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CI: Incarceration Nation

September 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm by: seeta Category: Criminal Injustice Series

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

INCARCERATION NATION

By Nancy A. Heitzeg aka soothsayer99

Again, many thanks to Seeta Persaud for her vision in the creation of this blog and her incredible generosity in hosting the Criminal Injustice series. What follows is a reprint of the introduction to this series, initially published February 2010. It does, I hope, provide the larger context of mass incarceration that shapes the mission of CI, which is “Analysis and Indictment of the deep structural foundations of criminal justice in racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and towards the goal, ultimately, of Abolition.” The goal of this series has been to expose this failed system at the intersections, offer alternatives for transformational/restorative justice and opportunities for action. Thank You for Joining Us.

The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25% of its prisoners. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world.




Click on image for a larger view.

Over 2.4 million persons are in state or federal prisons and jails – a rate of 751 out of every 100,000. Another 5 million are under some sort of correctional supervision such as probation or parole.

The US remains the last of the post-industrial so-called First World nations that still retains the death penalty, and we use it often. Nearly 3300 inmates await execution in 35 states and at the federal level, and it was not until the early 21st century that the US abolished capital punishment for juveniles and those with IQs below 70.


This dramatic escalation of the U.S. prison population has occurred in the past 40 years, a ten-fold increase since 1970. Between 1987 and 2007 alone the prison population nearly tripled. The rate of incarceration for women escalated at an even more dramatic pace. This increased rate of incarceration can be traced almost exclusively to the War on Drugs and the rise of lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes and other non violent felonies. These harsh policies have not proliferated in response to crime rates nor any empirical data that indicates their effectiveness.

A similarly repressive trend has emerged in the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system has shifted sharply from its’ original rehabilitative, therapeutic and reform goals. into a “second-class criminal court that provides youth with neither therapy or justice.” Throughout the 1990s, nearly all states and the federal government enacted a series of legislation that criminalized a host of “gang-related activities”, made it easier and in some cases mandatory) to try juveniles as adults, lowered the age at which juveniles could be referred to adult court, and widened the net of juvenile justice.

DISPARITY:RACE/CLASS/GENDER/SEXUALITY/AGE

And unsurprisingly, mandatory minimums for drug violations, “three strikes”, increased use of imprisonment as a sentencing option, lengthy prison terms, adult certification for juveniles and the expanded use of the death penalty — all disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Indeed this has been the history of the U.S. criminal justice system from the outset; the poor and especially people of color have been disproportionately policed, prosecuted, convicted, disenfranchised, imprisoned, and executed. The current explosion in mass incarceration simply exacerbates this historical trend. A brief glimpse into the statistics immediately reveals both the magnitude of these policy changes as well as their inequitable dynamic.

Despite no statistical differences in rates of offending, the poor, the under-educated, and people of color, particularly African Americans, are over-represented in these statistics at every phase of the criminal justice system. While 1 in 31 adults is under correctional supervision and 1 in every 100 adults is in prison, 1 in every 100 black women, 1 in every 36 Latino adults , one in every 15 black men, and 1 in 9 black men ages 20 to 34 are incarcerated. Approximately 50% of all prisoners are black, 30% are white and 1/6 Latino. Race of victim race of offender and social class remain the best predictors of who will receive the death penalty.

The racial disparities are even greater for youth. African Americans, while representing 17% of the youth population, account for 45% of all juvenile arrests. Again, despite no differences in rates of offending, Black youth are 2 times more likely than white youth to be arrested, to be referred to juvenile court, to be formally processed and adjudicated as delinquent or referred to the adult criminal justice system, and they are 3 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced to out-of –home residential placement. Nationally, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime. While boys are five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, girls are at increasing risk. This rate of incarceration is endangering children at younger and younger ages via the school-to- prison pipeline.

Punitive policies extend beyond prison time served and decimate both families and communities. In addition to the direct impact of mass criminalization and incarceration, there is plethora of “invisible punishments”. “Collateral consequences” are now attached to many felony convictions and include voter disenfranchisement, denial of Federal welfare, medical, housing or educational benefits, accelerated time-lines for loss of parental rights and exclusion from any number of employment opportunities. Collateral consequences are particularly harsh for drug felons who represent the bulk of the recently incarcerated. Drug felons are permanently barred from receiving public assistance such as TANF, Medicaid, food stamps or SSI, federal financial aid for education, and federal housing assistance. These policies dramatically reduce the successful re-integration of former inmates, increases the likelihood of recidivism and return to prison.

COST AND PROFIT

Our experiment in mass incarceration is a costly one that proceeds at the expense of tax-payers, of social programs, of entire communities, of both current and future generations, and at the expense of the lives of the millions lost to its’ vast machinery.

Imprisonment costs an average of $ 25,000 per inmate per year. Local, state, and federal governments expend nearly $150 billion per year on “corrections” and the average execution costs an average of $2 million dollars. Comparatively – community correctional options have one-third of the costs and twice the success rate.

Of course there are those who capitalize – quite literally on our fears. One of the most insidious aspects of this project in mass incarceration is its’ connection to the profit motive. Once solely a burden on tax payers, the so-called “prison –industrial complex” is now a source of corporate profit, governmental agency funding, cheap neo-slave labor, and employment for economically depressed regions. This complex now includes over 3,300 jails, over 1,500 state prisons, and 100 Federal prisons in the US. Nearly 300 of these are private for-profit prisons. Over 30 of these institutions are super-maximum facilities, not including the super-maximum units located in most other prisons.


“The prison industrial complex is a self-perpetuating machine where the vast profits (e.g. cheap labor, private and public supply and construction contracts, job creation, continued media profits from exaggerated crime reporting and crime/punishment as entertainment) and perceived political benefits (e.g. reduced unemployment rates, “get tough on crime” and public safety rhetoric, funding increases for police, and criminal justice system agencies and professionals) lead to policies that are additionally designed to insure an endless supply of “clients” for the criminal justice system (e.g. enhanced police presence in poor neighborhoods and communities of color; racial profiling; decreased funding for public education combined with zero-tolerance policies and increased rates of expulsion for students of color; increased rates of adult certification for juvenile offenders; mandatory minimum and “three-strikes” sentencing; draconian conditions of incarceration and a reduction of prison services that contribute to the likelihood of “recidivism”; “collateral consequences”-such as felony disenfranchisement, prohibitions on welfare receipt, public housing, gun ownership, voting and political participation, employment- that nearly guarantee continued participation in “crime” and return to the prison industrial complex following initial release.) ( Brewer and Heitzeg 2008)

CONSTITUTIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

The prison industrial complex, the death penalty and the pathways to them are fraught with human rights violations. The criminal justice system – its’ methods and its’ punishments exist in violation of The Bill of Rights and several international accords and treaties.

Violations by police and prisons include:

  • racial profiling;
  • excessive use of force – including kicking and beatings of restrained suspects with fists, batons, and flashlights; excessive use of dangerous chokeholds, “hog-ties”, and other restraints that have resulted in death;
  • dangerous use of restraints-including four point restraints, the “rail’ and the restraint chair- that have resulted in multiple deaths
  • excessive use of tasers and chemical sprays; excessive use of deadly force;
  • the shackling of pregnant inmates
  • use of nudity, strip searches and sexual humiliation and assault as a source of social control;
  • failure to curtail sexual assaults on both male and female inmates by other inmates and guards;
  • denial of medical care or treatment;
  • confinement of the mentally ill
  • excessive use of “super max” and isolation confinement; over 200,000 inmates are held in segregation – over 80% are people of color an 60% are mentally ill


ACTION

Efforts to reform the criminal justice system are complicated by ramped-up, albeit unrealistic, public fears and a climate where elected officials are afraid to be perceived as “soft on crime”. Still fiscal crises at both the federal and states levels have created an opportunity for many to suggest a re-evaluation of our current costly and ineffective policies. The proposed The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 represents an important step in this direction.

In addition, a non-profit research and advocacy organizations continue their tireless efforts towards revision of criminal justice policies and practices. A partial listing includes:



© Copyright 2010-2011, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Kay Whitlock, and Seeta Persaud of CMP. All rights reserved. All articles and posts published by Criminal Injustice may not be distributed, re-published or cross-posted in any format, including print or electronic format, without express and explicit written permission from the copyright holders, including CI editors (Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock) and criticalmassprogress.com.

126 comments
VikkiLaw
VikkiLaw

Excited about the new home.  Have bookmarked it and will continue to follow.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

so great to see you :)

Yes this is the spot

nancy aka soothsayer

Kay W
Kay W

Of course, that's exactly what I meant, conlakappa!

Kay W
Kay W

Oh, dear heavens, that is horrific. I am so sorry. So lack of appropriate, good legal representation does its structural work in making sure even the prison to prison pipeline works well.

This story is all too common.

Prayers for your cousin are in progress as I write. I had been thinking about what I thought would be his upcoming release.

Seeta Persaud
Seeta Persaud

Hey sis Wing, sorry to hear you had trouble sleeping! Hope you were able to get some rest. Sending you healing, positive energy! Hugs.

Kay W
Kay W

Hi, conlakappa! It is wonderful to see you here.

So right about awareness being the first step.

Kay W
Kay W

No such thing as late to the party, Tchridy1 because we are always so happy to see you whenever you arrive.

Thank you for kind words about CI - and yes, isn't seeta's new blog just wonderful?

How'd your son's appointment go? Please keep us posted.

Wishing you a great Thursday. And thanks for being here.

(I'm the renegade formerly known as RadioGirl!)

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

ha! This is the damn truth :)

love you Madame Robin ..So Much

Kay W
Kay W

foufou, sending every good health wish your way.

DOlivervelez
DOlivervelez

I love your new home - and big hugs to you all and especially to Seeta for birthing this progressive space

Patriotdaily
Patriotdaily

Nancy, sorry i'm so late. work and just finished dinner now.

thanks for still sending out emails. i would not want to miss your postings.

Patriotdaily
Patriotdaily

hi trashablanca! i have not been at DK much, but when i do, particularly each morning, i miss you so.

good to see you!

TiMT
TiMT

Oh my, foufou, my favorite kosack. May I ask where you have been? So good to see ya. If you have not caught up on the scoop, you sure have missed a lot in the last few days. :-) So, nice to see ya. I write at TPV now so hope to see ya there. :)

TiMT
TiMT

I might just do that tomorrow. Watch out! :-)

Samantha
Samantha

Nice to meet you and everyone else. Thank you!! :)

David Reid
David Reid

Just wanted to let you know I support all of you 100%.

David Reid aka dopper0189

asterkitty
asterkitty

I am trying to figure out who everyone is... But it is a pleasure to read such sane intelligent respectful comments.

asterkitty
asterkitty

Hello everybody. I just wanted to add two organizations to the list. I do graphic arts work for both the Inside-Out Center and Witness to Innocence, both based in Philadelphia.

Witness to Innocence is at www.witnesstoinnocence.org. They advocate against the death penalty, and their speakers' bureau is comprised of death row exonerees.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program can be found at www.insideoutcenter.org. It is a revolutionary education program with both "inside" and "outside" students learning together.

I thought these might be of interest to people here.

Yasuragi
Yasuragi

Sorry to be so late. Someone looked a lot like you sent me to some reading material... and I got lost in it. ;)

Wonderful. I didn't remember how terrific this post was. And was much of this sourced for NN this year? It's just such powerful information. I love throwing these numbers at people and seeing their reactions.

Thank you for the best weapon of all: information.

poco
poco

So nice to see you here Nancy, (sooth)
and so glad to know that seeta's awesome blog is where I'll be sure to find you on Wednesdays.

Love these series.

Yasuragi
Yasuragi

Hey... I know you, don't I? ;)
Yo, princss6. No surprise finding you here tonight. :)

Deborah Phelan
Deborah Phelan

i'm here, registered and so appreciately of your moving this series over to this wonderful new home. Perhaps it is a place for me to write about climate justice and the rights to equal share of carbon space for development issues.

Now back to read:)

Kay W
Kay W

hiya, foufou.

Very, very happy to see you here. Welcome. Take a look around the larger Critical Mass Progress blog if you have a minute.

Kay W
Kay W

Deeply appreciate your kind words and sending link to faith-based folks, leftrev. I've done much work in faith communities around restorative/transformative justice. These are communities where this work can and will take deep root, if only we nurture it.

Yes. And cats, also, too. Lizzie and Flower are cheering you.

As am I.

TiMT
TiMT

((((sagenotsweet))))) I like the name.

Indeed, the system has made us numb and we have to do something about it to change it. The truth is we need to elect real Democrats. (I cringe to even try to say that fake ass saying --"more and better Democrats")

Kay W
Kay W

One thing: if folks are having problems, empty your cache! Yes, I know how odd that sounds in Criminal Injustice.

But really. Just do it. If you don't know what it is or how to do it, enter "empty cache" in your browser's Help menu.

TiMT
TiMT

That about says it all there!

Hello my Queen. How u doin'?

Kay W
Kay W

Well, damn, howdy, Cedwyn! Thank you for being here tonight.

Kay W
Kay W

Cheers, iriti! Thanks so much for being here. Wonderful to see you!

Seeta's blog is terrific, and we are so grateful to Critical Mass Progress for being CI's home.

Kay W
Kay W

Excellent. Please: get all PBS marathon on me again!

TiMT
TiMT

Hear....hear....hear!! Spot on comment!

Hellloooo trashablanca, how u doing? Good to see ya here.

TiMT
TiMT

Bro DaNang. How the heck have you been brother? Man, we have not talked in a while. Good to see ya buddy!

MK
MK

Thanks so much seeta for the Prison Culture shout out. Much appreciated...

TiMT
TiMT

(((((nancy))))) now the change of name is going to take some getting used too you know LOL. Glad CI has gotten a beautiful home my sistah. Cheers!

TiMT
TiMT

(((((seeta))))) so sorry it has taken me this long to get here. Head ducking in shame. You got something going in on here sistah...proud of you. :-)

adept may have not been back into his email validate his email and click on the link worldpress sends out for verification before logging in. I have sent him an email if that might be the problem. I also though I can login straight and was not successful and immediately remembered to check my email.

Beautiful space beautiful Lady!

Kay W
Kay W

But your people are legion.

Where will we put them all?

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 yes!!

great to see you -- will e-mail you soon re the new deal here.. Very soon

always hope for more  excellent contributions to you Vikki :)

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thanks denise!!

i think this blog is such an incredible space -- we are so grateful to seeta

Kay W
Kay W

Hi, Denise! Thanks for being here. Huge gratitude to Seeta, whose blog is simply wonderful. Blessings to you.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

So happy to see you here :)

any time -- never too late

thank you! means a lot to me that you are here

Kay W
Kay W

hi, Patriotdaily. Thank you for being here. Good to see you.

Kay W
Kay W

David/dopper, thank you so much for stopping by; it means so much. Sending love and blessings and gratitude to you.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

David! thank you so much

you don't know how much that means --Gratitude as always

Kay W
Kay W

Great organizations, asterkitty. Very much of interest.

Thank you. Please join us here again.

Any interest you might have in doing a CI diary? We could all benefit.

Kay W
Kay W

Talk with seeta! But so glad to see you here, darlin'! Thank you for stopping in.

Yasuragi
Yasuragi

Wow -- that totally worked! I could only log in as "guest" before. Thanks, Kay!

Wait a minute... logged in fine, but still popping up in disqus as Guest.

Ah, well....

asterkitty
asterkitty

At some point I will. I'm actually very busy with work right now, including fundraising materials for Witness, and website updates for Inside-Out.

I will see about getting permission from Lori (Inside-Out founder and director) to reprint some things. She may also want to write something, but her life is way too busy (makes mine look downright lazy).

Working with these two organizations has pried my eyes wide open.