Democratic Theory and Mass Incaceration
July 16, 2014 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I've thought for a long time that heavily incentivizing low reincarceration rates would help prisons restructure for the better.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Prisons are concentration camps for the poor, wicked, anddisturbed (just as we have camps for the homeless, and those victims of domestic violence and have the nerve to call them "shelters"). I do not know why the collective answer to every social ill we have is to throw people into some hole and pretend they do not exist. It's not as if I believe those who break the law should not be held accountable for the wicked and/or dysfunctional things that they do (always suspected that restitution and over-correction was the most promising method in many cases), but there are other ways to deal with the socially untrustworthy because essentially that is the essence of the problem.

Mind you, mass surveillance is the answer, either, but it would be nice if overseeing order was motivated by bravery over fear.

Thank you for the link...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Edited by Metafilter's anotherpanacea.
posted by painquale at 10:27 AM on July 16, 2014

we will frame these as institutions with deep implications for contemporary civic identity, which present unmet demands for public oversight and reflective democratic influence.

I'm guessing but I think that this gibberish could be more plain-spoken. Of course a making a direct statement would engender controversy. Oh dear god, no.
posted by Twang at 12:17 PM on July 16, 2014

I dunno, I kind of like the way Dzur put it. But how about this?

"We will show that imprisonment is not a natural response to crime, and that prisons require public oversight (which they largely do not receive under the current dominance of anti-democratic approaches to criminology) and that active reflection by ordinary citizens can yet discover alternatives."
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:52 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do not know why the collective answer to every social ill we have is to throw people into some hole and pretend they do not exist.

Guilt. Pretend they don't exist, and there's no guilt to be felt.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:42 PM on July 16, 2014

Has anybody given much thought to the fact that prison populations nationwide basically topped out in 2009, and have either leveled off or started declining?

Although California has certainly revised its sentencing guidelines, even hyper-punishment-oriented places like Louisiana have seen no growth in the incarcerated population.

For instance, every single year from 1978 to 2009, Louisiana added 1000-2000 prisoners, giving it the highest incarceration rate of any state in the US, and basically one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

From December 2009 - December 2013 - we'd be expecting growth of about 4-8k new inmates. Instead, we've seen a DECLINE of 481 inmates.

Why? As it turns out, even in Louisiana's punishment-friendly environment, with huge mandatory minimums for everything, and a network of local Sheriffs who use leased prison labor for their own highly profitable side-businesses, and in the middle of a hugely down economy....

people are straight up committing fewer crimes.

And, as the trends seem to indicate, every year they're committing fewer crimes. As the bulge of inmates born between 1970 and 1990 ages out of the system, the people replacing them are committing crimes at much much lower rates (as much as 40 and 60% in most violent and property categories).

Already the juvenile detention centers are emptying and consolidating... give it a few years and we'll be shutting down prisons for adults.
posted by The Giant Squid at 4:09 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Giant Squid, there's still a question whether we're seeing a real decline, the effects of mass incarceration itself (the crime rate is higher inside prisons, we've just moved to an extrajudicial punishment model), some big public health effect (trailing lead exposure levels), or the effects of the Great Recession (crime tracks growth, cheaper non-carceral alternatives, less policing.)

There are other explanations too, including the effect of attention on mass incarceration driving small policy changes that are tipping the balance. A lot of the incarceration boom was driven by prosecutorial discretion, so it may just be a national whim of prosecutors with limited resources.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:41 AM on July 17, 2014


You can safely ignore municipal policy and prosecutorial discretion.

Violent and property crime are way down, and declining steadily. This is confirmed by FBI arrest stats and criminal victimization surveys (page 3 and 7).

Now, as for drug arrest rates, they're a different kettle of fish, and are far more subject to municipal and state policy, but even drug arrests are down, as is self-reported drug use, as are rates of workplace drug use (confirmed by urinalysis).
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:41 AM on July 17, 2014

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