• Our Prisons are Us

    December 10, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    prison


    A society’s prison system mirrors the society. What does America’s say about America?


    Some numbers: With only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. America has the largest actual prison head count in the world and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate (first place is held via a statistical oddity by the tiny Seychelles island nation.) In the U.S., from 1978 to 2014, the prison population rose 408 percent, to the point where the nation is closing in on a full one percent of the entire population being in prison proper. If you include all forms of correctional control –prison, jail, parole and probation — about three percent of Americans are included. The numbers are currently as high as they have ever been in history.

    The world’s self-proclaimed freest society is anything but.

    It actually gets worse when one looks at the statistics broken down by race. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be in prison. Hispanic men are 2.4 times more likely than whites to be locked up.

    And all this comes at a cost: the American prison system runs an estimated $74 billion a year, more than the GDP of 133 nations. A report by the organization The Price of Prisons states that the average cost of incarcerating one inmate $31,307 per year, though in states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it’s anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. That’s a teacher’s salary, or a nurse’s.

    Those are the costs. But what does America get for its money?

    Not much. Despite locking up more people than any other place on earth, American society remains one of the most violent; there is almost no comparison outside of actual war zones. About the same number of people are killed by guns alone in Miami as in Colombia. L.A. has more gun deaths than the Philippines, Phoenix more than Mexico.

    If America’s prison population, 2.2 million people, was a city, it would be the nation’s fourth largest, behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But it would clearly be America’s most violent city, a place where residents suffer routine cruelty at rates unlike anywhere else in the country, where they are raped and beaten by both their neighbors and by the officials paid to keep them safe. Some four percent of inmates report sexual assault, while 16 percent say they are physically assaulted. It is plausible to assume unreported incidents keep the numbers low. Like our society, our prisons are terribly violent places.

    The U.S. remains also the only Western nation to impose the death penalty. World leaders in sentencing people to death alongside the United States include China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many African nations. Awkward company given the image Americans otherwise hold of themselves.

    Yet at the same time, sending people to prison in America does not stop them from committing new crimes once released. Again, the statistics are appalling. One study found that within three years of release, about two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters of released prisoners were rearrested.

    America has clearly chosen to use its prisons for punishment, not rehabilitation, despite the former most obviously not working. What about elsewhere?

    Norway is one of many examples of simply the opposite of the United States. Its incarceration rate is just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the U.S. It has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20 percent. Its prisons are clean, more like dorms than medieval facilities, and seek to prepare inmates for life on the outside with vocational programs. Inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.

    In Japan, the prison population is relatively small, as crime throughout the nation is low. Conditions in prison are harsh, in a military-style way, but there is no danger to prisoners and near-zero inmate-on-inmate violence. The system is clear on its goals: in almost mimicry of Buddhist tradition, prisoners are subjected to austere conditions. The goal is for them to see they have, through crime, been selfish, placing their needs above society’s. They must repent, and then serve their term as penance. Recidivism is around 40 percent, mostly among hard-core yakuza gang members. Most other inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.



    We know — by statistics, by the fear we have inside our urban neighborhoods — that in America inmates enter as criminals and emerge as criminals, often beaten and raped in between. Our society remains the most violent among industrialized nations. Our prison populations reflect the sad racism that still plagues our nation. America must face itself and know that our prisons are us, and cannot be made like Norway’s or Japan’s.

    We can’t fix our prison system until we fix us.



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Mass Shootings: Memo to all Washington Post Staff

    September 19, 2013 // 8 Comments »




    Update: My article, below, was intended as satire, but yet another very real mass shooting took place just a few hours ago in Chicago, leaving 13 more wounded and dead.



    (Sorry, it’s been a few days since the last shooting, so this may no longer be timely. This memo was found near the Washington Post offices, with the words “Watergate Uber Alles” scrawled across it in what appears to be human blood. I have been unable to confirm its authenticity, but while reading it a person identifying himself as a Washington Post reporter recently reassigned from foreign correspondent to the Style section came up to me begging for spare change and said it “looked real.”)


    TO: All Washington Post Staff

    FROM: Jeff Bezos, owner

    SUBJECT: Coverage of Mass Shootings
    —————————————————————–

    It seems that mass shooting is more than a passing fad now, so we need to regularize our coverage. This is not only for consistency’s sake, but also, given recent and future staff cuts (don’t worry, most of those laid off from the paper will be offered positions at Amazon’s New Delhi hub), to save time and money. Here are the new SOPs. Anyone not following these will feel a Zappo up the backside from me.

    On the Day

    1) Psychotic killers will be referred to as “shooters.” Anything bigger than a handgun, a “long rifle.” Any long rifle, shotgun, lengthy piece of wood, etc., will be an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” starting in para two. Try to use the word “tactical” whenever possible. The shooter will have worn “military-style clothing” regardless of whether or not the photos show him in a Hello Kitty t-shirt.

    2) While fresh photos of grieving relatives are crucial, specific interviews are a waste of resources. Recycle. Anyone who was in the military in any form is a “veteran who survived combat tours only to ironically meet his demise at home.” Anyone over 28 years old will have “left behind children.” Quote a neighbor as saying the deceased was a regular guy/gal who liked to barbecue, coached Little League, that kind of thing. Throw in a hobby– “He loved fly fishing” or “…his beloved taxidermy collection.” Even if the dude was a convicted drug dealer murderer, in death he was “a good man, well-loved by his pit bull and customers.”

    3) The “shooter” was not a good man. He had an (undiscovered until you dug it up) history of mental illness, though throw in in the lede that he purchased his long gun, assault rifle, grenade launcher or cluster munition legally. Quote a neighbor as saying the shooter “seemed like a regular guy, you know, kept his lawn nice and all.” Quote his mom saying she didn’t know where things went wrong for him, then have her reference unironically the thirty strangled cats she found in his room.

    4) Somebody will need do something “incredibly brave.” Use a cop if necessary, but it’s much better if you can tell about some ordinary office worker who did an extraordinary thing. Quote him/her as “just doing my job” if a cop, “I did what I had to do” if a civilian.

    The Days After

    5) The President will go on TV and say what a tragedy, a nation grieves, blame Congress and/or the other party for inaction, need to possibly think about someday looking into gun control, yadda, yadda but you know, Second Amendment and all that. Just use the last speech’s text again. If presidential approval ratings are below 50%, he’ll appoint a blue ribbon commission to look into this terrible day. When Obama leaves office, remember to change the name.

    6) Re-run the editorial about gun control. If it doesn’t fit in the front section, drop Family Circle from the comics page for a day and stick it there.

    7) Next day, run a photo of flags at half-mast (might as well leave ’em there to save wear and tear!), and print a couple of letters to the editor. Same cranks write in every time so don’t spend a lot of energy on this. Second Amendment, need to have armed guards in schools and public restrooms, think of the children, the violence has to stop, etc.


    Finally, don’t milk it. These stories are good for a day or two, maybe a little more if local, but nothing past that unless a celebrity is involved. Don’t worry about filling the space, there’ll be another mass shooting coming soon enough.




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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Nothing

    December 14, 2012 // 29 Comments »

    I normally in this space have a lot to say. Sometimes it is a lot to say about important things, sometimes it is a lot about nothing.

    I am at a loss at the deaths of children and their caretakers in Connecticut. Another crazed gunman. Another mentally ill man whose solution was murdering innocents, using the weapons of war we sell on the Internet to literally anybody in America. How many this year? The Aurora Batman guy, the Oregon guy, who can keep track?

    Obama is, pardon, dead wrong. Today is the day to talk about gun control, though yesterday would have been better. Gun control won’t solve all problems, no law can. But when faced with horror like this you start, you do something goddammit, you don’t shed a tear and cluck your tongue and change the channel. For God’s sake– for our children’s’ sake– we have thrown out most of the Bill of Rights in the name of a phony war on terror, why can’t we interpret the Second Amendment in light of our present day?

    You can love your children, or you can love your guns more. We as a nation have gone, quite simply, insane. May God help us, because we obviously have no interest or desire to help ourselves.



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

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