Mass Incarceration

Today’s three justice stories are all focused on mass incarceration/overcriminalization that has swelled our incarcerated population, destroyed communities, and wasted plenty of our resources (both social and economic).

Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015  
Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, Prison Policy Initiative, December 8, 2015

“Now that we can see the big picture of how many people are locked up in the United States in the various types of facilities, we can see that something needs to change. Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day, giving this nation the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice in turn to ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each category behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.

“We’re optimistic that this “whole pie” approach can give Americans, who are ready for a fresh look at the criminal justice system, some of the tools they need to demand meaningful changes to how we do justice.”

There is a very interesting graph in this report entitled, “How many people are locked up in the US” that parses out the reasons for which people are incarcerated.


One Way Our Prison System Is Actually Worse Than It Was in 1750
Why our prisons are so crowded.
Laura Flanders / AlterNet, December 17, 2015

“What got a person locked up – no matter what – in 1790? Piracy. Period. At the birth of the republic mandatory minimum sentences were a rare and targeted thing. Attacking and robbing ships at sea got you life, no ifs, ands or buts.

“What gets you a mandatory minimum sentence today? Any one of 261 different crimes.


“The number of mandatory minimum crimes tripled between 1985 and 2000, engorging the prison system, and locking up especially women, mostly women with kids. In Murakawa’s book, the list of mandatory minimum statutes on the books today runs to 20 pages.

“The perils of post-war liberal law and order are worth recalling now,” she says, when demands for reform are loud but modest in scope. It’s not rocket science why the US has the world’s biggest prison population by far. It’s our policy of imprisoning so many people. The solution’s not kindler, gentler incarceration, or better oversight, it’s an entirely different approach.”

Sadly, as this article points out, we are in this mess because of bipartisan support for punitive sentencing and criminalizing acts that were not offenses in the past and are not offenses in most of the developed world.


Exposing the Kochs’ Real Motive to Reform the Criminal Justice System
There appears to be good reason for concern that ‘reform’ efforts could be a Trojan Horse.
By Brendan Fischer, Lisa Graves / PR Watch, December 17, 2015

“Charles and David Koch have received positive press for backing a bipartisan effort to reform American criminal justice laws, which have helped make the U.S. the world’s biggest jailer and whose burdens have fallen disproportionately on people of color.

“But, as the Kochs ride the wave of momentum toward criminal justice reform, it is becoming increasingly clear that part of their agenda would actually make it harder to prosecute corporate violations of environmental and financial laws that protect the public from corporate wrongdoing. The changes would make it harder to hold executives and their employees responsible for violating U.S. laws and would protect their financial interests, at the public’s expense.


“The Koch-backed ALEC soon jumped on the “overcriminalization” bandwagon. ALEC, which bragged in the 1990s that it successfully spread “three strikes you’re out” and “truth in sentencing” bills that helped increase the number of prisoners and the length of time served in prison for a variety of crimes, was now decrying the lack of a mens rea requirement for white collar crimes. For years, ALEC not only pushed for bills that increased the prison population but it also pushed numerous measures to privatize prisons, which benefited its corporate funders like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). As part of its pay-to-play operations, when Walmart started funding ALEC, ALEC also pushed bills to create mandatory minimum sentences for shoplifting, enacted new penalties for retail theft, and even added sentencing enhancers for using an emergency exit when shoplifting.”

Nothing altruistic about these guys….they are protecting themselves from prosecution by saying that corporations cannot be liable for intentionally causing harm despite intentionally ignoring regulations that would have avoided the harm they caused. What a crock! 

Frequent punishments are always a sign of weakness or laziness on the part of a government.
-Jean Jacques Rousseau


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