by J.D. Tuccille
An amazing 3.2% of the U.S. population is in the
criminal justice system. (Photo: Andrew Bardwell)
Last year, a report (PDF) from the Pew Center on the States hit the headlines with the disturbing information that one in 100 Americans is behind bars. Well, the information just keeps getting worse. A new report (PDF) from the same outfit tells us that when probation and parole are included in the equation, an astonishing one in 31 of us are under the thumb of the criminal justice system. Direct government control over the lives of over 3% of the population comes at enormous cost in money and liberty, with little in the way of clear benefits.
A stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control.”
The report, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections (PDF), tells us that the one in 100 people revealed last year to be in jail or in prison are joined by a huge number of Americans under criminal justice supervision in the community.
[T]he number of people on probation or parole has skyrocketed to more than 5 million, up from 1.6 million just 25 years ago. This means that 1 in 45 adults in the United States is now under criminal justice supervision in the community, and that combined with those in prison and jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control.
The numbers are even worse when you break the figures down. That one in 31 becomes one in 18 when you talk about men alone, and one in 11 when discussing black Americans.
Much of the blame for the soaring incarceration rate can be laid at the feet of mandatory minimum sentencing and three-strikes, tough-on-crime campaigns. Kentucky, for example, actually switched from three strikes to two strikes. The Bluegrass state also turned several misdemeanors into felonies, with longer prison sentences to go with them. The result has been that the state’s prison population grew nearly 250% from 1987 to 2007, with a surge of 50% in just the last eight years. Kentucky’s violent crime rate did decline by 13% during that time — but the national rate dropped by 23%.
That’s not a lot of bang for the buck — a lot of bucks, as it turns out. Nationally, keeping a prisoner behind bars costs an average of $79 per inmate per day. By contrast, community supervision costs from $3.42 per day for probationers to $7.47 per day for parolees. You certainly don’t want all offenders wandering the streets, but not all offenders are murderers and rapists.
In fact, points out Pew, beyond a core of violent and frequent offenders, there are diminishing returns to locking people up. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws have scooped up growing ranks of less-dangerous and less prolific criminals. Some criminals — drug dealers for instance — are rapidly replaced when they’re removed from circulation, for no net gain. The large numbers of low-risk offenders are more easily, cheaply and effectively dealt with if allowed to continue living in their communities, working and paying restitution under supervision.
Which raises another issue. Pew spends a lot of ink pushing for community supervision as a preferable alternative to incarceration. Sure, shifting from prisons to probation would save money, but it would still leave vast numbers of people under state supervision. Should over 3% of the population really be directly under the government’s thumb, whether or not they’re behind bars?
An insight into the real problem comes in a quote included in the report from David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union. Keene notes:
The fact that so many Americans, including hundreds of thousands who are a threat to no one, are incarcerated means that something is wrong with our criminal justice system and the way we deal with both dangerous criminals and those whose behavior we simply don’t like.
The fact is, we’ve created too many criminals, by criminalizing too much activity that government officials don’t like, but which doesn’t actually do any damage to people or property. In Arizona, for example, nearly one in five prisoners is behind bars for a drug offense. The figure is identical for California, which is under court order to reduce its prison population. Nationally, drug offenses constitute 13% of all arrests.
Drug offenders tend to be punished disproportionately for their nonviolent activities. In Arizona, drug offenders get the same average sentence as arsonists, and serve longer stretches than criminals convicted of assault.
Throw in prostitution arrests, gamblers, violations of arcane firearms laws and other victimless activities, and you’re talking about a large chunk of the correctional population.
Should these people be penalized at all?
Pew is right that mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws and other tough-on-crime posturing have brought an unacceptably large chunk of the population into the criminal justice system. And they have done so at enormous cost with little in the way of benefit that couldn’t be achieved more cheaply and effectively through less draconian approaches.
But a big part of the problem is this country’s insistence on criminalizing so much behavior that shouldn’t draw the government’s attention at all.
True libertarians maintain an unwavering support for property rights and the notion that one may act in any manner suitable to his tastes until it violates the property rights of others. Once you believe that no one has the moral authority to initiate aggression and violence against innocent, nonviolent people, you begin to understand why the coercive state is illegitimate.
Like many crooked GOP schemes, the fascist corporatization of state prisons makes a slick end run around the Bill of Rights, sets up crony corporations with a guaranteed gravy train at tax payer expense, and —to sweeten the deal –it provides them with slave labor.
It is no accident that under Gov George W. Bush, Texas beat out Mississippi for ‘dead last’ in education. As education declines, crime increases. Increasing crime fuels the corporate prison gravy train. Justice has nothing to do with it. It’s about warehousing and enslaving people for profit. There is nothing in the middle ages half so slick, so cunning, so evil!
Unless the nation wakes up to what happened in Texas, the nation will enter not just an economic depression but a new dark age, perhaps an end to civilization as we know it. In many ways we already share with the middle ages, a careless disregard for every life. In Texas, the crime rate increased as the prison systems –under Bush Jr –went corporate! As a result, one in 100 Texas residents are in prison, many of them ‘corporate’ lock ups in which prisoners have no rights. As Texas took the GOP/fascist prison route, education tanked –a recipe for future unemployment, poverty and increased crime.
I see a pattern. Declining education is a recipe for guaranteed unemployment, poverty, and crime. It also represents a guaranteed, risk free income to the evil corporations who run the state’s corporate gulag often with no-bid contracts! As long as the quality of public education declines, two groups will benefit: the corporate owned prisons and expensive private schools affordable only to the very, very rich and/or privileged. The GOP runs states like Bush ran the war of aggression against Iraq. State prisons are just another money making opportunity, as Iraq was for the likes of Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and professional thugs like Blackwater.
|Written by Chris Floyd|
| Saturday, 24 May 2008
The United States government is holding some 27,000 human beings in secret prisons around the world. The overwhelming majority of them are being held indefinitely, without charges, without rights, cut off from the outside world, and subject to “harsh interrogation techniques” (to use the prim locution for “torture” used by the Bush Administration and universally adopted by the American media).
Many of these captives are stuffed into holding pens in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, which is still in operations despite the momentary torture-photo scandal of 2004 — and despite Bush’s earnest promise to Iraqis to tear down that hated symbol of Saddam’s torture. Other captives are crammed into the holds of prison ships floating around the world. Still others languish in the torture chambers of the Bush Administration’s Terror War allies — despotisms, tyrannies, brutal kingdoms — having been “renditioned” there by American agents, sometimes after being kidnapped, or sold into captivity by bounty hunters, or snatched up in mass sweeps or random grabs or simply for having the wrong name, the wrong face, the wrong color, the wrong religion.
In any civilized country, such facts would provoke banner headlines, marathon television debates, investigations, prosecutions and widespread public revulsion. It might have done so even in the United States not all that long ago. But the most recent encapsulation of these horrors — from Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, speaking earlier this week on Democracy Now — has caused scarcely a ripple. Even that is putting it too strongly; in the mainstream media, the news has been greeted with the usual iron curtain of silence.
And this even though Stafford — who has served as the lawyer for more than 50 prisoners at Guantanamo (ironically, one of the few places in the American gulag where captives now have limited access to very circumscribed legal help) — offers a genuine revelation in his interview, one that cries out for more investigation from, say, a network or newspaper with large-scale resources. And that is the fact that the Bush Administration is shipping captive from different parts of the world to Iraq, where they are beyond the scrutiny of the press — or those pesky attorneys with their silly concerns about the rule of law:
Well you know, one thing that my charity, Reprieve, out of London, we’ve been trying to do is track down the real ghost prisoners in this process. And if you look at Guantanamo Bay, 270, roughly, as you mentioned, prisoners in Guantanamo, but according to the most recent official figures, the United States is currently holding 27,000 secret prisoners around the world. So that means that 99 percent of these folk are not in Guantanamo Bay. Now they’re in other prisons elsewhere. And as you mentioned, Bagram has 680. But there’s a huge number of people being held in Iraq, and one of the intriguing aspects of this that doesn’t get much reporting is that the US is bringing people into Iraq from elsewhere to hold them there, simply because that keeps rather annoying people like you, Amy—I mean the media—and also annoying people like me, lawyers, away from the prisoners so they can’t get any sort of legal rights. And when you look around the world, there’s a huge camp, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, where a lot of people are being held. Diego Garcia, contrary to the past analysis of the British government, in the Indian Ocean has been used, in my belief, to hold people. And we’ve identified thirty-two prison ships, sort of prison hulks you used to read about in Victorian England, which have been converted to hold prisoners, and we’ve got pictures of them in Lisbon Harbor, for example. And these are holding prisoners around the world, as well. And there’s a bunch of proxy prisons—Morocco, Egypt and Jordan—where this stuff is going on. And this is a huge concern, because the world focus is on Guantanamo Bay, which really is a diversionary tactic in the whole war of terror or war on terror, whatever you’d like to call it. And actually, most of these people who have been severed from their legal rights are in these other secret prisons around the world.
From an Apache helicopter, Capt. Ben Katzenberger’s battlefield resembles a vast mosaic of tiny brown boxes. “The city looks like a bucket of Legos dumped out on the ground,” the 26-year-old pilot said. “It’s brown Legos, no color. It’s really dense and hard to pick things out because everything looks the same.” He uses a powerful lens to zoom in on tiny silhouettes, trying to identify people with “hostile intent” among hundreds of ordinary citizens in Baghdad. In recent weeks, Katzenberger and other pilots have dramatically increased their use of helicopter-fired missiles against enemy fighters, often in densely populated areas. Since late March, the military has fired more than 200 Hellfire missiles in the capital, compared with just six missiles fired in the previous three months. The military says the tactic has saved the lives of ground troops and prevented attacks, but the strikes have also killed and wounded civilians, provoking criticism from Iraqis. On Wednesday, eight people, including two children, were killed when a U.S. helicopter opened fire on a group of Iraqis traveling to a U.S. detention center to greet a man who was being released from custody, Iraqi officials said…. “It’s not Hollywood and it’s not 110 percent perfect,” said Col. Timothy J. Edens, the commander of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, of the accuracy of his unit’s strikes. “It is as precise as very hardworking soldiers and commanders can make it. These criminals do not operate in a clean battle space. It is occupied by civilians, law-abiding Iraqis.” Those civilians include people like Zahara Fadhil, a 10-year-old girl with a tiny frame and long brown hair. Relatives said she was wounded by a missile on April 20 at approximately 8 p.m. in Baghdad’s Shiite enclave of Sadr City. The U.S. military said it fired a Hellfire missile in Zahara’s neighborhood at that time, targeting men who were seen loading rockets into a sedan. Her face drained of color and her legs scarred by shrapnel, Zahara spoke haltingly when asked what she thought of U.S. troops. “They kill people,” she said. Lying in bed, she gasped for air before continuing. “They should leave Iraq now.”
Iraqi police said on Thursday a U.S. helicopter airstrike killed eight civilians, including two children, but U.S. forces said the six adults killed were militants suspected of links to a bombing network… Colonel Mudhher al-Qaisi, police chief in the town of Baiji, north of the capital, said a U.S. helicopter fired at a group of shepherds in a vehicle in a farming area on Wednesday night.
“This is a criminal act. It will make the relations between Iraqi citizens and the U.S. forces tense. This will negatively affect security improvements,” Qaisi told Reuters. The U.S. military said the incident happened when American soldiers, hunting members of a bombing network, tried to detain the occupants of a vehicle. “Coalition forces engaged the target vehicle’s occupants, killing five terrorists, after the terrorists exhibited hostile intent and failed to comply with instructions to surrender. Two children in the vehicle were also killed,” it said…. Reuters pictures showed relatives of the dead standing beside corpses covered by white sheets outside a mosque in Baiji, an oil refining town 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad. “There were two boys, one was eight and the other was 11,” said police Major Ahmed Hussein. United Nations officials have expressed concern at the number of civilians killed in airstrikes in Iraq…
Hassan Ali Kreidy, 54, a barber in Sadr City, felt the power of the Apaches’ missiles on April 28 when one ravaged his shop and a handful of other businesses. The apparent target of a strike was a car parked in front, he said. “What can you say? We are all helpless,” said Ahmed Abdul Rahim, who owns a cellphone store that was also damaged. “What have we done to deserve this? Our stores are now in danger. None of us are safe here.” At the Martyr Sadr Hospital late last month, several patients said they were wounded in U.S. airstrikes. Their accounts could not be corroborated; some may have been wounded by errant rockets fired by militiamen. Hussein Amane Kareem al-Obeidi, 37, a day laborer, lay with a bloody tube sticking out of his right nostril and two others draining fluid from his stomach. They were attached to sacks lying on a filthy floor. One was filled with urine, the other with blood. He said he was at home on May 1 when a missile landed nearby, damaging nine homes. His mother, standing at his bedside, cursed the U.S. military. “They are occupiers and they consider whoever is in the city to be an enemy to them!” she said. “They came for the destruction of the country and this is what they are doing.”
And we should also note here what we’ve said often before: under the plans offered by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for partial “withdrawals” of “combat troops” from Iraq – while leaving an unspecified number of forces in the conquered land for “counterterrorism operations,” “training Iraqi security forces” and “force protection” for American personnel and assets remaining in Iraq – these kinds of air raids on civilian areas will inevitably increase, with more innocent deaths as a result.
Consider too the tragic warping of young minds thrust into the role of imperial enforcers in a criminal action:
Katzenberger, of Kansas City, Mo., fired his first missiles last month. Arriving in Iraq last winter on his first deployment was nerve-wracking, he said. “You’ve been building up for this for three years and now you’re going to get to do what you were trained to do,” he said. “You get this bit of excited rush feeling, like right before you get out of the locker room before a game. We got in the helicopter and started flying up and you start looking down and you’re like — wow. I’m in Iraq now. This isn’t back in Texas where we were just training. People down there are going to try to shoot me. This is for real. Game on.” ….Firing his first missile in Baghdad was sobering. “I know I can do this,” he told himself. The target was in sight and permission from ground commanders had been granted. “I’ve done this before. But you better not screw this up. If you mess up, people get hurt.” Katzenberger said pilots adhere to strict rules of engagement. They occasionally get reports of what happened on the ground after they fire the missiles. After that, “we never hear about it again,” he said. “It leaves you a little sense of wondering. You kind of get that detached feeling.”
How crime compounds on crime in this nightmare Terror War. Young Americans twist their souls in knots in order to kill and maim – and torture — their fellow creatures, all to gorge the bestial urges of a gang of gilded thugs for more power, more loot, more blood to prove their apish dominance.
And still it goes on. And still none of our “leaders” will rise up and use the powers given to them by the Constitution to bring this torment of gulags and aggressive war to an end. And still the people sit in their homes (those who still have them, that is) and do nothing, raise no objections, bring no pressure to bear, make no outcry against the crimes being done in their name.