August 18, 2003

Reality is So Inconvenient

US notches world's highest incarceration rate

They say that like it's a bad thing.

More than 5.6 million Americans are in prison or have served time there, according to a new report by the Justice Department released Sunday.

Disregarding some of the unfairness for the non-violent drug offenders, on the whole, I'd have to say that I'm kind of glad most of these people have been, or are, in jail.

The numbers come after many years of get-tough policies - and years when violent-crime rates have generally fallen.

What an amazing coincidence. So ...

But to some observers, they point to broader failures in US society, particularly in regard to racial minorities and others who are economically disadvantaged.

I concur that this is because of braoder failures in society, though I doubt that I'd agree with the author of this article as to what tose failures are. Let's start with the nanny state elimination of personal responsibility, shall we? But if poverty causes crime, would that mean the third world is completely overrun with nothing but criminals?

"These new numbers are shocking enough, but what we don't see are the ripple effects of what they mean: For the generation of black children today, there's almost an inevitable aspect of going to prison," says Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington.

What an incredibly racist thing to say -- however you want to read it. Using their own worst case statistics the odds of a black male spending some time in jail are about 1 in 3 in his lifetime. This is pretty damn bad, but it's a long, long way from inevitable. And I sure don't look at all the black kids I see in school and assume they are going to end up in jail -- unlike Mr. Mauer.

"We have the wealthiest society in human history, and we maintain the highest level of imprisonment. It's striking what that says about our approach to social problems and inequality."

Perhaps that we take crime and punishment seriously? Striking, isn't it?

Nor does the impact of incarceration end with the sentence. Former inmates can be excluded from receiving public assistance, living in public housing, or receiving financial aid for college. Ex-felons are prohibited from voting in many states. And with the increased use of background checks - especially since 9/11 - they may be permanently locked out of jobs in many professions, including education, child care, driving a bus, or working in a nursing home.

Again, they say this like it's a bad thing.

The new report also informs -

Oh, it also informs, as opposed to merely offering propoganda. How original.

... but does not settle - one of the toughest debates in American politics: whether high rates of imprisonment are related to a drop in crime rates over the past decade.

If this is one of the toughest debates in American politics, what are the easy ones? Perhaps, should the people of California recall Gray Davis?

The prison population has quadrupled since 1980. Much of that surge is the result of public policy, ...

Hmmm, I'd think that virtually all of the prison population is there because of public policy. You know, policies like thou shalt not steal, rob, beat, rape, murder...

... such as the war on drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing. Nearly 1 in 4 of the inmates in federal and state prisons are there because of drug-related offenses, most of them nonviolent.

So if we free all drug related felons, we'd still probably have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. But since the authors of this article have such a hard time seing the causal link between increased incarceration rates and lower crime rates, it should be no surprise that they also cannot see the causal link between increased criminality in our society and the destruction of families and the breakdown of the culture caused in large part by the nanny-statism of the last 40 years.

"A lot of people think that the reason crime rates have been dropping over the past several years is, in part, because we're incarcerating the people most likely to commit crimes," says Stephan Thernstrom, a historian at Harvard University.

You gotta go to Harvard to figure this out? Or worse yet, who doesn't think this is true? But unless we've devolved into some sort of Minority Report scenario, I think we are incarcerating the people who have committed crimes, as opposed to those merely likely to commit crimes.

Others say the drop has more to do with factors such as a generally healthy economy in the 1990s, more opportunity for urban youth, or better community policing.

Oh. Illiberal utopian statists. I should've known.

Posted by Charles Austin at August 18, 2003 09:51 PM