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Everything you never wanted to know about the American prison-industrial complex
November 30, 2009 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Everything you never wanted to know about the American prison-industrial complex. Part 2: Prison Nation.
posted by Optimus Chyme (92 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuuuuuck. Now you got me depressed. How I absolutely despise this country.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:37 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Looks like a wealth of varied information- well worth ploughing through, so I'll give it a shot.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:43 PM on November 30, 2009


And they say Satan is just a myth.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:45 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


That second link is really...christ. What's wrong with us?
posted by rtha at 9:54 PM on November 30, 2009


wow. Thanks Optimus, that was enlightening.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:57 PM on November 30, 2009


I had an argument about prisons and punishments today in school. One of my (intelligent, college-educated) classmates put forth the idea that drug dealers "should simply be shot in the head" without benefit of a trial. She speculated that this would greatly reduce the amount of drug dealing going on, since it would serve as a huge deterrent to future drug dealers.

I responded by pointing out that several decades of a vigorously-enforced death penalty here in Texas has not apparently served as much of a deterrent against murder, and that our draconian sentences against things like rape and robbery have also not seemed to dent the prevalence of those crimes either. This is how the rest of the conversation went:

Me: So, clearly, these harsh sentences haven't really reduced the amount of-
Her: No, you're wrong.
Me: I'm sorry?
Her: You're wrong. Shooting drug dealers on the spot would totally deter them.
Me: Yeah but as I pointed out before, the widespread application of the death penalty hasn't-
Her: No, you're just wrong.
Me: What do you mean?
Her: You're wrong. Some people just deserve to die.
Me: Well whether they deserve it or not, the death penalty doesn't really seem to det-
Her: Look, you're just wrong, ok? These people are scum. They deserve to die.
Me: Well, if anything making drug dealing punishable by death would probably make drug dealers infinitely more violent and willing to kill police officers if they think they're going to die anyway.
Her: No. You're wrong. Just stop it. You're wrong.

And that, folks, is why articles like this are just preaching to the choir. People who argue for alternatives to the current system are "just wrong", not logically or empirically, but emotionally and spiritually. Patriotically, even. Saying that we unjustly imprison millions is saying that there is something wrong with America, and that's "just wrong". Period.
posted by Avenger at 9:58 PM on November 30, 2009 [60 favorites]


I've gone into this in greater detail before, but it is worth remembering that, of our prison population of over 3 million, less than ten percent were convicted by trial before a jury. We've filled our prisons not by means of a public and transparent due process, but by backroom and off-record interrogation, by deals brokered in private and under duress.

That's ninety percent. We've thrown almost three million people into a landfill over nothing more substantial than a signature on a piece of paper. Just think about that.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:03 PM on November 30, 2009 [24 favorites]


That thread just scares the absolute shit out of me. Wow. Thanks for posting this.
posted by threetoed at 10:08 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


less than ten percent were convicted by trial before a jury

I don't have a handy link for stats, but a good chunk of that is made up by people who can't make bail and are waiting on trial dates. A sizable number have spent more time locked up than the usual or even maximum sentence for their offense would merit. Just let people smoke the ganja already!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Prison Legos
posted by bigmusic at 10:26 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nothing new here, just the logical outgrowth of dead end, chickenshit America.

Instead of hiring worthless coffin-stuffers who've taken a few classes at the local community college and are now ready "serve, protect, and break a negro's neck," we should cut law enforcement staffing ranks in half, and pay the remaining (hopefully educated and reasonable) members twice their usual salary.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:32 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not everyone should get reduced sentences.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:39 PM on November 30, 2009


One of my (intelligent, college-educated) classmates put forth the idea that drug dealers "should simply be shot in the head" without benefit of a trial. She speculated that this would greatly reduce the amount of drug dealing going on, since it would serve as a huge deterrent to future drug dealers.

Unbelievable. Why not go all the way and make it so that people who want to alter their senses should also be shot in the street, as well as the people who provide them the means of escape? After all, sans clients, the "dangerous" drug "pushers" would just dry up and we'd be left with a Nancy Reagan vision of hardworking, sober coffee achievers.

Nothing new, just more hypocritical, Puritanical nonsense from our f*cked country.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:41 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


porn in the woods: "Instead of hiring worthless coffin-stuffers who've taken a few classes at the local community college and are now ready "serve, protect, and break a negro's neck," we should cut law enforcement staffing ranks in half, and pay the remaining (hopefully educated and reasonable) members twice their usual salary."
Better yet, keep the coffin-stuffers and halve the staff:
Wait a minute, are you saying that instutionalized gang warfare and racism are deliberate tools used by an overcrowded prison system to prevent the prisoners from unifying against their jailors?

That was part of the reason for its genesis, but I don't think even back then they realized how bad it would get or how quickly they would lose control. They started with control-units (now called SHU's) to try to keep it in check, and when that didn't work they built a prison where the whole thing was a SHU (Pelican Bay). When that didn't work they SHU'd it up too, and then when it hit 200% capacity they built another one just like it (Kern Valley). It filled up twice over as well, and it still didn't work.

In the 60's, it was thought that racial conflict inside prisons was preferable to wholesale uprisings nationwide like Attica; that the price was worth preventing total anarchy systemwide. It was thought that increased racial strife between cons could be effectively managed by increased harshness on the part of the facility. We now know this not to be true, but far too late. It was also thought at the time that the country was much closer to some kind of major upheaval than it really was. Vietnam, civil rights movement, counterculture, all of it- Nixon, not realizing Nam would end not with a bang, etc. felt that some kind of uncontrollable uprising was inevitable. Attica and the violent episodes which happened in the streets as a result of civil rights + Vietnam were seen as mere hints to some future mass revolt, instead of what they wound up being. The drug war is usually credited to Reagan but in fact it was Nixon's last, greatest war- and will be his legacy once future historians look on the matter with more educated eyes.

What the government could not have foreseen was how their initial efforts could so completely backfire. In the 60's, there were things which would be totally unheard of in prison today. There were gangs of big strong gay men who roamed the tiers, protecting all small inmates of any race from rape- and killing prison rapists. This is unthinkable in today's prisons. So it started by sending groups of Hispanics in a juvenile facility into tiers with older black offenders, knowing that they would be victimized and gang up. Knowing that they would take to the adult prisons this allegiance. This was the birth of the Eme's- the Mexican Mafia, one of the most feared and powerful criminal organizations as has ever existed in this country and which will endure for the entire lifetime fo the USA. The administrators could not have foreseen this.

posted by boo_radley at 10:43 PM on November 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


Metafilter's flarbuse chimed in with first-hand experience on this, specifically re: drug sentences, in a deleted thread a while back. I thought his posts were shocking as they were informative:

I just had a trial this week. My client was charged with possessing 38.2 grams of an opiate or opiate derivative, hydrocodone. Under my state's law, the weight of any compound or mixture (in this case, pills) is measured and treated the same as the weight of the opiate itself. My 38.2 grams of pills actually contained .3 grams of actual hydrocodone (the pills weighed around a gram each and they were 7.5 milligram hydrocodone pills). He was charged with Level 3 Trafficking in Opiates or Opiate Derivatives. The sentences for Trafficking in my state carry with them mandatory sentences that are not related to a person's prior criminal history.

He had 40 7.5 milligram hydrocodone pills that were not prescribed to him in an unlabeled bottle. He was convicted of the Trafficking charge and sentenced to 225-279 months in prison. By law, he has to complete at least 85 percent of the maximum (in this case, 279 months) before he will be released.

By definition, possessing more than 28 grams makes one guilty of Level 3 Trafficking by Possession. Being caught in a car like my client ones also makes one guilty of Level 3 Trafficking by Transportation. He was found guilty of both, but the Judge consolidated the two under one sentence.

It was actually worse than it sounds. Here is my cross of the chemist for the State Bureau of Investigation:

Me: How did you test the pills?
SBI: They have an engraving on them that says M 360. I checked the chart, and the pills that contain that engraving are hydrocodone.
Me: Did you ever test the chemical make-up of any of the pills?
SBI: No.
Me: Don't people make counterfeit prescription drugs?
SBI: Yes, but I can tell the difference by looking at them.
Me: Don't people put the same engraving on some counterfeit pills?
SBI: Yes, but I can tell the difference by looking at them.
Me: There are some counterfeit pills out there that you have never seen, right?
SBI: Yes.
Me: So you don't know if you would be able to tell the difference if you saw them, do you?
SBI: I would be able to tell the difference.

So the pills were never actually tested. My closing can be summed up with the following sentence that I repeated in some variation throughout my closing: "Surely 225 months of a man's life are worth the time it would have taken to run that test."

The jury came back in twenty minutes with a guilty verdict. After sentencing, the judge asked the jurors if they had any questions of the lawyers or officer about the case. A juror's hand shot up. "Why didn't you test the pills?" she asked.

Right question, Juror Number 7. Wrong time.

posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:47 PM on November 30, 2009 [48 favorites]


and hopefully this will put an end to "HURF DURF SOMETHING AWFUL IS A DUM" complaints from mefites. There's a lot of really passionate people at SA working on good causes, fighting the good fight.
posted by boo_radley at 10:48 PM on November 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


Jesus, boo, just when I thought I'd got over that thread. I'm getting angry all over again just thinking of it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:49 PM on November 30, 2009


and hopefully this will put an end to "HURF DURF SOMETHING AWFUL IS A DUM" complaints from mefites. There's a lot of really passionate people at SA working on good causes, fighting the good fight.

Yeah. It used to be among the top ten largest forums on the internet. In any language. And that's (dons shady glasses) an awful lot of brainpower.

posted by kid ichorous at 10:59 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not to be flip or anything, but after reading that SA thread, tonight I'm going to be dreaming of a giant soccer mom stomping on the face of America, forever.

"You're wrong," she chants, "You're just wrong."
posted by Avenger at 10:59 PM on November 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


A link to LF on the blue! Wowzers.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 11:00 PM on November 30, 2009


A link to LF on the blue! Wowzers.

This will be the thread where all the LF readers on MeFi show up. Reveal yourselves!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:14 PM on November 30, 2009


hey that first link is my site :3
posted by p3on at 11:18 PM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Holy crap. I thought that thing was just an urban legend. I really hope the Feds have monitored him to make sure he doesn't actually have any shells for it.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:20 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had an argument about prisons and punishments today in school. One of my (intelligent, college-educated) classmates put forth the idea that drug dealers "should simply be shot in the head" without benefit of a trial. She speculated that this would greatly reduce the amount of drug dealing going on, since it would serve as a huge deterrent to future drug dealers.

I have to say, I'm quite sure shooting drug dealers in the head on sight would certainly deter them. Murder is pretty rare, and it's usually committed in a fit of passion, whereas people choose to engage in drug dealing as a a rational economic choice to take the risk in order to make a profit, just like a stock trader buying or selling stock. For a low-level dealer, the risk isn't really all that great. For high level dealers, the potential loss is high, but the risk of getting caught is a lot lower and the profits are really high.

If low level dealers were getting shot in the head, the calculus would be radically different. People would probably try other crimes with lighter sentences, like robbery or pimping. (I've actually heard that pimping is on the rise among some gangs because it's less risky then drug dealing)

The real problem with that plan is, if drug dealers were all shot in the head, where would we get drugs!?

On a more serious point, this person has swallowed the "drugs are bad" mantra hard. She thinks drug dealing is morally equivalent to genocide pedophilia or whatever. Also:
Her: Look, you're just wrong, ok? These people are scum. They deserve to die.
What do think she imagines in her head when she thinks of "these people"?
posted by delmoi at 11:28 PM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


delmoi, all of that ignores what anyone who's set foot in a Criminology classroom (hey, it was interesting and I needed electives) can tell you: it's not the harshness of punishment which has a deterrent effect but the surety of punishment.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It goes without saying that if the police suited up and started creeping around drug corners blasting away at suspected dealers on sight, or if they caught anyone with more than one small baggie of weed/coke/pills/etc on them and just drew down and popped them there, then yeah, there would be a major decline in drug activity. At least temporarily.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:36 PM on November 30, 2009


until the robots started selling, anyway
posted by p3on at 11:38 PM on November 30, 2009


Robots do love getting high.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:41 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


And I'm pretty sure the end result would be mass riots and anti-police violence the first time a cop blew away someone who didn't deserve it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:42 PM on November 30, 2009


Jesus Christ, we're scared little barbarians in this country. So, where would I best send a donation to someone fighting the good fight?
posted by maxwelton at 11:43 PM on November 30, 2009


But, it's much worse in other places (not to excuse the situation in the US).
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 PM on November 30, 2009


I'm not inclined to weigh in on either side of the question. But two quick notes.

From the first link:

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International did a study into people sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. These are early teenagers that end up living their life, from age 13-17 to death, in prison, for something stupid that they did.

Just a debating ProTip, here: Present facts, and avoid characterizations. One simple phrase ("...for something stupid that they did") undermines the statistics that follow. Kids are not sentenced to life in prison for having vandalized swingsets.

And second: I don't know how to offer this to the general public, but for any lawyers or law students, there is a truly excellent article worth reading that discusses society's treatment of crime and criminals: The Aims of the Criminal Law, by Henry M. Hart, Jr., published in 24 Law & Contemp. Probs. 401 (1958). You don't need to be a lawyer to make sense of it, and it's one of those rare pieces of writing that examines a fundamental facet of society in a useful, insightful way.
posted by cribcage at 11:50 PM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't know how to offer this to the general public

By which I mean, I wasn't able to find the full text available for free online. Maybe someone else will.

posted by cribcage at 11:51 PM on November 30, 2009


This will be the thread where all the LF readers on MeFi show up. Reveal yourselves!

*raises hand*
posted by chiababe at 12:09 AM on December 1, 2009


Kids are not sentenced to life in prison for having vandalized swingsets.

Sure, but kids are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole all the time in this country. The Supreme Court is probably going to tell all of us that it's an ok thing to do sometime next year. Kids who never had the opportunity to participate in the political system that will send them into a hole for the rest of their natural lives. They'll never even have the chance to prove to anyone that they deserve get out. And most of the country is cool with that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:25 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


And not to harp on Dillinger Four, but they pretty much hit the nail on the head with respect to what prison does to the kids that get sent there:

Shut Your Little Trap, Inc.:

I know it's hard to believe but part of me was scared to leave
They were so concerned with what I deserved
They never thought about what I'd need
And I know my friends from high school
Are dropping my name because they think it's so cool
That I'm caught in a cage match run by the state
With middle-aged men whispering softly about rape
Where does this leave me, where should I go
Trapped with worse evils than I've ever known
Think of what you had seen when you were sixteen
Then think of me

Now I'm just a guy who's got half his time to go
If good behavior means a two-year show
Other cons are talking about me now they call me the kid
And the judge who sent me up made a good impression
For the next election
But what the media won't say is even with my freedom
I still wouldn't be old enough to vote against him
Some nights all I could do is sit and cry
Is this what they want or do they want me to die?
If that's the case, spark up the chair, tape up my face
Kill me right here, because I can't take this living in fear
And what I'm getting out of this has never made itself clear
As a free man I've had to fight what it taught me
Paranoia and constant bigotry
A mind-set designed and provided just to hold me down
Where respect came only through intimidation
So I'm always expecting a confrontation
Apparently this is what they call rehabilitation.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:34 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


The textbooks on criminology like to advance the idea that prisoners are mentally defective. There is only the merest suggestion that the system itself is at fault. Penologists regard prisons as asylums. Most policy is formulated in a bureau that operates under the heading Department of Corrections. But what can we say about these asylums since none of the inmates are ever cured. Since in every instance they are sent out of the prison more damaged physically and mentally than when they entered. Because that is the reality. Do you continue to investigate the inmate? Where does administrative responsibility begin? Perhaps the administration of the prison cannot be held accountable for every individual act of their charges, but when things fly apart along racial lines, when the breakdown can be traced so clearly to circumstances even beyond the control of the guards and administration, investigation of anything outside the tenets of the fascist system itself is futile.
Prison Letters of George Jackson
posted by Abiezer at 12:37 AM on December 1, 2009


it's not the harshness of punishment which has a deterrent effect but the surety of punishment.

The amount of time between punishment and getting caught can also have a big effect. The thing is, it sounds like avenger's classmate was talking about having cops just shoot anyone on the street whenever they were caught selling drugs It's really hard to imagine that not having a pretty huge effect.

On the other hand, when you look at some Asian countries where people get crazy-long sentences, or even the death penalty for drug dealing, drugs are still available (But I don't know how widely available, it's hard to know)
posted by delmoi at 12:48 AM on December 1, 2009


Apropos the deterrent value of shooting drug dealers: I recently finished reading The Newgate Calendar, which is basically what 18th century people had instead of reality cop shows, which is to say, it is a gory, prurient and sleazy collection of accounts of 18th century criminal careers.

At the time the stories in the Calendar were collected, England had what was commonly known as The Bloody Code, which was a sytem of criminal penalties which imposed death, flogging or transportation for even minor crimes. It is striking when reading the Calendar how little people were deterred by the possibility of being hanged for robbery. The reason is obvious: without a functioning police force (which wouldn't be formed for another century or so) the risk of being brought to justice was pretty low. People figured they could get away with it, and they often did.

So an effective policy of shooting drug dealers without trial would need to be implemented in such a thoroughgoing way that even rabid soccer mom might change her tune, after her boy gets shot. But no doubt, not before.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:01 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would say that people who favor executions without trial should be shot dead in the street. After a trial, of course.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:12 AM on December 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


The amount of time between punishment and getting caught can also have a big effect. The thing is, it sounds like avenger's classmate was talking about having cops just shoot anyone on the street whenever they were caught selling drugs It's really hard to imagine that not having a pretty huge effect.

Sure. Like, say, shooting police on sight when they show up in the neighbourhood. Ask Maxicans how well police do in running battles with heavily-armed drug cartels.

Seriously, though, the right-wing government over here is agitating aggressively for privatised prisons. I must be sure to circulate this link...
posted by rodgerd at 1:17 AM on December 1, 2009


The idea of allowing cops to shoot suspects in the head would be funny if it wasn't so tragically close to where we are right now. How many lives are completely ruined annually by the war on drugs? You really don't want to know.
posted by mek at 1:57 AM on December 1, 2009


The reason prisons have evolved as they have in America is largely due to the idea that the way to correct behavior is punishment.

More and more research into child psychology is showing that this isn't true for children - it doesn't surprise me one iota that it's not true for adults who have broken a law.

The way to correct behavior in children is to model correct behavior and teach by example and redirection until the child is able to display correct behavior on hir own. (Yes, this does include removing the child from situations where ze has become harmful to hirself and/or others.) I have no idea what a good prison system would look like (other than "not what we have now"), but imagine that an actual educational component would be more effective in terms of recidivism than just "stay in this room for x amount of time."

There is an enormous, albeit underappreciated, gap between punishment coming from a parent and punishment coming from the state. It should go without saying, but unfortunately this idea seems to be lost on those that have directed the justice and punishment systems into their current states. It is still based on the notion that negative reinforcement from the state will make people behave better, even though every statistic points in the opposite direction.

Right, and the "fact" that negative reinforcement from a parent will make a child behave better is also a myth. Just watch a few episodes of Super Nanny and you'll see how parents who choose to simply respond to bad behavior by yelling or time-out without any discussion of the behavior involved end up.... well, requiring intervention because their children haven't learned any positive behaviors, they've just learned "pissing mom off is a fun game."

I don't know about prison, but I know about child behavior, and negative reinforcement isn't the way to go if you want children who are capable of behaving on their own when you're not there. Negative reinformcent only works if you get caught. The point is to teach children not to exhibit harmful behaviors even if there's no one to catch them. To expect that negative reinforcement would work for adults is wrong-headed - it doesn't teach that they were wrong to act out against the law, it teaches that they were wrong to get caught.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:37 AM on December 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


The solution is pretty clear and obvious

Disagree.
posted by lunit at 6:04 AM on December 1, 2009


>> I'm quite sure shooting drug dealers in the head on sight would certainly deter them.

Being shot in the head isn't a very strong deterrent - it's a fast and probably painless death. If you want to deter, you levy endless suffering. Taking off hands and feet with a shotgun, f'rinstance.
posted by davelog at 6:18 AM on December 1, 2009


Disagree.
posted by lunit at 6:04 AM on December 1


So just to be clear, then, you think that state governments should have less emphasis on prison education and rehabilitation, correct?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:24 AM on December 1, 2009


Crime, and in particular prisons, is one area where I often wonder whether democracy is the right way to do things.

Ask the average person on the street how they think crime should be dealt with and you'll get a hundred different answers, fifty of which would give the Third Reich a run for its money. And the media, far from educating people about the moral complexities of law and order, just throw fuel on the fire of popular prejudice. Politicians, short-termists that they are, bow to the will of the people as expressed through Fox News or the Daily Mail or whatever batshitinsane media entity seems to them to embody the spirit of the common man. And we wonder why things are so fucked up. Sorry. I'm feeling ranty.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:55 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not everyone should get reduced sentences.

Obviously, and the object of new, more intelligent criminal justice initiatives is to determine what kind of punishment is appropriate for which type of offender. There is a need for prisons and progressives need to be careful not to dismiss the issue of public safety out of hand because the fact is that it's really important and your intellectual credibility comes into question if you can't see that. But the current criminal justice system isn't intelligently protecting public safety, and there's a core of law and order types nationwide who don't particularly care about that and are perfectly comfortable with the system as it is. But now even these people are confronted with the ballooning costs of mass incarceration because incarcerating someone is very expensive. These types present the privatized prison model as the solution to this issue; let's allow this growing prisoner population to create jobs and steer big government contracts to our middle of nowhere town as a way of defraying the massive tax payer costs involved.

The problem solving courts (drug courts, domestic violence courts, DUI courts, mental health courts, etc.) have proven to be a very effective means of identifying offenders that are better suited for treatment and community supervision than incarceration. This is the intelligent alternative to privatizing the prison system. The evidence that these models work in terms of reducing reoffense and shrinking prison populations is mountainous and at this point anyone who opposes the expansion of these models does so strictly on ideological grounds. Luckily, a lot of influential judges have been on board with the model for a number of years and the Obama administration made a huge statement by appointing Philly's Treatment Research Institute director Tom McClellan to deputy drug czar, he's the first drug czar to come from a treatment and not a law enforcement background. Prison privatization has a lot of powerful lobbyists but so do problem solving courts. I don't think it's evident yet who will win.

But even these models can misidentify offender types, especially in younger populations where there is less documented history to use in clinical evaluations. I'd say about 70% of the drug court I am a social worker for is under the age of 25. Drug court has strict non-violence qualifying criteria but at this age there is a possibility that the offender is, in fact, violent and just hasn't been charged a violent offense yet. Drug courts were originally intended to treat addicts but the fact is that dealers who are on the corner around the clock tend to get locked up more frequently and most have enough substance abuse history to qualify for the program though few of them identify as having drug problems. If a client is convicted of a violent crime while in the program they are automatically terminated and do the time for both the violent offense and the original drug offense.

This notion that corner drug dealers are all perfectly nice guys, drug war victims who shouldn't be locked up isn't accurate either, it's a case-by-case thing. Even in our program many clients continue to hustle and see drug court as a con to beat their case while staying on the streets. These kids are further gone into the sociopathy that hustling breeds than the court assessed them to be, and major problems can arise in these cases. I have had supposedly non-violent offender clients make credible threats against my life that required the intervention of the court. And in one case a client, who completed the program and was actually a model client while in the program, went on to commit an extraordinarily heinous crime that is locally infamous, that momentarily threatened the life of the program because law and order types seized the opportunity to attack the drug court as a soft-on-crime initiative that lets killers run free.

But the fact is that the model is generally very effective, generally very good at identifying offender types, good at reducing incarceration rates, good at changing lives for the better whereas non-violent offender types get demonstrably worse through contact with more serious offenders in the prison system.

So there is some small hope that eventually the criminal justice will incarcerate only the violent offenders who should actually be incarcerated and steer everyone else into effective treatments in the community where they can recover and continue to contribute to society the way any sane country would want, but, this is America we're talking about so it's an uphill battle.
posted by The Straightener at 6:55 AM on December 1, 2009 [17 favorites]


Kids are not sentenced to life in prison for having vandalized swingsets.

No, the point was that children are not sentenced to life in prison anywhere, no matter what they do, except a few times in a handful of countries, but there are roughly 2225 children in the US currently serving this sentence. There are thousands more children serving life sentences in the US than the rest of the world combined. Are the kids in the US 2225 times more dangerous then the kids in the rest of the world?
posted by milarepa at 7:42 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Optimus Chyme: So just to be clear, then, you think that state governments should have less emphasis on prison education and rehabilitation, correct?

No, lunit was saying that there aren't clear or simple solutions. Which I agree with her on. verything should be done to help prisoners prepare for the day they reenter society. Prison education and rehabilitation are great things and more should be done but they won't solve the fundamental problem which is that keeping dozens, hundreds, thousands of people in a small enclosed space without being able to leave is bad for their psyche. People who're psychologically damaged have a greater propensity to lash out at others, violently or not. Prisoners are human beings in extreme circumstances, just that alone prohibits any simple plan from solving anything. Yes, things can be made better but prison is in and of itself inhumane, though I, personally, can't envision any better way to deal with criminals than imprisoning them (I'm unable to escape of the dominant discourse of our time).
posted by Kattullus at 7:58 AM on December 1, 2009


Yes, things can be made better but prison is in and of itself inhumane, though I, personally, can't envision any better way to deal with criminals than imprisoning them (I'm unable to escape of the dominant discourse of our time).

It's unlikely that we're simply a nation of criminals, Kattullus. There are more Americans in prison than Chinese. Not per capita. Total. It just so happens to be that it's profitable for certain entities (politicians, corrections companies and associated industries, manufacturers, police unions) to imprison unimaginable numbers of people at taxpayer expense. You and I pay taxes to lock up non-violent offenders who, in between beatings and gang-rapes, shrink-wrap packages for Microsoft or re-pave a sheriff's driveway for pennies. And given this profit motive, a lot of corners are cut. The vast, vast majority of people serving time were not tried but were steamrolled or pressured into plea bargains. Police fabricate evidence, judges sleep or masturbate during trials and hearings, public defenders have hundreds of clients simultaneously. Shit, there's a slave-run cotton planation in Louisiana masquerading as a prison. This is all on purpose. The machine must feed.

Sure, there are genuine "bad guys" who hurt people and who need to be separated from the rest of society. But our system merely makes these people more dangerous coming out than they ever were going in. And it turns non-violent offenders into violent offenders. And it costs us billions and billions of dollars and countless centuries of people's lives. Young, predominantly black males are the fuel for the machine's engine. Father in jail? No education? So maybe you steal something, rob somebody, sell weed. It's not like you have hope for a better life anyway. And then one day you get caught and wind up in prison, get got, brutally raped until you join a gang for protection. And then the system and the gang makes you into a dangeous, violent, real criminal. And while you're locked up for a decade or more, your son can start the cycle all over again.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:16 AM on December 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


I don't know if there's evidence of any treatment program that is effective in a prison environment, treatment is generally better provided at an outpatient treatment site in the community, with the use of inpatient facilities for crisis care and supportive housing environments for greater monitoring and structured living. There are early release programs that work on a similar model to problem solving courts, just on the back end of the system. You get out early with the stipulation that you will stay clean and complete a treatment program in the community, and if you fail to adhere to this stipulation your early release is recinded and you are reincarcerated for the rest of your sentence on a parole violation. Again, like problem solving courts this is a very effective way to deal with non-violent offender populations. The concept that stipulated treatment can't work has proven to be not entirely true, it can actually work really well when the incentive to engage in treatment is great enough, i.e., go to your drug program, stay clean and stay off the corner or go do a couple more years upstate. Most people will complete the program, and research shows that they do benefit from this treatment experience through improvement of a number of life quality indicators. But in the prison? I don't think you're going to see effective treatment provided in a prison setting. The goal is to get as many non-violent offenders out of the prison system as possible who can benefit from effective treatment in the community without letting out or diverting violent offenders who threaten public safety.
posted by The Straightener at 8:19 AM on December 1, 2009


Just to be clear, I think the current US prison system is a disgrace. I have but minor quibbles with what you say, Optimus Chyme.
posted by Kattullus at 8:32 AM on December 1, 2009


And I'm pretty sure the end result would be mass riots and anti-police violence the first time a cop blew away someone who didn't deserve it.

So... there are people who deserve to be shot publicly on the whim of hired sociopaths?

huh. never met one.
posted by cmoj at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So... there are people who deserve to be shot publicly on the whim of hired sociopaths?

huh. never met one.


People who walk their dogs around without leashes and don't bag up the poo should be higher up on their target list than drug dealers.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:39 AM on December 1, 2009


Don't miss the page on Joe Arpaio.
posted by flatluigi at 8:52 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Everything should be done to help prisoners prepare for the day they reenter society.

Should, yes. But it won't. Unfortunately, our "justice" system is vengeance-based. What's more important to the victims is not that the perpetrator be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. All the victim cares about is seeing the perpetrator pay for what he/she has done. There have been other experimental justice systems that were set up without this vengeance component - basically trying to rehabilitate the prisoner so they could reenter society - and every single one was hugely unpopular with the public and thus, ultimately failed.

The great thing about the prison system here is that it allows us to create and maintain each of our negative stereotypes about race and class. We can justify our treatment of these people by citing examples of their behavior, when it is in fact our treatment of these people that led to that sort of behavior in the first place. Why bother worrying whether the person really deserves to go to jail when you can just throw them in there and ensure that by the time they come out, they'll definitely be the kind of person that needs to be put in jail. It makes it all so morally convenient and easy to justify if you're able to avoid looking at the matter with any depth.
posted by scrutiny at 8:57 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Previously, my post about prison food.
posted by wcfields at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2009


The only way to fix the prison system is to remove profit from the equation.
posted by Shepherd at 9:31 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


compensating people for wrongful conviction or imprisonment is illegal in Louisiana...

"Injustice is not confined to Angola Louisiana, it can walk right in to your living room as long as it surrounds your home... This song might not reach a lot of people persuaded by the truth but take a look at what is going on because it could happen to you"

posted by fuq at 9:50 AM on December 1, 2009


Disagree.
posted by lunit at 6:04 AM on December 1

So just to be clear, then, you think that state governments should have less emphasis on prison education and rehabilitation, correct?

No, as Kattullus explained, I just think it's a tremendously complicated issue, and I don't find it particularly helpful to insist otherwise. The prison industrial complex is more than just inside - in some ways, it is perpetuated by nearly every aspect of American culture. Changing that is no simple task. Education programs and etc. may help, but they're not going to fix it.

I agree with this guy, and I'm probably more upset about the prison industrial complex than most, but I think it's disingenuous to paint crime control as a simple issue.
posted by lunit at 9:57 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I'm quite sure shooting drug dealers in the head on sight would certainly deter them. Murder is pretty rare, and it's usually committed in a fit of passion, whereas people choose to engage in drug dealing as a a rational economic choice to take the risk in order to make a profit, just like a stock trader buying or selling stock. For a low-level dealer, the risk isn't really all that great. For high level dealers, the potential loss is high, but the risk of getting caught is a lot lower and the profits are really high.

If low level dealers were getting shot in the head, the calculus would be radically different. People would probably try other crimes with lighter sentences, like robbery or pimping. (I've actually heard that pimping is on the rise among some gangs because it's less risky then drug dealing)


Shooting drug dealers in the head has already been tried multiple times by multiple countries and by rival drug dealers and it *doesn't work.*

In Chicago, at the height of the crack wars, a young drug dealing male gang member had a SEVEN PERCENT CHANCE PER YEAR!!!!! of being shot and killed in the Freakonomics guy's sample. That's higher than the risk of death from severe anorexia (the most deadly psychiatric condition), heroin addiction (a close rival to anorexia for the title)-- and it means that within 5 years work, more than a third are dead. This was for *low level* dealers-- they are actually at much more risk because they are younger, dumber and out on the street where they are easier to hit. Most actually don't wind up doing better than minimum wage.

Guess what? You can still buy crack in Chicago. China did the same thing to opium addicts and claimed that it had solved its opium problem. Guess what? They're doing needle exchange now.

Are some people deterred? Sure-- but when you've got poverty, desperation, a desire for some kind of respect and human nature, you will have drug dealing. The question is how harmful you want to make it for everyone else.
posted by Maias at 10:22 AM on December 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


In Iain M Banks Culture novels there is something called a "slap drone" which is an AI monitor that follows around people convicted of murder and other heinous offences. We don't have the technology to do this but would it be possible to have prisoners be out in the world and have a "buddy" system, a paid guardian who acts as a combination prison officer, parole officer and in some instances a conscience?

iirc it costs around $25-30k per annum to keep a prisoner in jail. If you really must build a business around prisoners, surely it'd be better to have a business that allows them to retain a connection with the outside world, continue to work and build relationships but also provide the monitoring and mentoring required to reintroduce them into society.

Totally impractical I am sure but have at it. What would be the weaknesses and how could you address them?

Disregarding temporarily the social pressure to "lock them up and throw away the key" - could this work?
posted by longbaugh at 10:22 AM on December 1, 2009


I responded by pointing out that several decades of a vigorously-enforced death penalty here in Texas has not apparently served as much of a deterrent against murder, and that our draconian sentences against things like rape and robbery have also not seemed to dent the prevalence of those crimes either.

I've pointed out a few times the argument in the terms that Thomas More in Utopia put it since I think that was my first experience as a kid with a theory of justice and it stuck. Paraphrased: if the penalty for theft is death, then what is to stop a thief from killing to avoid getting caught for their crime? The example given in this post was about drug dealing which at least metafilter has a slant that drug offenses are not so much a crime. However I've brought this up a number of times regarding child molestation and rape. Namely, both of these crimes are severely punished compared to the actual act and the perpetrator faces some serious safety issues while incarcerated not to mention that they're trying to be run out of society. The laws as they are seem to be doing little to reduce the prevalence of the crimes and the invariability is that in either case the victim faces a serious threat of violence, death, or in the case of familial perpetrators what would amount to psychological torture. The current mode of punishment logically is part of the cause of this, not part of the solution.


However, even here where a seemingly large portion of the population has a belief in a more liberal approach to justice, bring up those cases and feminists are out in full force to scream misogyny, or accusations of being a paedophile myself. So in case anyone thinks this complete refusal to reason about the issue is limited to the revenge seeking conservatives in this country, I would refute that it's fairly pervasive if you find someone's pet issue. I can't fathom how to fix it since I haven't for the life of me figured out how to convince people to reason.
posted by kigpig at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2009


The differences between the military prison system and civilian system were striking. Obviously not all of the differences could be translated into ways to improve the civilian system, but what about cycling cops through prison as COs on 6-month stints, or something similar? That could be do-able.

So much about our system is appalling. It seems almost as if it was set up with the deliberate intent of torturing inmates in order to breed violence and perpetuate the growth of the system and maintain the underclass.
posted by notashroom at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2009


However, even here where a seemingly large portion of the population has a belief in a more liberal approach to justice, bring up those cases and feminists are out in full force to scream misogyny, or accusations of being a paedophile myself.

No one gets called a pedophile for saying that convicted pedophiles shouldn't be murdered or brutalized or raped in prison. At least not here. Your posting history on this issue is frankly bizarre, and I hope you can try not to derail this thread with this peculiar thing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2009


For some reason I was just thinking about how fucked our country's justice system is last night. It's certainly one of the major things I have learned in my four years as a mental health social worker.

I think the problem with even having a reasonable discussion on this issue is that most white, middle-class or higher Americans think they are unlikely to ever end up in the system. We watch cop and lawyer shows where the bad guy is always caught and punished and justice is done. We believe in justice, so we believe we are never going to end up in jail. Watching my clients struggle with the criminal justice system has wiped that smug assumption right off me. Did you know that you could be arrested for public intoxication with no evidence that you were, in fact, intoxicated other than "the officer thought you were behaving bizarrely?" I saw it happen, though it was finally dropped without going to court. Are you familiar with what legally constitutes a "terroristic threat?" My husband thinks I'm paranoid because I often say things like, "You could go to jail for that." He says I'm wrong, but what he means is that he would never end up in jail. When I explained that my mom could lose her house if my brother got caught for having pot there, no one believed me.

But what I have realized is how thin the line between "protected citizen" and "criminal" really is. All it takes is to get a little unlucky or meet a cop on their bad day and suddenly, you're in jail.

And while we're at it, why exactly is our criminal justice system based on how much money you can pay? Why is money equal to jail time, so that if you can't afford to pay your fines, you do time? And if you get probation or parole, you have to pay money to avoid being put in prison? Since when did having money mean you weren't breaking the law and not having money become a crime worth locking someone up over? Will someone please explain the rationale on that one to me? "Well, what you did wasn't bad enough to lock you up for, so long as you can pay us a few hundred dollars a month..."
posted by threeturtles at 11:31 AM on December 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


Picking a couple of nits from the first link:

- Negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment. Both positive and negative reinforcement are rewards for targeted behavior.

- No contract is formed when a person enters society. It's just a phrase we use to talk about our intuited sense of social obligation.

I heard a story third hand, where the friend of an acquaintance had been arrested with some size and the DEA came in to try and get him to roll over on his supplier. Reportedly, they actually used the phrase "feed the machine", as in "You're nobody, you don't feed the machine, but give us your dealer and we might could work something out."

Meaningful reform in prison conditions or sentencing is unlikely. The biggest obstacle is our diminished sense of tragedy; every misfortune must have a cause and must have been avoidable, someone is to blame. Huckabee is now facing criticism for his granting clemency to the accused cop killer Clemmons, as Dukakis did for vetoing the bill removing prison furloughs, as the Connecticut parole board did for granting parole to Komisarjevsky and Hayes. There is no incentive for a politician to take anything but a hard line on law enforcement. If they promote mercy and no tragedy occurs as a consequence of their decision, their own benefit is slight to none. A compassionate approach which is connected to a heinous crime is terrible for the politician, it can haunt him for years. Positive consequences from a hard line approach, meaning more draconian sentencing, enhances a politician's reputation, and any negatives, i.e. inhumane prison conditions, destruction of inmates' lives, economic burden in operating prisons are hardly even noticed.

By and large, most people are not comfortable with uncertainty. And I don't mean uncomfortable when they are uncertain about what they should do, but rather uncomfortable acknowledging its existence. We can mouth cliches about there's "no sure thing", but when an outlier event comes to pass, everyone goes looking for a solution - which in this context tends to equate to "getting tough on crime". The prison industrial complex isn't going anywhere until there is a dramatic increase in the public's compassion or their understanding of probability.
posted by BigSky at 12:00 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Authories are out of control. This is about a court officer who thought it was OK to sneak behind a defense lawyer's back and steal a document.

http://www.heatcity.org/2009/12/hes-got-guts-officer-adam-stoddard-is-on-the-job-today-not-in-jail.html
posted by etaoin at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2009


Being shot in the head isn't a very strong deterrent - it's a fast and probably painless death. If you want to deter, you levy endless suffering. Taking off hands and feet with a shotgun, f'rinstance.


Man, if western society really does collapse, the USA is going to be the scene of an epic coast-to-coast gun battle that'll make WWII look like a trio of wrestling kittens.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:35 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Tangent about the source, here: should I start taking SA seriously? I thought it was a few thousand chowderheads fuelled by adolescent snark, and while funny not really reaching any level of conversation worthy of note, compared to present company. But things like this, and the Slender Man (sic?) project, are really making me wonder if there are some sub-sub-sub-forums or whatnot that are worth engaging with.
posted by Shepherd at 1:44 PM on December 1, 2009


Tangent about the source, here: should I start taking SA seriously?

Yes.

But things like this, and the Slender Man (sic?) project, are really making me wonder if there are some sub-sub-sub-forums or whatnot that are worth engaging with.

There are some extremely good topical subforums. I usually spend most of my time with Goons with Spoons, SH/SC and Games, but after seeing this post, I think I'm going to add LF to the mix too.
posted by threetoed at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2009


Tangent about the source, here: should I start taking SA seriously? I thought it was a few thousand chowderheads fuelled by adolescent snark, and while funny not really reaching any level of conversation worthy of note, compared to present company. But things like this, and the Slender Man (sic?) project, are really making me wonder if there are some sub-sub-sub-forums or whatnot that are worth engaging with.

There are a few sub-forums that are worthwhile and moderated (I only really care about the Coupon/Free Stuff one). I have an account but haven't used it in ages, but the $10 price tag is a factor in limiting trolling.
posted by wcfields at 1:59 PM on December 1, 2009


SA has a host of topical subforums, many of which are fantastic in quality. I love LF and Games (the WoW subforum is probably the best on the net, unless you're into the Elitist Jerks-style math degree theorycrafting), and look in on Let's Play and other forums for occasional threads of interest. There's even a few barely-moderated forums (LF being one of them) where the rules are somewhat relaxed, with the subforum's culture performing most of the functions usually served by moderation.

There's probably a thesis or at least a paper on why LF and YOSPOS work as well as they do with such laissez-faire (heh) moderation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:18 PM on December 1, 2009


BigSky, if what you say is true, why is the US so distinctively large in prison size and growth among the Western representative democracies?
posted by telstar at 2:18 PM on December 1, 2009


Tangent about the source, here: should I start taking SA seriously?

There's a Pregnancy/Childcare Megathread in Ask/Tell that's been around for a few years now that has been an unbelievable resource to me as I've been working on getting pregnant. No stupid acronyms or sparkly signatures (I'm looking at you babycenter) and most of the moms are some really progressive women that have convinced me that cloth diapering and making my own baby food isn't just for crazy hippies. Also, they are willing to talk about the fact that it's not all rainbows and kittens being pregnant and raising kids. That shit is fucking hard but it's rewarding as all get out.
posted by chiababe at 2:26 PM on December 1, 2009


One of my (intelligent, college-educated) classmates put forth the idea that drug dealers "should simply be shot in the head"

Part of this sentence in parentheses is self contradictory with the rest of this sentence.

It would take her a mere fifteen minutes examining the facts of your discussion to conclude the reasonable and rational thing is the exact opposite of her statement. Repeatedly allowing emotions to cloud reason is a clear demonstration of the absence of the capacity of high order thinking. Or it demonstrates mental illness.

College or no, your classmate is demonstrably not intelligent. Or intelligent but possibly insane. I think we can only cure one of those.
posted by tkchrist at 3:36 PM on December 1, 2009


It goes without saying that if the police suited up and started creeping around drug corners blasting away at suspected dealers on sight, or if they caught anyone with more than one small baggie of weed/coke/pills/etc on them and just drew down and popped them there, then yeah, there would be a major decline in drug activity. At least temporarily.

Yes. And prices would inflate dramatically thus providing more incentive for the most viscous and adept criminals torise to the top and form cartels thus becoming well armed homicidal wealthy criminal armies. We calls these dictatorships in other countries.
posted by tkchrist at 3:46 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly, telstar. People in this thread claiming that "there are no easy answers" are staring the easy answers in the face. Other western democracies do not have this prison-industrial monster. Just do whatever Canada is doing, for starters.

Unfortunately Canada's right-wing government is doing its best to push for mandatory minimums, despite the giant pile of evidence that demonstrates they do not work.
posted by mek at 3:46 PM on December 1, 2009


maias: Shooting drug dealers in the head has already been tried multiple times by multiple countries and by rival drug dealers and it *doesn't work.*

Wouldn't it in fact increase the financial incentive to deal? The higher the risk, the more you could charge. What's more, the higher the risk the more crazy and/or desperate you'd have to be to engage in it--which means the dealers really would eventually be exactly the people they're painted as.
posted by Decimask at 4:37 PM on December 1, 2009


telstar,

That's a pretty big question and there's probably a number of variables at play. The Puritan heritage of the U.S. likely plays a part. Putting people in prison costs money, not every nation, even Western industrialized nations, has the resources required to put towards a prison system. And a big part of the answer is in the name itself: prison industrial complex. There's a lot of money and jobs at stake. Many people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. My earlier post was more about why it will be difficult to get any momentum going in changing policy. It's very easy to play on people's fears along those lines.

Personally, I would love to see massive changes in our law enforcement and how we maintain our prisons: elimination of large sections of the Federal Criminal Code, legalization of all drugs, ending asset forfeiture, ending mandatory minimums, repeal of Three Strikes laws, defining capital punishment as "cruel and unusual", etc. Also the section in the links on the differences between prisons run by the state and prisons run by the military was eye-opening. But the probability of such change is minimal. It would likely take an economic collapse much greater than the current one in California. Well, maybe not such a small chance after all... But really, the basic problem is who gives a shit? No one, except for the more extreme social liberals.

-----

Wouldn't it in fact increase the financial incentive to deal? The higher the risk, the more you could charge. What's more, the higher the risk the more crazy and/or desperate you'd have to be to engage in it--which means the dealers really would eventually be exactly the people they're painted as.

It would if penalties for users remained constant, but the implication is that such a steep increase in penalties for dealers would be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the penalties for customers.
posted by BigSky at 5:02 PM on December 1, 2009


Fantastic, thank you. One of the worst problems in America is how terrible our prisons/the criminal justice system are, and the worst part it, no one cares. And so it continues.
posted by agregoli at 5:49 PM on December 1, 2009


Cultural factors do not explain hyperincarceration. The USA's total population has increased just under 50% since 1970 - but prison populations have increased by over 500%. In fact, it's closer to a ten-fold increase - from under 200k to over 2mil.

I guess you could argue it's all just 60s-hippy backlash. We certainly owe Reagan and Nixon a great deal here. And undeniably, many cultural factors (the formation of gangs, recidivism rates, decline of the middle class, general inner-city malaise) are reinforcing the hyperincarceration trend, as jails are pretty good at producing criminals.

Whatever's to blame here, it does not go back to the founding of the country - as this is a brand new tragedy. And as far as policy goes, this is not a complex issue. It's pretty damn straightforward - stop incarcerating people who aren't dangerous.
posted by mek at 6:46 PM on December 1, 2009


I find it terrifying how easily people can discard the humanity of prisoners. I mean, people ignore homelessness, and are afraid of immigration, and are apathetic about poverty, but those kind of prejudices rarely extend into the 'just shoot them' zone. Even while presuming that immigrants will steal their jobs, and the homeless just need to work harder, they still credit the 'other' with some modicum of humanity- enough, at least, to be worthy of holier-than-thou advice like 'get a job'.

There seems to be something different when it comes to prisoners. So many people are willing to strip them of any humanity at all, so instead of the block-headed nonsense you get directed at other disadvantaged group, you get the 'shoot them all' mindset that makes any kind of political action on prison reform damn near impossible.
posted by twirlypen at 8:48 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't know what everyone's so upset about. When the US completes its transition to a theocracy, the compassion of Jesus Christ will fill the hearts of all Americans and all your prisoners will be forgiven and nurtured into becoming good honest God-fearing men and women.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:38 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whatever's to blame here, it does not go back to the founding of the country

You're kidding, right? This country was built on forced labor. The history of imprisoning black people has just changed hats. Slavery is incarceration. Jim Crow was a form of cultural incarceration. Sure prisons in the sense we are talking about don't go back that long, but nevertheless this country has a long distinguished history of imprisoning one way or another large numbers of people.
posted by milarepa at 6:39 AM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


America Incarcerated by Glenn C. Loury [from the Boston Review] is worth reading as well as the follow-up A Nation of Jailers; i still think BARJ is applicable...
posted by kliuless at 7:11 AM on December 2, 2009


Thanks for reminding me why I've never been to America and why I'll never set foot in the country while this kind of thing is going on. I don't want to end up in one of these horrible places for carrying some weed around.
posted by tehloki at 9:36 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


The history of imprisoning black people has just changed hats. Slavery is incarceration.

Nice interpretation. I mean, on one hand it's obvious, but on the other hand, to suggest that hyperincarceration is a consequence of the Civil Rights Act is... goddamn bleak. But those dates line up nicely. SIGH.
posted by mek at 10:28 PM on December 2, 2009


The history of imprisoning black people has just changed hats. Slavery is incarceration.

The problem here is that some of the most poisonous artifacts of the last three decades - mandatory drug minimums (crack vs powder), the militarization of police and urban spaces, zero tolerance, zero rehabilitation - were not only drafted and championed by Black congressmen, but that support for them remains difficult to dislodge among their constituents. This narrative of the White oppressor - creating AIDS, engineering plagues, dishing out crack rocks (and fill in KRS-ONE / Rage lyrics here) - is an unrewarding distraction in a process that has seen quite enough us-them narrative and is hurting for sane leadership. It makes Black leaders into the unaccountable victims of a political history in which they have played decisively but often very wrongly.

That James McWhorter - whatever you think of him in other contexts - could at the very close of an episode of Basic Black call for the complete end of the War on Drugs; and that the host (PBS, mind you) could look at him as if he'd just sprouted a second head and gone glossolaliac... This is a sign of something very wrong in the Black community, and it's absolutely not all their fault, but it's also not going to go away by trotting out a cabal of White devils and racial strawmen.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:03 PM on December 2, 2009


AIDS? Crack? What? Where did I say it was strictly white against black? My point was that this society as a whole has a history of imprisoning large portions of people, and lots of black people especially. How does the fact that some black politicians participated in it change that? I hear what you are saying, but i think you are projecting a narrative onto my thought that's simply not there.
posted by milarepa at 4:17 AM on December 3, 2009


When I was 19 I was sentenced in the commission of 8 different crimes out of a charged 29. The minimum for each charge was 1-10. I should have seen 8-80 years in prison. And then the judge disregarded the prosecutor and chunked them into 3 sets, giving me 3-30. And then he suspended that, and gave me 6 months in county. I think he realized that things were not as they seemed. Not even remotely close.

Anyway, they let me have work release, community service release, and school release. Basically I spent the night in jail for 6 months. I am a good person, I am now a candidate for pardon, and I've more than done my bit. Whereas once I was blind, now I can see.

In jail I was on the work release floor, the floor where nobody wanted to fck up because they'd yank your release in a minute. That said, the things I saw were...well, nuts. I had to sleep on the floor of the common area for over a month, because there were not enough cells. I witnessed an elderly man in a wheelchair be brought in on a littering charge because he'd wrecked his car in a creek and left it there. He had to drag himself down the block to his space on the floor. Other inmates had to help him onto the toilet, and he did not bathe. One young man was 19, a wannabe gangbanger, who had been granted work release. He had gotten a job at a local restaurant. The CO's didn't like him, either. Decent enough reasons, but I really believe he was trying.

So the FIRST DAY of his release, he's hanging out on the block. (For clarification, a block covered about 15 cells, there was a common space outside the individual cells, and then CO's were outside that. ) One of the amazingly bitchy female CO's came along and made a comment to him that was something about letting the porch monkey out of his cage. Not surprizingly, he wasn't happy, but he said something like "aww, come on, don't start with that." So then it was on like Donkey Kong. She told him to shut his mouth, he wasn't in a place to give orders. He again asked her to please leave him alone. She said something very unacceptably racial and harsh, and that flipped the trigger and he called her a bitch. She made him stand up and go into his cell. Then she closed it. Put him on administrative lockdown. So then they dilly dallied around when his ride came to get him, it was a coworker, and after an hour they left b/c he had to get to work himself. So in saunters miss bitchy, and she tells him "aww, you got fired. That's tough. Looks like no work release for you!" and sort of makes fun of him. Then, of course, he screamed at her for being a racist bitch, and her response was to order us all into our cells. Remember, he was already INSIDE HIS CELL, INSIDE the block. 2 sets of bars 8 feet apart between her and him. Then she emptied her entire canister of pepperspray into his cell, which meant into all our cells, and then she left him there. About 30 mins later they came in with a dog, and extracted him to another floor, his release was officially rescinded by the administrator of the jail.

That was only 10 years ago, but it seems like a lifetime. Prior to all that crap, I was a normal vindictive, judgemental conservative all about punishment fitting the crime. After seeing the G rated version of reality though, I'm a little different. I don't know what the answers are, but I know what they're not.

All that said, my heart doesn't bleed for nazis, but I'm a big proponent of things being done correctly in a court setting.
posted by TomMelee at 6:56 AM on December 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


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