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Rough justice in America
July 24, 2010 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Too many laws, too many prisoners - Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little. [previously] (via nc)
posted by kliuless (29 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
For a rent of €30m a year, 500 Belgian prisoners now live behind Tilburg’s barbed wire.

uhhh
posted by nathancaswell at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2010


One of the dilemmas of government. Do you want to be screwed by a nihilistic free-ranging corporation stomping humanity for profits, or by a sociopathic bureaucrat wielding an endless supply of regulations?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is one of the advantages the Prison-Industrial Complex enjoys over other businesses: While others must convince people to be their customers via products and marketing, they get to force people to be their customers.
posted by sourwookie at 8:32 AM on July 24, 2010


Criminalization assumes that deterrents work and that people are rational actors.

I do think it's funny that the Economist of all places is arguing for more lax white-collar crime laws:
Acts that can be regulated should not be criminalised. Prosecutors’ powers should be clipped: most white-collar suspects are not Al Capone, and should not be treated as if they were.

A significant percentage of their readers ARE white-collar criminals. At least Al Capone spread it around a little.
posted by mike_bling at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


.

Land of the free indeed.
posted by edguardo at 8:39 AM on July 24, 2010


One of the dilemmas of government. Do you want to be screwed by a nihilistic free-ranging corporation stomping humanity for profits, or by a sociopathic bureaucrat wielding an endless supply of regulations?

Correct answer: neither. Return government to local control with federal oversight for corruption. Return the corporation to a temporary body that serves at the will of the population. This platform is shared by much of the left and the right (notice I didn't say Republican and Democrat). The goal of the centralizing forces is to make sure that you never know that, and if you do, convince you that you are powerless against it.
posted by atypicalguy at 8:42 AM on July 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


@mike_bling - Deterrence isn't the only mechanism by which imprisonment can reduce crime. There's also incapacitation. See these three papers by Steven Levitt that deal with deterrence vs. incapacitation (all of which are ungated). The evidence is mixed as to whether deterrence is more important than incapacitation, but incapacitation clearly is an important part of the story (see the second and third study in particular).

1. Levitt 1998, "Why do increased arrest rates appear to reduce crime: deterrence, incapacitation, or measurement error?" Economic Inquiry, volume 36(3).

2. Kessler and Levitt 1999, "Using sentence enhancements to distinguish between deterrence and incapacitation" Journal of Law and Economics, volume 48.

3. Levitt 1996, "The effect of prison population size on crime rates: evidence from prison overcrowding legislation", Quarterly Journal of Economics, volume 111(2).
posted by scunning at 8:44 AM on July 24, 2010


Yeah, the Economist article is trying to smuggle some love for the much-maligned Wall Street creep in on the back of a very terribly horribly pressing topic. It lost me right about here:
Some prosecutors, such as Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced ex-governor of New York, have built political careers by nailing people whom voters don’t like, such as financiers.
Oh really. (I shall avoid the temptation to fix that for them. —Not that I’m trying to derail, but “What standards are being applied here exactly?”)
posted by kipmanley at 8:54 AM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


USA: Emptier prisons: Inmate population drops for first time in 40 years. Looks like the prison industrial complex is having a recession, hope it lasts.
posted by stbalbach at 9:02 AM on July 24, 2010


On one hand, it's wonderful to see the Economist coming out against our society's obsession with criminalization and imprisonment, on the other hand, this reads like exceptionalist garbage that seeks to defend the criminal privileged.
posted by serazin at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice Kos
posted by homunculus at 10:15 AM on July 24, 2010


Add to the mix: for-profit prisons and corrupt judges
posted by DreamerFi at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2010


What's with the cutesy aw shucks mentions of their online names as part of their introductions? (in the abolishing link just above)
posted by infini at 11:24 AM on July 24, 2010


I'm not sure what to think of this article. I really can't tell if the focus on white collar criminals is meant to help their readership sympathize with the poor and minority prisoners as well, or if the stories about poor minority prisoners are just their for completeness' sake in an article about keeping rich white guys out of jail.
posted by shmegegge at 12:14 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re: the William Hurwitz case though, I think that the prosecutor (Paul J. McNulty, a GWB appointee) deserves to get bone cancer and a note for Tylenol.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2010


The phrase "the civilised world" strikes me as an especially outdated, repugnant, and racist leftover of reflexive imperialist assumptions--implying as it does that much of the (presumably non-Western) world is somehow "uncivilised."
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 12:23 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to mention incarcerating the mentally ill.
posted by adamvasco at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2010


Let me point out a nuance.

The number of people in prisons-- sentenced to serve time-- is about 1.5M. The number of people in county jails-- awaiting their trial or sentencing-- however, is about 700k.

In theory, those 700k are supposed to be sent to their "speedy trial". In practice, courts are slow, disorganized and sclerotic. How do you "speedy trial" all these poor people whose public defenders are overwhelmed?

The answer is you don't. And so they linger in jails for months, pre-trial. Six months, 12 months. Completely unremarkable. Eventually they get a bench trial or choose a guilty plea and "time served" and they go home. Thanks for nothing.

A popular trick to keep them in jail is to ask for a competency evaluation. That's when a psychiatrist evaluates understanding of the charges, possible sentences, ability to participate in his own defense, etc. The mechanism, however, favors the court system, not the defendant. You hold the guy for 30 days pending an evaluation; then the psychiatrist considers him not competent to stand trial and recommends another 30 days of "treatment" to help "restore him to competency."

But even when the psych says he is competent, the court still often finds him not competent and sends him to psych services for further treatment.

Do you know how many times I've come on as third or fourth evaluator, all psychs have thought he was competent, the treating psychiatrist gave him no meds and discharged him after a few days... only to come back in a month and learn he was "recommitted for further treatment." Which means he slept on the psych ward and got no meds.

All of this is to delay the trial, whether to give the PD more time to prepare (prepare what? a guilty plea?) or simply because there schedule is booked.

I'm not making an argument that sentencing is too harsh; I'm saying that the court system is overwhelmed and, for the most part, uninterested. So people linger in jail when they should not be lingering there.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 1:14 PM on July 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Return the corporation to a temporary body that serves at the will of the population. This platform is shared by much of the left and the right (notice I didn't say Republican and Democrat).

Can you provide some links that describe this platform? I don't see the right supporting it unless you restrict "the population" to "the shareholders".
posted by falameufilho at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2010


The phrase "the civilised world" strikes me as an especially outdated, repugnant, and racist leftover of reflexive imperialist assumptions--implying as it does that much of the (presumably non-Western) world is somehow "uncivilised."

That's because you've been surrounded by it (western-style civilization with rule of law, personal freedoms, etc.) for so long that you take it for granted. I would describe the place where I am from as "uncivilized" without hesitation or guilt.
posted by falameufilho at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"A significant percentage of their [The Economist's] readers ARE white-collar criminals. At least Al Capone spread it around a little."

What is that significant percentage, mike_bling? Seriously, I'd really like to know.
posted by falameufilho at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2010


The Global Sociology blog has reviewed a book, Prison of Poverty, on the subject. The author, Loic Wacquant, explains the hyperinflation of prisoners as the action of the State wanting to reassert power over the powerless.
posted by francesca too at 2:20 PM on July 24, 2010


> The phrase "the civilised world" strikes me as an especially outdated, repugnant, and racist leftover of reflexive imperialist
> assumptions--implying as it does that much of the (presumably non-Western) world is somehow "uncivilised."

The advantage of using the "civilized" qualifier is that it lets you ignore prison states. North Korea keeps 23 million people behind razor wire.
posted by jfuller at 4:52 PM on July 24, 2010


This is one of the advantages the Prison-Industrial Complex enjoys over other businesses: While others must convince people to be their customers via products and marketing, they get to force people to be their customers.

Inmates are the product, not the client. The fearful taxpayer is the client. Stoke that fear.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:51 PM on July 24, 2010


That's because you've been surrounded by it (western-style civilization with rule of law, personal freedoms, etc.) for so long that you take it for granted. I would describe the place where I am from as "uncivilized" without hesitation or guilt.

Well since I have no idea where you're from, I can't really speak to that, but I would also describe where I'm from (America) as uncivilized, since I don't think "civilization" has much meaning except as an ideological tool to justify all kinds of brutish behavior. In other words, the concept of "western-style civilization with rule of law, personal freedoms, etc." is a toxic myth: one that has been held up over the centuries as defense for slavery, genocide of indigenous populations, suspension of Habeas Corpus, illegal incarceration, imperial wars, illegal assassination, predator drones, Guantanamo, the School of the Americas, corporate sabotage, environmental devastation, colonial power grabs, militarism, etc.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:24 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Economist reader survey results:
12% captains of industry
19% lieutenants of industry
36% pretentious college econ majors
14% even more pretentious finance majors
12% bored at the doctor's office
7% white collar criminals
posted by miyabo at 9:10 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


and an unknown percentage of self confessed MeFites
posted by infini at 9:32 AM on July 25, 2010


But if we didn't lock them up, we'd have to find them jobs!
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has the Most Common Marijuana Test Resulted in Tens of Thousands of Wrongful Convictions?

posted by homunculus at 12:54 PM on July 28, 2010


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