked up. If that's the rate currently incarcerated what's the ratio of blacks that have been through the prison system. Shocking.
posted by twistedonion at 11:12 AM on February 28, 2008


Why outsource doodad production to China when 1% of your population will work locally for the same wage? Our prison system lacks serious vision.

Be patient, consumers. We'll get there.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would be interested in seeing these racial numbers further broken down by economic status.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2008


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.

I sense things are about to start going badly in here.
posted by fusinski at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.

n Guilty Men
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Since today is probably my last day on the site in this account, I'd like to make sure that Cool Papa Bell does not go unthanked for constantly helping to set the parameters of any sociological discussion by planting a flag at its nadir. Thanks Papa!
posted by hermitosis at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2008 [16 favorites]


My question is why are we letting so many white women get away with crimes?!?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2008 [10 favorites]


Of course they broke laws. There something broken in society though if a certain section of society is poorer/more likely to commit crime. Maybe not. Maybe all poor people, or blacks, just get a kick out of crime. Maybe it's in them. I go with the notion that it's a broken society that isn't looking out for the disadvantaged myself.
posted by twistedonion at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2008


The only class that truly believes in class warfare is the ruling class.

Maybe I'm quoting that from someone, I'm not sure.
posted by carter at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2008


Why outsource doodad production to China when 1% of your population will work locally for the same wage? Our prison system lacks serious vision.

Because a system where privatized shareholder-owned prisons supplying cheap labor for shareholder-owned manufacturing creates a strong economic incentive to increase the prison population for increasingly minor infractions. You know, for shareholder benefit.
posted by sourwookie at 11:35 AM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Just think of the opportunities! Mandatory sentencing will save America!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2008


I'll just ask rhetorically and then bow out gracefully ... what is an acceptable incarceration rate? It won't be zero. It won't be 100 percent. But there is a rate somewhere that the majority of right-thinking people will accept as the reasonable cost of life in a society.

One in a hundred? There are millions that think that 1 in 50 is probably more like it. I'm not one of them. But there are millions that are certain it should be ... what? Lower? How low? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand?

Where is that line? We'll probably never know. The numbers really don't matter. We will always desire it to be lower than what is current.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2008


My mind just exploded trying to figure out CPB's point...assuming there is even one there.
posted by maxwelton at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law.

The problem isn't, as far as I'm aware, that we're imprisoning young black men for crimes they didn't commit.

The problem is that we are imprisoning young black men for the same crimes that young white men are given diversion, probation, fines, a strongly worded warning, etc.

Unless, of course, you believe that young black men are actually six times as likely to commit a crime as young white men.
posted by dersins at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


There are more Americans in prison, not per capita but in total then there are in China. in fact, there are more people in prison in the U.S. then there are in China and India combined.
posted by delmoi at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


That 11% of young black men in this country are in prison right now is perhaps the most repulsive indicator of the the racism inherent to our "justice" system that I have ever seen.

I totally agree.
posted by caddis at 11:44 AM on February 28, 2008


what is an acceptable incarceration rate?

The issue here is not the rate. The issue is the differential.
posted by DU at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2008


One would assume that an acceptable rate would be somewhere near the middle of the distribution, not all off on one's own at the high end.
posted by carter at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.

I'll put it to you like this - when I was about 20, I was pulled over with some friends on a holiday weekend. I wasn't speeding or driving recklessly. The cops searched the car extensively, wanting badly to find drugs. I don't know why they pulled us over in the first place or why they expected to find drugs (not that I never did them, I just didn't happen to have any). Eventually, one of our intrepid law officers found a plastic stick that could possibly be used to hit someone (I don't remember what its purpose was or why I had it). He held it up triumphantly: if the pigs couldn't find DRUGS, at least they found WEAPONS! I was released, but a warrant was later put out for my arrest and I eventually got, thanks to a good lawyer, 20 hours community service.

NOW, if I had been a young black man:
I probably would have been roughed up by the cops

I would have been tackled to the ground and cuffed as soon as the stick was held aloft triumphantly, then taken directly to jail

If my family hadn't been able to afford the lawyer, I would have gotten a year or more in prison. If they had, maybe less than a year or probation.

That is how young black men are treated by the system, from cops to judges. Police in Los Angeles severely beat and outright murdered young black men for years, until they were caught doing it to Rodney King. Those little youthful brushes with the law everyone has when they're young and reckless, like the one I told you about? Those youthful brushes result in police beatings and prison time for young black men.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


Where is that line? We'll probably never know. The numbers really don't matter. We will always desire it to be lower than what is current.

Or, we could take a rational look at the crimes people are being incarcerated for, which segments of society are targeted, and how long sentences last. And whether that has a deleterious effect on society.

We might perhaps realize, for example, the societal and economic costs of imposing insane sentences for what are really very minor drug infractions. That sort of thing.

Indeed, CPB, I'm surprised that you do not appear to have read the article:

The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.

Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”


The Pew Center isn't exactly a home for ultra-left ideologues. They're pretty centrist. So not only are you mischaracterizing the results and purpose of the survey, but maybe the numbers are problematic, after all.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2008


One in a hundred? There are millions that think that 1 in 50 is probably more like it. I'm not one of them. But there are millions that are certain it should be ... what? Lower? How low? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand?

There are millions of people who believe in Scientology. What is Obvious is that the U.S. has a higher incarceration rate then any other country in the world. Only a handful even come close. There are more Americans in prison then in prison in India and China combined. We have a far higher prison population then nations with far less crime.

And since we know there are Millions of people in prison already, it's safe to say that there are at least millions of people who think the prison population should be at least one person lower...
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2008


I saw Richard Thompson Ford speak recently and he lead with the fact that there are more black men incarcerated nationwide now on a percentage basis than there ever was at the height of Jim Crow in the south.
posted by The Straightener at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2008


Seeing the U.S. (and Russia) at the top of the p/c incarcerated list is concerning enough, but can anyone explain why the majority of the remaining nations/jurisdictions in the top 20 are in the Caribbean or thereabouts?
posted by kittyprecious at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2008


Cool Papa Bell writes "I'll just ask rhetorically and then bow out gracefully ... what is an acceptable incarceration rate?"

The US has the highest incarceration rate per capita and in numbers of any country in the world, including China. Does it seem like perhaps there's a problem, if that's the case? Our incarceration rates were not always this high. This is very much a recent phenomenon, which has been exacerbated by three strikes laws, mandatory sentencing and the Drug War. I'd say the better question is: Is what we're doing working, and what, exactly are the goals? Unless the goal is primarily to put more people in prison, but not address recidivism, crime rates, cost, etc., we're not doing what's working.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


What distresses me most is to think about how much of the crimes that have landed people in jail are of the non-violent nature.
posted by hopeless romantique at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know, if this country just took capital punishment seriously we wouldn't even have this problem.
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, of course, many of the numbers from countries such as Belarus, China, etc are likely pure fabrication.

Not that that excuses our execrable position on the list in any way.
posted by Skorgu at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2008


Three words: War On Drugs.

Unless trends are forcibly reversed, in a few years you can add three more: War on Terrorism.

And considering how many non-blacks are walking the streets on probation for crimes that would've sent a young black man to the can, just think about how many Americans total are convicted felons. 1 in 50? 1 in 30? Is it all legal overreaching that produces so many "criminals" or is this a bi-product of a culture that glamorizes "outlaws"*? And how many Americans who have done the same criminal things just have never been caught or convicted? 1 in 20? 1 in 10? Are we just a nation of sociopaths?

*An Outlaw is defined as a criminal with good PR.
posted by wendell at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Pew Center isn't exactly a home for ultra-left ideologues. They're pretty centrist.

While I am not disagreeing with your basic position, this paper is a product of the Pew Center on the States, which is organized under the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew Research Center does not share even one board member with PCT and they have different executives.
posted by phearlez at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2008


what is an acceptable incarceration rate?

Lower than many countries, instead of higher than every other country on earth, including some who we deride at totalitarian dictatorships. Especially China, who we routinely criticize for human rights abuses but have no trouble doing business with.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think perhaps the greatest modern tragedy that will go unmourned, is that most of those young men in prison, expect to be there, expect to never work a job, expect to die before 25. This is heresay that I heard from a friend who knows people who work in Atlanta Public Schools. How do you constrain the waking dead? Place them in funeral homes...

Lets consider if you know your going to die by 25 and you know you lack any employable skills, what are you going to do?
posted by Rubbstone at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2008


Just yesterday I was in court. It was the probation calendar. There was a young black man who was there on a violation. He had been placed on probation for possession with intent to sell cocaine. He had a suspended sentence of about two years in prison. He was being violated for one reason or another (I wasn't paying that close attention at the beginning). The judge opted to keep him on probation, and then made the following statement. "You go out there an do whatever you want, but remember: If you so much as smoke one joint, you'll be doing two years in prison."

At the time, I thought to myself, What greater snapshot of what is wrong with our system than the statement: "If you so much as smoke one joint, you'll be doing two years in prison."
posted by flarbuse at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


**Coff** ...land of the "free"... **Coff**

void where prohibited, may cause rash actions, foul language and incontinence


On a slightly less snarky note, it is interesting that at the same time that 6% of all people who are black are incarcerated we also have a viable candidate for president who is also black.
posted by edgeways at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2008


I guess I just still have a hard time believing that the rate actually goes up every year., despite the fact that it so clearly goes against that which is rational and ethical.

And I'm startled that there are still people surprised to hear that the prison rate is so high. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like our ridiculously high incarceration rate has been general knowledge for at least, like, a decade.

The Prison Industrial Complex really is stunningly powerful at perpetuating itself.
posted by lunit at 12:23 PM on February 28, 2008


Let's keep in mind that more and more prisons are run for profit by multinationals with inherent interest and significant power in lobbying for legislation which would make incarceration easier and slave/prisoner labor more accessible for them.

Another structure which treats humans as a resource for profit. I guess "free" markets make everything simpler!

http://www.prisonactivist.org/materials/wto_pic.html

http://www.tgorski.com/articles/Drug%20War%20&%20The%20Prison%20Industrial%20Complex.htm

http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2007/01/beware_of_the_c.html

But don't worry. If you are white, christian, never speed, never drink, never download music or movies, never argue with a police officer, never protest in the streets, never use "illegal" drugs, and you keep yourself reasonably wealthy, you should be OK.

And yes, fusinski, it's perfectly OK to treat anyone who did something illegal as a criminal and slave. I suggest you keep current with what's illegal in your state by hiring a lawyer and running everything you do by him 24/7, cause that list is constantly expanding. Keep in mind that driving while black may get you the same treatment as raping and killing your neighbor's 16-year old daughter. But hey, all criminals are the same, after all.

Yes, I am being sarcastic. Nothing personal, but... Criminalizing more and more people, locking them up, ruining their lives and future, torturing them in cold blood (no heat, sleep deprivation, brusing off rape and violence as small or no offenses in prison), and profiting from it is perfectly legal, but painful to watch. I know people whose children, brothers etc. are behind bars for small or no offenses. Had they had been rich, had they been "white," things would've been different.
posted by andreinla at 12:26 PM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Legalize all drugs, pardon everyone incarcerated for doing drugs, and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Scoo at 12:28 PM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


CPB, siting the same sources you do above, I find that those same millions of people believe you are a pedophile. Man, debate is so much easier when you get to make up statistics.
posted by absalom at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2008


I don't like 99.1; top forty is an abomination.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


"He was being violated for one reason or another ..."

Yeah, that's about right.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:33 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem is that we are imprisoning young black men for the same crimes that young white men are given diversion, probation, fines, a strongly worded warning, etc.

Unless, of course, you believe that young black men are actually six times as likely to commit a crime as young white men.


Maybe I'm getting the wrong vibe from your post, but you seem to be implying that no reasonable person could ever believe that. I'm certainly willing to, and the evidence is not scarce. I don't have any evidence for or against your slap-on-the-wrist theory, but here's murder, where it presumably doesn't apply. Black rate = 7x white rate. Not far off the difference in the rate of incarceration.

So to maintain that no race in the US is more predisposed to incarcerable criminality than another, we either have to believe that:
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the cops just don't notice.
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the jury lets them off.
- Whites don't commit nearly as many crimes as blacks, because they have a far better chance of receiving the middle-class upbringing and education which makes crime inappropriate.

My sense is that two of these factors are immaterial.
posted by magic curl at 12:35 PM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


"bow out gracefully" = make dumbass assertions without backing them up
posted by roll truck roll at 12:49 PM on February 28, 2008


Arrest rates for drug possession tripled since 1982.
posted by herbaliser at 12:49 PM on February 28, 2008


of all people who are black are incarcerated we also have a viable candidate for president who is also black

Not really, in the sense that Obama is a not a product of the "Black/African-American" sub-culture.

There are, arguably, "African-American", secular politicians that could have achieved similar success -- JC Watts, and others that I am aware of tangentially -- but Obama himself is something of an odd bird.

The issues surrounding racial bigotry & prejudice aren't just about skin color. Not that I am a Marxist, but the Political Compass question about class differences being more significant than nationality made me think about that question a bit and the answer I came up with surprised me.
posted by panamax at 12:53 PM on February 28, 2008


1 in 9 black men aged 20-34

Does anyone knows the black/white ratio of arrests for a specific crime vs the ratio of conviction? I seem to recollect having read that the rate of arrest is roughly similar but the rate of convction strikingly different. (cannot search and support at the moment)
posted by francesca too at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2008


Legalize all drugs, pardon everyone incarcerated for doing drugs, and let the chips fall where they may.

Even if we just legalized pot it would make a huge difference. The statistics in herbaliser's link are telling.
posted by caddis at 12:57 PM on February 28, 2008


Dear Fusinski,

Some of us are still capable of recognizing satire, and we still love you.

Love,

Not AndreinLA
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The (possibly racist, but not a hate site) La Griffe du Lion has an interesting take on incarceration thresholds and disparity ratios.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:11 PM on February 28, 2008


kittyprecious: Seeing the U.S. (and Russia) at the top of the p/c incarcerated list is concerning enough, but can anyone explain why the majority of the remaining nations/jurisdictions in the top 20 are in the Caribbean or thereabouts?

I can't speak for the rest of the caribbean, but in our little corner, laws are incredibly strict, mostly due to the fact that it's bad for tourism if criminals are knocking off resorts and tourists on a daily basis. So even small crimes are dealt with fairly strongly. Simple shop-lifting can easily lead to a prison sentence.

There's also a great deal of poverty when you wander away from the five-star resorts.
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:20 PM on February 28, 2008


What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.

I would be interested to know how many of them are not guilty of a violent crime. Until these numbers are made available, though, it's a little premature to summon much outrage. I can't find a mention of these statistics anywhere in this report.
posted by transona5 at 1:22 PM on February 28, 2008


Also, look at the states with the highest ratio of "corrections to higher education spending." Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. With the exception of Michigan (where I happen to live), these are all states that are known as quite liberal and pretty nice places to live. Maybe these statistics are somewhat misleading.
posted by transona5 at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2008


Well it certainly is much more complex than just the institutionalized racism inherent in the justice system that leads to the startling statistic of 1 in 9 black men being in jail, although that (and the war on drugs) certainly play a role.

I think Rubbstone alluded to it above. I used to be the team doctor for an inner city football team here in Seattle. One night I was talking to a bunch of the kids about plans for the future after high school, what their older siblings were doing, what their parents expected of them. What astounded me is that nearly all of these kids' parents and older family members were either dead, suffering from a number of disabling medical problems that would kill them soon, were in prison, or were just out of prison. None had an adult over the age of 45 in their lives in any meaningful way.

I know the statistics, but to me, this makes a much bigger emotional impact -- just how would it affect your understanding of yourself and the world if no one you ever knew had ever had any kind of meaningful existence after high school? Everyone dead, dying, or in prison.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:31 PM on February 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the cops just don't notice.
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the jury lets them off.
- Whites don't commit nearly as many crimes as blacks, because they have a far better chance of receiving the middle-class upbringing and education which makes crime inappropriate.

My sense is that two of these factors are immaterial.


That's because you haven't been paying attention. My sense is that things close enough to all three of these are factors.

For "cops just don't notice," consider that cops are more likely to target Black people or more likely to let off White people with a warning or what have you. For an example of the first in action, I believe something like 80-90% of public marijuana possession arrests or charges in New York City are for Black and Hispanics. Believe you me, 80-90% of marijuana smokers in New York City are not Black or Hispanic.

If Black people are less likely to afford a fancy lawyer to make deals with prosecutors and judges and to impress jurors, perhaps they're less likely to be let off. If the judge or jury is racist, they're less likely to be let off.

And for your third point, true enough, but all the education and upbringing also means that the wealthy and educated may know better how to conceal their crimes and commit "more acceptable" crimes which the system doesn't target as much, as well as just be evil bastards in completely legal ways.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:31 PM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


U.S. prisons are so unproductive. At least in Russian prisons they make an export product with a significant economic effect. What they make, of course, is MDR TB.
posted by agentofselection at 1:33 PM on February 28, 2008


Why outsource doodad production to China when 1% of your population will work locally for the same wage? Our prison system lacks serious vision.

Hardly the case.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:45 PM on February 28, 2008


magic curl:
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the cops just don't notice.
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the jury lets them off.
- Whites don't commit nearly as many crimes as blacks, because they have a far better chance of receiving the middle-class upbringing and education which makes crime inappropriate.

My sense is that two of these factors are immaterial.


TheOnlyCoolTim:
That's because you haven't been paying attention. My sense is that things close enough to all three of these are factors.

My instinct is that the most productive one to address would be the third bullet.
posted by The Power Nap at 1:46 PM on February 28, 2008


It's not racist to put black people in jail. It's racist to NOT put white people in jail.

Discuss.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:49 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whenever I read something like this, I can't help but think of Randy Newman's song Rednecks.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2008


blue_beetle: It's not racist to put black people in jail. It's racist to NOT put white people in jail.

I'll take the bait-- if you take a specific case where the same crime was committed by both a white person, Bob a black person, John

John goes to jail, Bob is let go with a warning.

If your opinion of the crime is that John was correctly sentenced, then it's unfair that Bob was let off with a warning. Hence you would be considered racist for not putting away the white person.

If however, you judge that Bob was the correct sentence, then it is John that was unfairly treated.

It stands to reason, we would rather a guilty person go free then an innocent person go to jail-- hence why we have juries in the form we do. So the second case is the worst outcome of the two. Although in a fair system we would want to see both go free, or both be sentenced.
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:11 PM on February 28, 2008


Right wingers are adorable, aren't they? Every problem has a clear, simplistic, indisputable cause. If it wasn't for the pinko liberal media or the ACLU or whoever the chosen bogeyman is, we could just pull up our bootstraps, hitch up our trousers and get to fixin' it. More nigras are in prison because they commit more crimes. Africans are starving because there's no natural resources/they are lazy. And that's just off the front page of Mefi! It must be very comforting, if you're an idiot.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, hey, late to the discussion. Here's my anecdote. My brother sold a bunch of merchandise out of the store he was managing but forgot to change the inventory count. He was arrested on a felony, for which he pled guilty.

His eventual sentence? His king-hell lawyer got him ONE DAY in jail, ONE DAY of probation, served concurrently.

He was in jail at 6 p.m. and out of jail barely twelve hours later.

Yeah, it's good to be rich and white in this country.
posted by John of Michigan at 2:16 PM on February 28, 2008


If however, you judge that Bob was the correct sentence, then it is John that was unfairly treated.

It stands to reason, we would rather a guilty person go free then an innocent person go to jail-- hence why we have juries in the form we do.


In this hypothetical, they are both guilty. Sending an innocent person to jail is something that we would all like to prevent at all costs and obviously much worse than letting a guilty person go free. But is it obviously much worse to send a guilty person to jail for a crime that shouldn't merit a jail sentence than to let a guilty person go free for a crime that should? I would argue yes (if the crime that should merit a jail sentence isn't, say, attacking and threatening to kill someone that you do immediately kill when you are set free.) But the calculation isn't as clear-cut.
posted by transona5 at 2:17 PM on February 28, 2008


That 11% of young black men in this country are in prison right now is perhaps the most repulsive indicator of the the racism inherent to our "justice" system that I have ever seen.
posted by dersins at 7:09 PM on February 28


This implies that black youth are out in to jail more frequently in relation to the number of crimes they commit than other ethnic groups.

Even if this is true, what if they vastly commit more crime? A cursory glance at the FBI uniform crime report shows that half of all murder is done by a black youth aged 15-22.

That is staggering, considering blacks make up less than 12% of the US population.

How is this racist? How long will America attribute everything to racism? When Oprah demanded private shopping time after a Parisian boutique closed, it was immediately thrown under the klieg light of racism. What if the store was simply closed?

The truth is not only do blacks commit a disproportion amount of the violent crime in the US, but they are also slipping away economically.

As long as we shy away from these topics in an effort to avoid the spectre of racism, the slow collapse within the black community will continue unabated.
posted by plexi at 2:24 PM on February 28, 2008


This infuriates me in a way that I find difficult to articulate. The problem is so obvious that most people don't even see it anymore, or they just accept it as being the way the world works.

The drug laws in this country are directly responsible for this astonishing incarceration level. And every person (black or white, but let's be honest, mostly black) who goes through the penal system is just getting prepped to cycle right back through.

When I look at these numbers I have to wonder how many are the result of recidivism, how many non-violent offenders who were doing nothing worse than getting high were dumped into a gristle mill which made them far more dangerous as a result.

What would these numbers look like if we fixed the drug laws in this country? How many of these people are in prision as a direct result of the drug war?

Add to that the damn near institutionalized racism, and an absurdly influential prison industry and you have a perfect recipe for criminalizing one in a hundred of us.

Fuckers.
posted by quin at 2:26 PM on February 28, 2008


Since today is probably my last day on the site in this account, I'd like to make sure that Cool Papa Bell does not go unthanked for constantly helping to set the parameters of any sociological discussion by planting a flag at its nadir. Thanks Papa!

Huh. Well I'm gonna stick around for a bit and I'd like to thank him for making some commonsense observations.

Might it be possible that the racial disparity could be accounted for by a dysfunctional, zero-sum world view? Do blacks and whites in the U.S. have the same culture? And if not, could those differences in culture promote different attitudes about the law and civic responsibility? What might the effects of those (hypothetically) different attitudes be?

Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals has some well formed responses to these questions.

The issue here is not the rate. The issue is the differential.

No. America promises equal opportunity, not equal results.

-----

Hey. I think these stats are all kinds of fucked up. A number of the contributing factors are in my opinion some of the worst aspects of the U.S.: the drug war, mandatory minimums, and corporate control of prisons. But focusing on racial disparity isn't all that productive, the focus is better directed to policy.
posted by BigSky at 2:26 PM on February 28, 2008


Right wingers are adorable, aren't they? Every problem has a clear, simplistic, indisputable cause. If it wasn't for the pinko liberal media or the ACLU or whoever the chosen bogeyman is, we could just pull up our bootstraps, hitch up our trousers and get to fixin' it. More nigras are in prison because they commit more crimes. Africans are starving because there's no natural resources/they are lazy. And that's just off the front page of Mefi! It must be very comforting, if you're an idiot.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:12 PM on February 28


What's the difference in a fundamentalist evangelical calling someone an idiot and a progressive ACLU supporter calling someone an idiot?

Nothing.
posted by plexi at 2:27 PM on February 28, 2008



What's the difference in a fundamentalist evangelical calling someone an idiot and a progressive ACLU supporter calling someone an idiot?

Nothing.


Unless one of them's, y'know, right.
posted by dersins at 2:33 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]



- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the cops just don't notice.
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the jury lets them off.
- Whites don't commit nearly as many crimes as blacks, because they have a far better chance of receiving the middle-class upbringing and education which makes crime inappropriate.


Actually, it's a little from each column. If you compare the economic background of those committing crime (poor whites vs. poor African-Americans), the gap decreases. Poverty also places a defendant at a considerable disadvantage within the system (a public defender isn't nearly as likely to provide the kind adequate defense that a private defense attorney can provide). But there are clear racial imbalances right at the source - the disparity in arrests relative to crimes committed, as well as the disproportionate number of African-Americans that DAs choose to prosecute.

According to FBI statistics, African-Americans and Caucasians use drugs at approximately the same rate (white a little more than blacks). It's telling how many white people automatically doubt this. Thus African-Americans account for about 16% of the population and about 16% of the drug users.

And yet according to the The Drug Policy Litigation Project, African-Americans account for 35% of all drug arrests or drug possession, 55% of all defendants convicted, and about 74% of those incarcerated for drug crimes. Here's an ACLU .Pdf with those statistics front and center, followed by a discussion of some of the other contributing factors).

Socio-economic factors simply cannot explain away all or most of these disparities. The almost inescapable conclusion is that police officers are more likely to target African-Americans for arrest, DA's are more likely to prosecute African-Americans, and juries are far more likely to convict them.

Mind you these disparities are not necessarily driven by overt acts of racism. Police are found in higher concentrations in lower socio-economic neighborhoods. If a police chief conducts a crime sweep in "bad neighborhood" they're likely to get positive publicity. Conversely, a police chief's job might be at risk if he did a crime sweep at a white suburban high school and arrested a bunch of upper class white kids (he might anger some rich and influential parents).

DA's are budget-conscious and have to allocate resources intelligently. They're more likely to make favorable deals with clients who can afford private attorneys (lengthier, more expensive trials with lower chance of success) versus those who are reliant on public defenders. However economics don't fully explain the disparity. It may not be written down or ever said out loud, but all things being equal a DA will simply have a better chance of securing a conviction of, say, a black teen than a white teen.

Police departments are not unaware of the conviction rates of those they hand over to the DA for prosecution. If you're a police chief, your "success" as measured by the number of 'criminals taken off the street' (as well as the rate of arrests leading to convictions) will be much lower if you arrest 30 high school aged George Bush Jrs than 30 poor high school aged Barack Obamas.
posted by Davenhill at 2:57 PM on February 28, 2008 [25 favorites]


I think the big question for our policymakers is this:
How does a society, attempting to maximize total welfare, respond to the myriad social, cultural, and economic forces that govern the interactions of millions of individuals in a country with such heavily stratified economic groups? What steps, if any, should government take to mitigate this disparity?
posted by anifinder at 3:01 PM on February 28, 2008


Davenhill, thank you for providing the statistics to back up what I felt intuitively to be the case.
posted by dersins at 3:04 PM on February 28, 2008


And if not, could those differences in culture promote different attitudes about the law and civic responsibility?

Let's ask Ron Paul.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:08 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because a system where privatized shareholder-owned prisons supplying cheap labor for shareholder-owned manufacturing creates a strong economic incentive to increase the prison population for increasingly minor infractions. You know, for shareholder benefit

If you're American and have a pension fund, then you're almost certainly a shareholder to some degree. Are you personally orchestrating this conspiracy? Is anyone you know?

I see what you mean about economic incentives, but the prison system is so regulated, and so dependent on government subsidy, that I've a hard time seeing how they'd have any real impact on... well, anything, let alone the criminal code. America's incarceration rate seems adequately explained by its puritanesque war-on-everything political mindset, and lack of a real social safety net. The corporations who own prisons are just siphoning their small money from the public purse, like with any other PPP. They're not the real problem.
posted by magic curl at 3:08 PM on February 28, 2008


Let's ask Ron Paul.

This is good advice that needs no qualification, but it does seem a little out of the blue. Besides you didn't link to Ron Paul, you linked to a story about newsletters written in his name.

Must have been a careless error.

You can listen to him giving his position on race and the drug war here.

For those who don't care to interrupt their metafilter experience, a summary:

Ron Paul cited the unfair disparity in the percentage of blacks imprisoned over drug offenses in proportion with the relative percentage of black drug users, giving example to the system's racial bias.

Read more Ron Paul, here.
posted by BigSky at 3:32 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Doesn't anyone get tired of hearing the same leftist arguments over and over again on Mefi? One doesn't even need to look at the comments before knowing what everyone will say. Any contrary opinion, such as Cool Papa Bell's, is routinely derided as stupid without addressing the argument at all. Decemberboy's point is really philosophical; the political right does tend to believe in simple explanations because they are usually correct -- Occam's Razor you know, principle of parsimony, whatever you would like to call it. Simple explanations may be wrong, but they should at least be dealt with respectfully. This Mefi monoculture is getting out of control. Oh, and yes, too many people are in prison in the U.S.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 3:36 PM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


excellent analysis Davenhill, I stand partly corrected
posted by magic curl at 3:38 PM on February 28, 2008


the political right does tend to believe in simple explanations because they are usually correct -- Occam's Razor you know, principle of parsimony, whatever you would like to call it.

The political right certainly isn't the only group that likes simple explanations - the left has its favorites, too - but an over-reliance on Occam leads to sloppy thinking. Or no thinking. Because as much as we'd like it to be white hats and black hats all the time, life just isn't going to cooperate.

Simple explanations may be wrong, but they should at least be dealt with respectfully.

CPB's comment was not a "simple explanation." He offered no stats, no cites, and not even any thoughtful stat-less, cite-less commentary. It was a trollish comment, and while CPB is many things, I don't think he's so stupid as to drop a bomb like that and then be surprised that it blew up.

Please see Davenhill's comment for an example of not-stupid and not-simple.
posted by rtha at 3:48 PM on February 28, 2008


Davenhill, you link to an unreferenced ACLU paper (I'm a member) but it only refers to drug arrests. What about violent crime?

- black juveniles comprised 49.8 percent of all juveniles arrested in 2005 for violent crime.

-concerning known murder offenders, 89.9 percent were males; 52.6 percent were black.

As of 2002, the total black population in the United States is around 13%. That is sadly the textbook definition of disproportionate.

Maybe one day numbers won't be racist - they will simply be a call to action.
posted by plexi at 3:52 PM on February 28, 2008


How many of these people are in prision as a direct result of the drug war?
State prisons held a total of 1,274,600 inmates on all charges at yearend 2004. In absolute numbers an estimated 633,700 inmates in State prison at yearend 2004 (the latest year for which offense data is available) were held for violent offenses: 151,500 for murder, 178,900 for robbery, 129,400 for assault, and 153,800 for rape and other sexual assaults. In addition, 265,600 inmates were held for property offenses, 249,400 for drug offenses, and 88,900 for public-order offenses.
From here. Also note:
According to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the US is $67.55. State prisons held 249,400 inmates for drug offenses in 2006. That means it cost states approximately $16,846,970 per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6,149,144,050 per year.
And:
Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.
What was the benefit of this War on Drugs, again?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:59 PM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes rtha, Davenhill's comment was lovely and well-reasoned. My point is that Cool Papa Bell knew that a sarcastic comment, one essentially saying that people are in prison because they commit crimes, would provoke such a heated response on Mefi. He knew what the inevitable course of the responses would be -- as did fusinski. The problem is that CPB's comment was more like a snap than a "bomb."
posted by Raoul de Noget at 4:06 PM on February 28, 2008


EASY WAY TO STAY OUT OF JAIL: DON'T TAKE DRUGS. Why this hasn't become a meme in the African American community is beyond me. The drug laws are outrageous and unjust. So why feed them? Life is actually much better without drugs anyway. So if you don't use them, it's win-win: You don't go to jail and you're healthier in mind and body. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know racist cops plant drugs. But if you don't use drugs or associate with people who use drugs, you lower the odds of your going to jail for any reason by a considerable amount.
posted by Faze at 4:12 PM on February 28, 2008


Raoul, it wasn't a snap. Cool Papa's been around here long enough to know exactly how his comment would be received - anyone who's participated in a political thread with him knows where he stands, and he knows that too. His comment, like our little side conversation here, wasn't designed to contribute to the discussion. It wasn't a thoughtful-but-contrarian viewpoint, and it got the reception it deserved.
posted by rtha at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2008


Plexi: -concerning known murder offenders, 89.9 percent were males; 52.6 percent were black.

As of 2002, the total black population in the United States is around 13%. That is sadly the textbook definition of disproportionate.

Maybe one day numbers won't be racist - they will simply be a call to action.


But how we use numbers matters. You're only factoring race, but not age (or class, for that matter). Young people commit more violent crime than older people. Black Americans have a lower life expectancy than White Americans, so the Black proportion of young Americans is higher than 13% (e.g. Blacks are 13% of the total population, but a smaller percentage of the older, more peaceable population). That accounts for some of your difference. Factor in socio-economic class, I bet you've accounted for a lot more of it.

Simple explanations may be comforting, but they're not really useful.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2008


Besides you didn't link to Ron Paul, you linked to a story about newsletters written in his name.

Too bad fraudulent statements like his claim that he didn't endorse his own viewpoints aren't worthy of some jail time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2008


Faze writes "EASY WAY TO STAY OUT OF JAIL: DON'T TAKE DRUGS."

Hey, great idea! Let me know how that works out for you, OK?

Now, back to the conversation at hand ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:39 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the cops just don't notice.
- Whites commit as many crimes as blacks, but the jury lets them off.
- Whites don't commit nearly as many crimes as blacks, because they have a far better chance of receiving the middle-class upbringing and education which makes crime inappropriate.


Can I vote for a little from all three and throw in:

- Laws are written by white culture which largely frowns upon some behaviors that are not largely considered to be a major problem by black culture.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:47 PM on February 28, 2008


- Laws are written by white culture which largely frowns upon some behaviors that are not largely considered to be a major problem by black culture.

Examples?
posted by The Power Nap at 4:51 PM on February 28, 2008


Blazecock Pileon writes "Too bad fraudulent statements like his claim that he didn't endorse his own viewpoints aren't worthy of some jail time."

That would indeed make the current situation much worse, as our incarceration rates would skyrocket, and at that point we'd probably be living in a police state.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:53 PM on February 28, 2008


His comment, like our little side conversation here, wasn't designed to contribute to the discussion. It wasn't a thoughtful-but-contrarian viewpoint, and it got the reception it deserved.

Ahem. I respectfully disagree. Length of post does not equal lack of useful heft.

Let's get real: While the study's authors have good intentions, the article and press is a reaction to a press release that pulls out the centerpiece stat from the study -- 1 in 100 in prison -- and promotes it in order to promote the study itself and its authors.

And it's a sexy stat, from a news perspective. The immediate reaction is predictable. "One in a hundred! Oh my gosh! Oh noes! That can't be right! That can't be good!"

Well, actually, it can be right, and it depends on where you stand. It's not good (no incarceration ever is), but it can be something less than bad. I'd say 99 percent of this 1 in 100 actually, you know, broke the law.

Now, we can talk about drugs, about race, about class and privilege and sentencing standards. All good topics. But the conversation started with numbers.

So, my reaction, and my "contribution" to the discourse actually has nothing at all to do with drugs, race, class, privilege and sentencing standards. My contribution is that it's very, very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction ("One in a hundred! Holy shit this is racist / classist country!") and miss the forest for the trees.

Exactly which forest and which trees ... well, that's up to you to decide.

But one in a hundred? Would you be up in arms if it were one in 200? Do you want to release half of the current prison population ... today? OK. So, which half?

I reminded of the joke about Winston Churchill, who asked a woman to sleep with him for a million dollars. She accepted. Then he asked if she would sleep with him for one dollar. She refused, and asked "What kind of woman do you think I am?"

He replied, "Well, we've already established that. Now we're just haggling about the price."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:09 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


EASY WAY TO STAY OUT OF JAIL: DON'T TAKE DRUGS. Why this hasn't become a meme in the African American community is beyond me.

Not to turn this into a discussion on drug laws and the merits thereof (although it basically is already, since these ridiculous incarceration rates are a direct result of the "war on drugs"), but how many people can honestly say they don't use ANY drugs? That cup of coffee you need to function? The happy pills you have to pop to artificially avoid crushing existential despair? The alcoholic drinks you need to "be sociable"? All mind-altering drugs. Know what the difference is? Those drugs are deemed acceptable by white culture. Marijuana, on the other hand, is much more acceptable within black culture than within white culture, and indeed one of the main reasons it was made and remains illegal is in fact racism. Contemporary arguments for making it illegal included "it could make white kids listen to jazz!" and "it could make black men lust after white women!", and it was closely associated with black/jazz music culture, thus it was threatening to white racists. To black people, it was never really unacceptable except to religious teetotalers and remains more popular with black youth in general than white. The difference is, a white Trustafarian with rich parents will get 6 months probation for getting pulled over with an ounce of pot, while a black kid from the 'hood will get prison time.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:11 PM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


But one in a hundred? Would you be up in arms if it were one in 200? Do you want to release half of the current prison population ... today? OK. So, which half?

Ooh! ooh! I know!

The ones who are imprisoned for non-violent drug offences?
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:14 PM on February 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


In Soviet Russia the...uh....no, wait, pretty much the same deal.

“Yeah, it's good to be rich and white in this country.”

Heh heh, yeah it is.
Oh...I mean uh *furtive sad look* yeah. Huh. Wow, right? Pfft.

EASY WAY TO STAY OUT OF CAMPS: DON'T BE JEWISH.

“what is an acceptable incarceration rate? ... there is a rate somewhere that the majority of right-thinking people will accept as the reasonable cost of life in a society...”

Pardon my addressing the issue here.
The question - and the implication in the FPP itself is an improper way to frame the issue. Or rather, the context is larger than any microsolution could be.
Oh, sure, perhaps CPB is a filthy Nazi degenerate who rapes children because he appears to endorse right leaning ideologies, but in fact it is a logical response to the issue as presented.
The question is leading, really.

As is the state of incarceration. See, once you build a prison, it, and the systemic support it enjoys, becomes self-perpetuating. You’ve got this huge facility built to last a hundred years staffed, plugged into the logistic chain, so isn’t it natural it’s fed with inmates?

It perpetuates a culture that makes policies contibuting to its existance seem logical and rational.

This isn’t to say we don’t need some prisons.
But from first principles - the idea is to limit or “fight” crime.

The question should not be (and it’s indicative of the larger culture that remains unquestioned, not only by Cool Papa Bell, but by the litany of responses - cogent or otherwise they’re all of a kind within that culture) where is the line drawn or what the proper proportion of incarceration should be, but rather - is incarceration the only, or best, means of preventing or controlling crime.

There are a broad range of policies within and out of the criminal justice system that exist to prevent, control, and rehabilitate crime and criminals.
Different countries use these resources in a variety of ways and often with success. Often from a social support position.

Slarty Bartfast pointed (obliquely) to the need for some of these programs ( “Everyone dead, dying, or in prison.”) and the abyssal silence on that front is deafening.

And yet - unless incarceration is examined in this context, policymakers will be confronted with a set of crime control options that is much more restrictive, costly, and authoritarian than necessary.

I myself, dislike having my taxes continue to go to subsidize a culture, a set of policies, and a methodology that has proven itself flawed over and over in the past decades.
Recidivism rates are outrageous. And yet the argument remains static.
Similar to what is here. “More prisons!” vs. “The system is unjust”

It ain't a one horse with two colors issue folks.

It’s possible to reduce crime by putting more people behind bars, but that’s a temporary fix.
Oh, sure, we could kill ‘em. But the costs of ammo are through the roof and I’m a lazy, lazy man.*

No, what’s needed is not more or less prisons, sentencing, blah blah blah, but social intervention programs funded on the state and federal level to the same levels prisons are.

Sounds funky but parent training, preschool enrichment programs, neighborhood leagues, all those social support network programs together, might not have the dramatic initial effect of locking people up en masse, but will lead to major and lasting reductions and - importantly - a different kind of self-perpetuating cultural shift.


*(except for the Maras, y’know, them you just shoot on sight)
posted by Smedleyman at 5:15 PM on February 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


“ ‘Laws are written by white culture which largely frowns upon some behaviors that are not largely considered to be a major problem by black culture.’
‘Examples?’ ”

Forgot to snag this - I’ll address it from the Hispanic P.O.V. though (yeah, ‘cause of the hyperbole with the Maras).
Bit of a problem with Mexican Americans out here drinking outside. Happens all the time and it’s a real pain in the ass. But, classic example of cultural friction with laws written by the greater culture.
*cuts the foreplay*
There are laws, in Chicago, in the ‘burbs, pretty much all over the area, against public intoxication. Basically a nuisance ordinance.
A lot of Hispanic guys, drink outside. And, if you’ll notice (next time you look), it’s always a group of males.
A lot of the folks who don’t own homes do it in parking lots outside their apartments or in the streets.
So they get busted.
So why are they out there? Why do they keep doing it?
Well, in the first place, there are serious cultural taboos against drinking in front of women and especially in front of kids. It simply isn’t done. It’s not on the order of cannibalism, but it’s close.
It’s not a behavior that’s going to change merely because there’s a law.

So why drink at all? Well, I don’t know a working man in the world who doesn’t enjoy a beer now and then after work. Not to excess. Takes the edge off. It’s a muscle relaxant. All that sort of thing. It’s a pleasure you might feel have a right to, especially if you aren’t guzzling the booze and are just socializing with your friends, in the street, with a drink, the way your dad might have done in Mexico. And, importantly, you’re not being loud or doing anything immoral.

Let me put it this way - if there was a misdemeanor that interfered with you, say, not walking around in front of your in-laws, company, etc. in your underwear - are you going to obey it?

Or are you going to try to get away with wearing pants and a shirt in front of people in your home?

I’m not debating the merits of any position - just illustrating how the problem and the friction lays out with two incongruous cultural perspectives on how public space (the commons) are to be used.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:35 PM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Examples?

Disco infernos. "Burnin' that mutha down" is frowned upon by white culture and embraced by black people, as was shown when a roof on fire killed 43 party people. "[The firefighter] kept shouting, 'The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!' and so forth, but they just went right on dancing, insisting that they didn't need any of our water and that we should let the motherfucker burn."
posted by kirkaracha at 5:37 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That would indeed make the current situation much worse, as our incarceration rates would skyrocket, and at that point we'd probably be living in a police state.

I wasn't being serious that Ron Paul should go to jail for trying to rewrite history. Just that it's ironic that he's not in jail for lying publicly about his published racist beliefs about blacks being innately criminal and deserving of as much prison time as libertarians will pay for. Anyway, I doubt throwing lying politicians like Ron Paul into jail should cause incarceration rates to change much...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:38 PM on February 28, 2008


cool, you guys are the winners.

You lock up more brown people than any other society now or in the history of humans.

Congrats.

What's even more shocking is that not one of them, not one, is actually guilty of breaking any law. Amazing.

Oh you're right. It's so totally not your fault all the bad brown people are in Amerika.

What a crock of complete and utter shit.
posted by lastobelus at 5:46 PM on February 28, 2008


There's a lot of discussion here regarding racial bias in prison populations. That's fair enough, but I think you'll find comparable biases if you look at the prison systems of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, you name it.

For instance, in Australia, Aborigines make up 18 to 20% of the prison population, while they are 1% or less of the total population of the country.

In New Zealand, the incarceration rate for Maori is over four times the rate for non-Maori citizens.

So the racial issue isn't limited to the United states.

However, the overall rate of incarceration is. What the hell are you all doing over there?
posted by Jimbob at 5:52 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


[Marijuana] remains more popular with black youth in general than white.

You can't just make things up as part of an argument. I tend to not completely trust these studies, but here you go:

Several general points can be derived from Table 4-9. First, for nearly all drugs, licit and illicit, African-American students in 12th grade reported lifetime, annual, 30-day, and daily prevalence-of-use rates that are lower—sometimes dramatically lower—than those for White or Hispanic 12th graders. (big PDF)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:13 PM on February 28, 2008


Cool Papa Bell writes "But one in a hundred? Would you be up in arms if it were one in 200? Do you want to release half of the current prison population ... today? OK. So, which half?"

Again, the fact that it's higher than any other country does give us some sort of a metric. And, again, the question we need to ask is, what is our goal? Get tough on crime laws are popular because they're used as political bludgeons. Laws get passed in the heat of the moment after a noteworthy crime and end up biting us in the ass later, when we have more perspective and can consider the effects, but that's only beginning to happen after a period of over 20 years of getting tougher and tougher, building more and more prisons, and privatizing the industry to put the profit incentive into play. Most politicians like to talk about how they're going to lock all those criminals up, and it's been a very effective way to challenge your opponent to one-up you. It's also a great way to funnel money to cronies, after the election's over. Prison workers now comprise a pretty powerful voting bloc.

It's not about solving problems, fighting crime, etc. It's about politics as usual and pandering to the worst instincts of the electorate. It's created a huge class of people who are permanently disadvantaged in creating productive lives, which is one of the major reasons recidivism is so high. That's not really a great result, but it's a reality, exacerbating the problem further. We put very little money or resources into programs with real rehabilitation as the goal anymore. All the money goes to locking people up, and we've passed law after law designed to get the most casual criminals put in prison for long periods of time. This is what we get. It's not very hard to figure it out.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:29 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can't just make things up as part of an argument.

I didn't make it up, but I'm only citing personal experience. I'm pushing 30, so maybe I'm divorced from the habits of "youth". Maybe "don't want to go to jail, don't ride dirty" IS a meme with black kids now.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2008


Blazecock Pileon writes "I doubt throwing lying politicians like Ron Paul into jail should cause incarceration rates to change much...
""


What I meant was, if things get so bad we throw people in jail for lying, we're looking at a hell of a lot of people in prison.

But, yeah, I know what you're saying ...
posted by krinklyfig at 6:38 PM on February 28, 2008


I'm probably with the majority on this one, having been exposed to the prison system more than most. My father worked for the California prison system, and that is one corrupt, corrupt, corrupt outfit. Horrible. You wouldn't believe the shit that goes on in there, and I'm sure it's gotten worse since he died.

However, one thing you folks may be missing when you say that China has a lower incarceration rate than the US: over there, they just shoot many of their criminals, and then bill their families for the bullet.

Make sure you're comparing the same things before you stake your position out too firmly.
posted by Malor at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


As long as we shy away from these topics in an effort to avoid the spectre of racism, the slow collapse within the black community will continue unabated.

It boggles my mind that anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of American history can look at these numbers and not see racism at the root of any realistic explanation for them. Don't be bashful - enlighten me with your brilliant analysis. Take my hands, pull me away from my haunted wasteland of wishful thinking and into your world of right-minded reality. Dose me with bitter truth, I can't bear living in denial any longer! Call me to action, I demand it!
posted by granted at 10:30 PM on February 28, 2008


Most depressing Stuff White People Like EVAR.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:35 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even if this is true, what if they vastly commit more crime? A cursory glance at the FBI uniform crime report shows that half of all murder is done by a black youth aged 15-22.
...
Davenhill, you link to an unreferenced ACLU paper (I'm a member) but it only refers to drug arrests. What about violent crime?


A lot of you are separating violent crimes with drug crimes, which seems overly simplistic.

How many of those violent crimes were committed because of drugs? How many were a direct result of conflicts over territory? It's more than a bit disingenuous to suggest that the two are unrelated. It seems reasonable that the legalization (or at least decriminalization) of drugs would have a positive effect on violent crimes as well.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:31 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Forgive me if it has been mentioned already. Haven't the time to read all the above, but upon reading Malor's about the Cali Prison system, I can't help but chime in about the three strikes law adding even more to the number of people currently incarcerated.

Additionally, a few years ago I read a brilliant book about this subject. If anyone wants further reading, here's the book:
Prisons: Inside the New America: From Vernooykill Creek to Abu Ghraib

And that Unicore site (linked from above) is all the more shocking to me because of the fact that Unicor doesn't seem to realize how obscene the information is on their website. It reads like a sick joke. It's like ebay/Amazon, but made on the cheap by your local crackhead-thief-murderer-child-molester...so it's a double bonus to us all! Buy now!

Yes, slavery for the new millennium. New World Order through slowly churning the populace into imprisoned machines. Both behind bars and in front of the tube and video game screen. And if we can only spread this new capitalism wide enough, we just might be able to turn the encroaching world recession around. If we can only teach those "motivationally challenged" countries to build prisons quick enough. Maybe we can just convert all the soon-to-be-foreclosed houses into prisons. The prisoners can build and install the electric fences around them too. I can dream can't I?

The new and improved American Dream:
Just exchange the white picket for electric with cameras and sharpshooters.
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 11:36 PM on February 28, 2008


Also...

1 in 9!? Holy fuck. According to the stats in the PDF, if you extend the age bracket from 20-34 to 20-44, the number is still 1 in 13.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:40 PM on February 28, 2008


1 in 9!? Holy fuck.

Why so surprised? Black people are inherently criminal, they commit more crimes, so more of them are imprisoned. Occam's razor or something like that.

Occam's razor must be cutting up the lines of coke one would need to snort to be high enough to believe that. Coke which, if you happened to get caught with, you'd get off with a light sentence since sentencing for powder cocaine is on average much lighter than for equivalent amounts of crack cocaine. Which has nothing to do with racism, of course. Silly lib'ruls with your complex causes.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:54 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


And consider that the 1 in 9 rate is across the board in the US. In some urban areas it is probably twice as high, and then add on the fact that those are only the numbers for currently incarcerated. I've read that 1 in 3 black men will go to prison sometime in their life (in the US).

And DecemberBoy: Well, of course crack cocaine has harsher sentences. "Those" people can't afford the better lawyers. And we all know that the lawyers that are sniffin the powder can afford the stuff quite well.
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 12:33 AM on February 29, 2008


The officer had every right to take away the skateboard as it could have been used as a weapon. In such a dangerous situation the police officer can't tell usual kids from murderous crack dealers.
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:01 AM on February 29, 2008


However, one thing you folks may be missing when you say that China has a lower incarceration rate than the US: over there, they just shoot many of their criminals, and then bill their families for the bullet.

You know, I'm no fan of China, and its government has a horrid human rights record, but this comment sounds an awful lot like something that isn't really true. Could you provide a reference for it? I tried a Google search, but only got similar unsourced assertions made by commenters on forums like Free Republic and references to some Richard Gere movie.

In any event, the fact that the US has a per capita prison population 7-9 times that of most other First World countries tells me that there is something seriously wrong with how we do things, independent of any other factors of racism, classism, or what have you. Claiming "Yeah, but China is worse!" is hardly a compliment to the system in place.
posted by moonbiter at 3:31 AM on February 29, 2008


So, I guess you won't be making any more jokes about Australia being peopled entirely by convicts, then?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:50 AM on February 29, 2008


moonbiter:
Most Executions carried out in 2006
Country / Number / Population
China / at least 1,010 1 / 1.321 billion
Iran / 177 / 70 million
Pakistan / 82 / 162 million
Iraq / at least 65 / 27 million
Sudan / at least 65 /39 million
United States / 53 / 303 million
1. Based on publicly available reports. Other sources suggest the real tally is between 7,500 and 8,000.

Still, even 8000 executions is not enough to make much difference.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:59 AM on February 29, 2008


Kith Gerson made the point upthread about re-offenders, and that seemed to make sense, especially when you have a revenue-hungry commercial prison operation. But when you look into it, the numbers don't really stack up. The table on pg14 of the Criminology in Europe (pdf, sorry) newsletter shows that recidivism rates in the US are lower than in Europe. (Although I should note that the data is spotty, and that the latest figures for the US are from 1994, so perhaps don't reflect the reality of the GWOD).

On the point about discriminatory framing of laws and sentencing contributing to the disparity between black and white incarceration rates. The example of tcrack and cocaine already mentioned is a very clear:

The disparity of the sentences for crack, a form of cocaine, and powdered cocaine possession has been a major issue for defendants for years, primarily because blacks have been disproportionately sentenced under the harsher crack penalties. Last year, more than four-fifths of crack cocaine offenders in federal courts were black.
The disparity in sentences for those convicted under the crack and cocaine guidelines is staggering. Federal law sets a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for trafficking in 5 grams of crack cocaine, but it would take 500 grams of cocaine powder to warrant the same sentence.


(quote lifted from an NPR article with many links to more detail on the specifics)

The GWOT and GWOD are twin aspects of the same fundamental fear culture that has been cultivated in the US. Once that fear is engendered it then becomes almost politically impossible to argue for reasonable, proportionate responses to issues perceived as threatening. You have to promise to lock up more criminals than the other guy, kill more terrorists than the other guy etc. It's retribution, not resolution.
posted by Jakey at 4:53 AM on February 29, 2008




Also, look at the states with the highest ratio of "corrections to higher education spending." Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. With the exception of Michigan (where I happen to live), these are all states that are known as quite liberal and pretty nice places to live. Maybe these statistics are somewhat misleading.

I'd guess that Alabama spends a lot of money on its football program, and practically nothing on medical care for inmates.
posted by gimonca at 5:30 AM on February 29, 2008


It seems reasonable that the legalization (or at least decriminalization) of drugs would have a positive effect on violent crimes as well.

Yes, as long as decriminalization takes the profit motive out of selling drugs, because the problem of course is that big potential profits + big potential penalties = might as well kill the fucker and take the stuff. The disproportionate penalties create the sort of circumstances in which the worst sort of people come out on top. If you remove the potential profits from dealing, these guys will have to move into other illegal fields to get the same sort of profits.
posted by pracowity at 6:34 AM on February 29, 2008


It may also be true that those 'quite liberal and pretty nice' states spend a lot more per inmate than the other states, as well as somewhat more on higher education.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:35 AM on February 29, 2008


China and India need more black men aged 20-34, fewer white women aged 35-39!
posted by davemee at 6:56 AM on February 29, 2008


I'd like to make sure that Cool Papa Bell does not go unthanked for constantly helping to set the parameters of any sociological discussion by planting a flag at its nadir. Thanks Papa!

I think it's called trolling.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:22 AM on February 29, 2008


obiwanwasabi: So, I guess you won't be making any more jokes about Australia being peopled entirely by convicts, then?

That's the sort of thing Fezzini would say....I hate that guy.
posted by inigo2 at 7:39 AM on February 29, 2008


It is true that too many innocent people in this country are sent to prison. According to this site, 5 people have been exonerated each year since 2000, just from Death Row. It is, of course, hard to know how many more innocent people sit on Death Row or in prison who will not be exonerated, but surely they exist, and each of them is a severe tragedy.

This site suggests that 200,000 innocent people behind bars in the US is not an unreasonable estimate. That would mean that that "there are more innocent prisoners in America than there are prisoners of all kinds in France, Germany and Britain combined."

Dersins is also partly correct in that even the guilty are wrongfully convicted, in that they are given harsher penalties than they "deserve" (dessert is a nasty concept in itself, but that is a topic for another day). Overzealous prosecution, improper conduct by police, coerced confessions, exaggerated testimony, racial prejudice... All these things add to the problem.

Also mentioned above is that some activities that are "crimes" in this country are not even wrong, harmful, or hurtful. The most obvious examples are non-violent drug crimes.

Unfortunately, compounded by the above mentioned factors, is the real phenomenon that young black men are more likely to actually engage in risky activity like crime than other people. This does not come from genetic or biological differences, rather, as I talked about in this thread, it comes from young black men being more likely to grow up in the kinds of environments more likely to foster violent crime. This of course is an issue that deserves discussion.
posted by AceRock at 8:01 AM on February 29, 2008


Kirth Gerson, thank you for the reference, but your link doesn't seem to work for me. I agree with your assessment that even 8k isn't enough to make up the difference, since that's around 0.61 per 100,000 or so, while according to carter's link and the PDF in aerotive's FPP, the incarceration difference between China and the US is 632 per 100,000. Of course, since the study for China only lists sentenced prisoners, I assume that means that there is some level of unsentenced prisoners that are not accounted for here.

Plus, the question of whether or not the family has to pay for the bullet is still an open one.
posted by moonbiter at 8:19 AM on February 29, 2008


Here's that link again:
Wikipedia
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:00 AM on February 29, 2008


- Laws are written by white culture which largely frowns upon some behaviors that are not largely considered to be a major problem by black culture.

Examples?


Sorry for the late response. Perhaps rather than drawing the line at "black culture" and "white culture" I should say rural and urban or some other non-racially specific moniker as a lot of the cultural phenomena I'm talking about often cut across racial lines. I'm talking, for example, of the difference in conservative, more generally rural America where a someone caught smoking a joint is a capital offense while in "permissive" more generally urban America they'd call it Tuesday afternoon.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:46 AM on February 29, 2008


Examples?

Underage Drinking
posted by Rubbstone at 10:11 AM on February 29, 2008


The officer had every right to take away the skateboard as it could have been used as a weapon. In such a dangerous situation the police officer can't tell usual kids from murderous crack dealers.

That's ridiculous, the murderous crack dealers are black. Also, they don't ride skateboards anyway, they ride stolen bicycles.
posted by granted at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2008


re: China's executions....Chinese try mobile death vans.

In the interest of efficiency, they now have mobile execution vans so they can carry out the sentence immediately.

From the article:

Intermediate Courts of the southern province of Yunnan were issued with 18 new execution vans on February 28 and a court official said some have already been used.

Eighteen execution vans for one province. No, I don't have any hard numbers on how many they're actually executing, but ... I think it's safe to say the number is pretty goddamn high. That's the sort of equipment you use in factory-level production.

(note: this doesn't excuse the high US incarceration rates, I'm just using it as an example of saying that 'even China doesn't have this many in prison' may not be the most apt comparison.)
posted by Malor at 1:53 PM on February 29, 2008


I'm not sure getting pedantic about China's execution rate really counts for much, when the USA is the only modern first-world nation that still uses capital punishment. The USA hangs out with the worst dictatorships and least modern nations in that regard. (Note that only the red-tinted countries in that map make regular use of the death penalty.)

In many ways, the USA is a third-world nation. While many of its civilian population have a first-world level of material possessions, many other aspects of the nations operation are quite plainly third-world.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:55 PM on February 29, 2008


Second-world, certainly. Third-world has an implication of abject poverty and near-total failure of government, where second-world is 'merely' low-class and barbaric.

Saying that the US's prison system is comparable to Mexico's probably isn't quite accurate, but in the poorer states, is likely closer to the mark than most would want to admit. But even the worst of our systems are a lot better than the ones in the third world.

I took a slightly odd position in this thread; I'm all in favor of prison reform. I don't believe that treating people like animals gives you better people afterward. And I think the disparity in skin color when sentencing is horrific. I sort of ended up as a devil's advocate, but that wasn't intentional.
posted by Malor at 4:15 AM on March 1, 2008


But even the worst of our systems are a lot better than the ones in the third world.

You are factually wrong on this. The worst of your systems are just as bad as anything that happens elsewhere. Ignoring all the inter-prisoner violence, you've got guards raping prisoners, guards murdering/allowing the murder of prisoners, a thriving contraband industry involving all levels of the system, solitary isolation, executions, and an amazing level of racism.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 AM on March 1, 2008


TheOnlyCoolTim writes "You can't just make things up as part of an argument. I tend to not completely trust these studies, but here you go:

"Several general points can be derived from Table 4-9. First, for nearly all drugs, licit and illicit, African-American students in 12th grade reported lifetime, annual, 30-day, and daily prevalence-of-use rates that are lower—sometimes dramatically lower—than those for White or Hispanic 12th graders. (big PDF)"


Considering the relative drop out rates do you think the results might be skewed when considering the general population?

Malor writes "Saying that the US's prison system is comparable to Mexico's probably isn't quite accurate, but in the poorer states, is likely closer to the mark than most would want to admit."

I sure hope US prisons aren't that bad. They had a bit on the CBC yesterday about Canadian Brenda Martin, apparently innocent but even Mexico doesn't know as she hasn't had a trial yet, who has spent the last two years in a Mexican prison. She shares a 9X12 cell with 11 other people plus a infant. 11! The cell only has three bunks, everyone else sleeps on the floor. I can't imagine inflicting that kind of punishment on anyone.
posted by Mitheral at 4:40 PM on March 1, 2008


Considering the relative drop out rates do you think the results might be skewed when considering the general population?

Well considered, sir, and certainly an interesting possibility.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:05 PM on March 1, 2008


You are factually wrong on this.

In addition, even if it weren't factually wrong, it's still a condemnation of our system. When you are reduced to comparing yourself to the worst of the lot, you are setting the bar at its nadir. The US should be comparing itself to the rest of the wealthy First World countries, and asking itself why it isn't doing better than everyone else.

Malor, thanks for the link. I noticed in there the "charged for the bullet" statement is also made. I just keyed on it because it sounds an awful lot like an urban legend, and I can't stand it when those kind of things are thrown into the debate.
posted by moonbiter at 5:59 AM on March 2, 2008


Here's a 1996 NYT article that makes the 'families charged for bullets' claim.

This recent Telegraph article also makes the claim, while saying that lethal injection is the method used now.

Here's a different story about the execution vans. It has a picture of one, with those cute cartoon-dog-ears mirrors.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:37 AM on March 2, 2008


Here's an editorial in today's New York Times.
posted by lunit at 8:23 AM on March 10, 2008


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