Incompetence, graft in Brewer’s AZ private prisons, links to Abu Ghraib

I’ve many times complained about the sorry state of journalism. What often goes for journalism these days is whatever Fox News does with its fake scandals: Take highly edited videos and keep playing them until the rest of the media jumps on the bandwagon.

I’m glad to be proved wrong in my suspicion that real investigative journalism died long ago. Along with Wikileaks, the Rachel Maddow show puts out reporting that actually informs the public. It’s quite amazing because the following story is about Arizona which has been in the news more than almost anything else and yet no one else in the media had connected the dots.

(As a note, I think it’s important to point out that Rachel Maddow, like Wikileaks, is part of the New Media. Even though she is now on MSNBC, she began her career on Air America. It’s similar to MSNBC having hired Cenk Uygur who is one of the big names in New Media. It seems MSNBC is trying to bring New Media into the mainstream.)

US: Politics, Religion & Civil Rights

U.S. prison population headed for first decline in decades

The United States soon may see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

That is truly good news.  We imprison more of our population than any country in the world at high costs and we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined.  During these decades of wasteful federal spending supported by conservatives, healthcare reform has been floundering during this same period of time.  Helping people is socialism, but killing and imprisoning people is good traditional American values.

Gun Owners, Unfiltered

The National Rifle Association has long fulminated in the gun control debate in Washington like the Great Oz in the Emerald City. Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

I’m not a gun owner, but I am a supporter of the right to own a gun.  I guess I’m a moderate as described in this article, but what is interesting is that most gun owners are moderate about gun controls.  I suspect this would prove true in other areas as well.  For exaple, like many people, I’m moderate about the issue of abortion, but the moderate voices never get heard.  Instead, issues like this get portrayed in black and white terms.  But gun controls and abortion are complex issues with many factors.

Most Americans aren’t for absolute control or absolute lack of gun control.  Most Americans aren’t for absolute freedom of abortion or absolute denial of abortion.  When Glenn Beck’s can portray his extremist views as populist by saying “we surround them”, then you know the media has failed.  People have come to think of the extremes as the norm, and moderates are either ignored (as the NRA apparently has with its own members) or portrayed as liberals (pronunced “libruls”), socialists, or some other ugly word.

Let me try to explain how extremism had come to hold such power over the American psyche.

Some consider the NRA to be the most powerful special interest group in the US.  For various reasons, the NRA has become associated with the far religious right.  Earlier in last century, the GOP was the party of civil rights and it’s true that gun ownership is a civil rights issue, but the civil rights I’m talking about is that of the civil rights movement.  I’ve heard that Martin Luthr King jr was a Republican and African-Americans in the past seem to have had been strong supporters of the GOP, but this changed in the middle of last century when desegregation became a major issue.  Southerners began worrying about their way of life and around this constellated several issues.  There was the increasing popularity of the NRA and at the same time the KKK was losing power, but the far religious right in general was opposed to desegregation.  Evangelicals, before this time, were intentionally non-political.  However, many white Southerners had formed private schools to escape the desegregated public schools and in response the federal government had taken away the tax exemption for private schools that continued to be racially segregated.

This far right movement led to several results.  The evangelical conservatives have had disproportionate influence on Washington politics with presidential candidates courting them and a number of presidents with openly avowed allegiance to the religious right.  Nixon had associations with evangelical leaders, Reagan used evangelism and race issues to win the presidency, and of course Bush jr was a born again.  It was through the religious right that the GOP has dominated Washington for so many decades.  And, in that time, what policies were instated?  What were the results?

American politicians have supported Israel because according to evangelical theology the Jews have to rebuild the temple before Jesus can return.  The culture wars, based on issues of race and poverty, has become a wedge issue and a major campaigning strategy.  Politicians were forced to accept to support ‘tough on crime’ policies which led to the ever-increasing prison population.  The War on Drugs was started with an emphasis on drugs used by poor minorities.  Communism became identified with Godlessness and so the religious right became identified with the ‘American way’.  The religious fueled Cold War led to more wars started than during any other time in US history.  The US became a highly militarized society and began it’s mission of spreading democracy (i.e., nation-building).  And all of this led to Republican administrations having budget deficits.

The NRA, by itself, seems like a harmless organization.  But the problem is that it’s a special interest group that is part of a larger movement that has succeeded in manipulating public policies.  And as the polls show this special interest group doesn’t even accurately represent its own members.

Heaven and Nature

On a slightly different but related note, this article is about the popularity of pantheism in American culture.  The author doesn’t mention it, but imagine this has its roots in the Founding Fathers preference of deism over theism (which relates to the Enlightenment ideals of democracy).

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

I think this also relates to the issue of evangelism.  Many people don’t realize that a large percentage of evangelicals are liberals and evangelism was part of a great mix of religious fervor in the 1800s (having it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation and the Anabaptist movement).  Everything from Mormonism to New Thought Christianity came out of this period, and religious communes such as the Shakers became popular in the era of Civil War unease.  People, both liberal and conservative, were looking for a truly American sense of religion… and the Europeans too were having their own version of collective soul-searching (because the Industrial Age in general was disruptive of traditional ways of life).

I suspect that pantheism has a direct link to the evangelical faith in a God who is very close to humanity and also the idea of being filled by the Holy Spirit.  Evangelism and New Age spirituality are twin siblings.  However, the religious right had seemed to have one the battle in this sibling rivalry for liberal religiosity had seemed to have been purged from the Democratic party in response to the extreme religiosity of the GOP.  Ever since, the religious right has defined the terms for all religious and moral debate which has allowed them to set the terms for most of the political debate as well.

However, certain things shifted the balance.  Joseph Campbell and George Lucas helped to popularize liberal and secular sense of the spiritual (pantheism), but it also invited liberals to be more openly spiritual and even religious (eventually leading to the likes of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle).  But this had started back in the 1800s with the newly translated ancient texts.  And this was kicked into high gear with the discovery and popularization of the Gnostic texts which really hit the mainstream around the time of Campbell’s popularity.  These Gnostic texts led to a revival of liberals reclaiming Christianity which has been slow but steady, and which prepared the way for someone like Obama to use religious language to win the presidency (something only Republicans were able to do).

One interesting thing about liberal religion/spirituality is the emphasis on pacifism.  That also goes back to the 1800s.  It was the time of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln (by a racist white Southerner).  It was the beginning of the racial issues and culture wars that have bred so much violence.  Many people were tired of all of the violence in the late 1800s and so joined pacifist communes such as the Shakers, pacifist communities such as the Amish, and pacifist groups such as the Quakers.  The list of pacifist Christian groups in America is very long which is odd when you consider how Christian messages of violence too often dominate our media.

This pacifist tradition has always been strong.  America didn’t start off as a militarized society.  The Founding Fathers formed America in order to defend themselves against oppressive violence.  When they had established the government, they were specifically clear about not wanting a standing army.

So, America has seen some massive shifts in its public policies and in its public opinions.  The dominance of the GOP began in reaction to the civil rights movement in the 1950s.  The civil rights movement began with the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s.  The anti-slavery movement began because none of the Founding Fathers were able or willing to make slavery illegal at the inception of our country.  A slow shift that has finally resulted in a black president.  Still, racial conflict and the culture wars are just as strong, just as divisive.  Mexicans (known by the codeword ‘illegal aliens’) are the new hated minority, but at the same time both blacks and hispanics will outnumber the whites in the near future.  Also, as the prison population decreases, this will mean more minorities out in the general public and more minorities with power to influence politics.

It makes me wonder where it’s all leading.

Dan Coffey on Prisons: Forgiveness and Reform

In the Iowa Source magazine, I was reading ‘Tis the Season for Forgiveness by Dan Coffey. 

The forgiveness he was speaking of is towards all of the non-violent victimless criminals who are overwhelming our prisons (and, of course, overburdening the taxpayers).  It’s a good article and I’d love to share it with you, but apparently it hasn’t been posted online.  However, he starts off with some quotes from Nicholas Kristoff which I could find online.  These quotes refer to statistics which should move anyone whose heart hasn’t become completely numb to the atrocities of our society (Coffey writes, ” Sometimes statistics speak more eloquently than paragraphs of explanation or generalization.”  How true!)… but this kind of data is already familiar to any reasonably informed citizen (by which I don’t mean to imply most citizens are reasonably informed).

I guess I should type up some of the article in order to share it:

… granting amnesty to those convicted of non-violent crimes.  Sure, there might be a few rotten apples among the blemished, but they’d be the exception, not the rule.

It’s interesting that he uses the image of rotten apples because it’s quite apt.  Rotten apples will rot other apples when you pack them close together.

We could spend the money we would have spent housing them on their educations.  Let them learn a trade. […]  This last summer, the Kentucky Supreme Court announced a pilot project that could save their counties an estimated $12 million a month by allowing thousands of people arrested for nonviolent, non-sexual crimes to post bail immediately after they are arrested.

Ever since getting touch on crime became a politician’s sure-fire bet for re-election, we’ve dug ourselves into a hle that it’s going to be hard to climb out of.  If we can’t afford health care, maybe we can at least afford this.

[…]  More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually.  For states with death penalty, savings of up to $1 billion a year could be realized simply by replacing capital punishment with life sentences.

[…]  The war on drugs must be making somebody a bundle, because the cost of imprisoning people convicted of breaking those laws is breaking the back of many a state.  Drug enforcement agencies are also able to seize cash and assets of the people they arrest, often keeping the money in a slush fund for use at their discretion.  This is the same policy that tempted Dallas County sheriff Brian Gilbert to steall $120,000 from a motorist during a routine traffic stop.  Instead of ten years in prison, a judge fined him $1,000 and put him on probation.

So obviously, the people in prison are often not being given the same advantages law enforcement and the courts offer their own.

Until we fix these problems, prudence would suggest that we stop locking people up.  Our prison mess doesn’t go away just because we’ve hidden these institutions out of plain sight.  For every person in prison, at least five others are deeply affected.

[…]  The fashionable policy of “getting tough on crime” resulted in mandatory minimum sentencing laws that took away a judge’s leeway in sentencing.  Other laws were passed requiring those convicted of certain felonies to serve 85 percent of their sentences.  No option for parole.  Any wonder why our prisons are bulging?

So, there you go.  I plan on writing more about this later.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 12/14/09

Sex bias probe in colleges’ selections

The gist of the article is that:
(1) feminism succeeded so well that women are applying in higher numbers than ever,
(2) because of the gender divide going to the opposite extreme, colleges are biasing their admissions towards men to create more gender balance,
(3) and some think this is a bad thing because it supposedly undermines all that feminism achieved.

I’m a liberal and I’m all for women’s rights, but actually I’m for everyone’s rights including men.  I don’t have any clear opinion about this precise issue of college admissions because I’ve never looked at the data for myself.  Howevever, one thing jumps out at me.  Why are men applying less to colleges.  This possibly implies that there is a gender bias against males in the public education system.

This relates to a topic I have researched in the past and there does seem to be some very odd shifts in gender itself.

Last year, I heard an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax on the radio show Coast to Coast AM. He was discussing his book Boys Adrift (the official website and an excerpt from his book Why Gender Matters along with an interview of him on the Today Show). The book focuses on the development of boys, but does so in terms of considering both genders. His basic premise is that for various reasons normal development has been altered in the past generation or so.

The primary problem Dr. Sax sees is the estrogen-like chemicals that leach out of clear plastic bottles. This causes boys to develop slower and not to develop normally, and it causes girls to develop faster. Young men now have majorly decreased levels of testosterone and sperm count than previous generations.

Another major problem is that the school system has tried to treat boys and girls equally in recent decades. Teachers don’t take into account that boys and girls develop differently, and the natural behavior of boys has become unacceptable in schools. To try to calm boys down more like girls, drugs such as ritalin have increasingly been given to boys (an article by the National Institute of Health mentioned that boys are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD). This is a twofold problem. Boys are stunted psychologically which is bad enough, but the drugs have long-term consequences on brain development. It causes a part of the brain that relates to motivation to not to fully develop.

So, this means that young men are becoming evermore effeminate and apathetic. Young women are more likely to go to college, get degrees, and get professional careers. Also, with the sexual dynamic messed up, sexual attraction has decreased and along with it so has marriage.

 
This problem goes even beyond the human sphere.  Pollution is altering the chemical consistency of the entire environment.  This is causing gender issues even in other species.  For example, large cats have shrinking testicles and certain male river fish are laying eggs.  So, the social issues of gender prejudice might be the least of our worries.

AP INVESTIGATION: Monsanto seed biz role revealed

Giving companies the rights to genetics is asking for trouble.  I’m not sure why the government would want to create a dystopia where private interests control the very basis of life and monopolies like Monsanto rule the world.  I’m not against genetic engineering per se.  As long as there is plenty of oversight, it shouldn’t be any riskier than any other science… but with such powerful companies it’s kind of joke to speak about oversight.  These global mega-corporations become so wealthy and powerful that they rival national governments.

Viruses That Leave Victims Red in the Facebook

The rise of internet crime and identifiy theft is really strange and disturbing.  The government forced social security numbers onto Americans promising that they would never be used as they’re being used today.  Because of the government’s failure, every person now must live in paranoia about their identity being stolen.  Companies sell you services to protect your identitiy, but isn’t that the government’s job?  It’s as if you don’t even own your own identity.  It’s bad enough having to rent a place to live, but I’d rather not be in a position where I have to pay rent for my identity. 

Why does there always seem to be a collusion between government failure and private profiteering?  The government starts the wars, the average citizen pays for it with taxes, the poor fight and die, and the private contractors make massive profits.  The government criminalizes drugs and starts a War on Drugs, the average citizen pays for it with taxes, the poor die and are imprisoned, and the private contractors build privatized prisons making massive proftits.  Am I seeing a pattern here?

Whole Foods Republicans

There are the depressing numbers on young voters (two-thirds of whom voted for Mr. Obama), African-Americans and Latinos (95% and 67% went blue respectively). But these groups have voted Democratic for decades, and their strong turnout in 2008’s historic election wasn’t replicated this fall, nor is it likely to be replicated again.

The voting patterns of the college-educated is another story. This is a group that, slowly but surely, is growing larger every year. About 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%.

As less-educated seniors pass away and better-educated 20- and 30-somethings take their place in the electorate, this bloc will exert growing influence. And here’s the distressing news for the GOP: According to exit-poll data, a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008—the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s.

There are two issues here.

1) If I were a Republican, I’d be highly concerned that educated people are attracted to the Democrat party and uneducated people are attracted to the Republican party.  This is especially disturbing considering that there are many conservative colleges, and certain departments within all schools lean towards the conservative (for example, business professors tend toward the conservative and among students business majors are increasingly popular).  I think it might be wise for Republicans to not so strongly support politicians such as Palin who are overtly anti-intellectual.  Just think about it.  Many educated conservatives are going to be repulsed by messages of anti-intellectualism.  Also, anti-intellectualism tends to go along with Christian fundamentalism which probably also isn’t very attractive to many educated conservatives.  The most highly educated sector of potential Republican voters are the libertarians many of whom dislike the Republican party’s emphasis on social conservatism.

2) In line with anti-intellectualism and Chrisian fundamentalism, many of the most vocal conservatives right now are the “white culture” advocates.  Pat Buchanan argues that white people built this country (somehow forgetting about all of the blacks and orientals that provided all of the labor) and argues that the GOP should be the party of “white culture”.  Does anyone actually wonder why those who identify as Republican has decreased to such a small percentage of the population.  Many moons ago, the Republican party supported civil rights, but now they demonize poor minorities focusing on: legal and illegal immigrants stealing “our” jobs, Reagan’s “welfare queens”, the racist use of Willie Horton, the tough on crime policy that was directed at poor minorities, etc.

If the Republicans want to be a respectable party again that actually has the chance of doing anything beyond obstructionism, then they should simply stop doing what they’re doing right now.  Many of the conservatives have been fear-mongering so much that they’re even attacking Republicans for not being conservative enough.

What conservatives are doing right now is just reactionary politicizing using personality politics and wedge issues, and I deem it reactionary becase it has no viable vision of the future.  Social conservatism is a dead end especially when narrowly defined in terms of “white culture” and Christian fundamentalism.  Moral politics will always be important, but moral politics has to appeal to more than the self-interests of a small sector of society.  Looking at the demographic shift, the conservative base of the future won’t be white fundamentalists because that sector of society isn’t growing while other sectors are growing (such as minorities and immigrants).  As for libertarians, the biggest demographic that leans in that direction is Generation X.  The Millennials, on the other hand, are large in number and are in favor of big government especially for social purposes.  Even though Generation X is smaller in comparison, this generation is positioned for great influence as Boomers retire.  But if the GOP wants to attract GenXers, they’re going to have to drastically change their political tactics and their talking points.

Jailing juveniles

Statistics show that juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. […]  The bill rightly encourages states to eliminate the practice of locking up juveniles charged with status offenses, such as truancy or running away from home. Studies have shown that juveniles and communities fare much better when status offenders are redirected to counseling, mentoring or school-based programs. […]  The act also calls on states to be aware of and address the growing evidence that African American and Hispanic youths are frequently dealt with more harshly than their white counterparts. For instance, African American and Hispanic juveniles are much more likely to be detained even for minor crimes than are white juveniles and are much more likely to be tried as adults than white youths who are accused of similar crimes.

There Is No ‘Humane’ Execution

It has also become clear — particularly since DNA evidence has become more common — how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

An untold number of innocent people have also, quite likely, been put to death. Earlier this year, a fire expert hired by the state of Texas issued a report that cast tremendous doubt on whether a fatal fire — for which Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 — was arson at all. Until his execution, Mr. Willingham protested his innocence.

Prisons of Our Own Making

This calculus has recent American history as well as crude political logic on its side. Without conservative lawmakers willing to “err on the side of punishing” (as Palin put it after the Clemmons shooting), America might still be swamped by the crime wave that engulfed the country in the 1960s and ’70s.

The surge in crime rates, which lasted until the early 1990s, was driven by a variety of factors — the demographic bulge created by the baby boom, the crisis of authority in the late ’60s, and the heroin and crack epidemics that followed. But it was abetted by a softheaded liberalism that emphasized rehabilitation to the exclusion of retribution and deterrence. (Across the Great Society era, as crime rates started to take off, America’s prison population actually went down.)

[…]  Their approach has worked. The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak. The murder rate is at its lowest point since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Yet the costs of this success have been significant: 2.3 million Americans are behind bars. Our prison system tolerates gross abuses, including rape on a disgraceful scale. Poor communities are warped by the absence of so many fathers and brothers. And every American community is burdened by the expense of building and staffing enough prisons to keep up with our swelling convict population.

This isn’t an absolutely horrible article (meaning I’ve seen worse), but the view presented is severely limited and so the conclusions are simply wrong.  If rehabilitation never works, then any person who has ever committed any crime should be locked away for life.  The idea of ever releasing anyone from prison is that they’re less likely to commit more crimes.  Most prisoners are eventually released, and the hope is that for the vast majority they will have been rehabilitated (even if they were never in any rehabilitation program).  The success of rehabilitation is determined by the rates of recidivism, but that isn’t necessarily a good measure.  Ex-convicts have a difficult time for finding work after they leave prison.  If ex-convicts aren’t helped to assimilate back into health society, then it’s inevitable that recidivism rates will be high.  But that doesn’t directly imply anything about rehabilitation in and of itself.

A little research, however, knocks the legs out from the entire view of rehabilitation presented in this article.

Evidence-Based Treatment Demonstrates Improved Recidivism Rates

The Debate on Rehabilitating Criminals: Is It True that Nothing Works?

The implication was that the criminal justice system, and in particular, corrections, had grown soft by over-relying on such vague concepts as “rehabilitation.” Curiously, if budgets were any measure, rehabilitation was a straw man. There has never been a rehabilitative era in American corrections. Most correctional systems had few, if any trained psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. Virtually all correctional budgets went to staff that operated traditional prisons, jails and reform schools. What looked to outsiders like permissiveness was more often neglect and chaos in a system overcome with an explosion of “baby- boomers.”

[…]  Most rehabilitative programs chalked up as failures, were heavy on rhetoric and slim on services. The classic 30-year “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study” begun at Harvard in the late 1930s and used ever since by critics of rehabilitation as a premier example of the “nothing works” position, was summarized by Wilson in this way, “The differences in crime between those youth who were given special services (counseling, special educational programs, guidance, health assistance, camping trips) and a matched control group were insignificant: ‘the treatment had little effect’.” But Wilson ignored other realities.

Three hundred and twenty boys were assigned to ten counselors who were told to do ‘whatever they thought best’ for their clients. Counselors had no formal training in the mental health field, much less in psychotherapy. Each youth was seen an average of five times per year during the early years of the project in meetings directed at such things as arranging physical exams or interesting a boy in summer camp. Not surprisingly, the subjects showed no drop in criminal behavior at 10-, 20-, and 30-year follow-ups. It seems bizarre to have expected otherwise.

[…]  

“Rehabilitation” in institutions is mostly a matter of mitigating the amount of debilitation. In a comprehensive “cohort” study, Ohio State University researchers found that the “velocity of recidivism” among young offenders actually increased with each institutionalization. “Our most important single finding emerges from an analysis of the impact of the court’s disposition on the intervals between future arrests. . .the actual number of months during intervals between arrests when the offender was free to commit an offense, diminished dramatically after each commitment to an institution of the Ohio Youth Commission.”

This experience has been confirmed in recent research by the RAND Corporation on adult inmates of state prisons. The implication is that the prisons are criminogenic – producing the very thing they claim to treat.

Approaches which give the offender a brief “taste” of prison also have a poor record. The much hyped “Scared Straight” model, wherein teenagers area brought to prison to be intimidated by inmates to scare them “straight,” doesn’t lower recidivism. Controlled studies show that teenagers subjected to the frightening experience tended to commit more crimes than a matched sample of non-participants. Likewise, “shock” probation, whereby an offender is incarcerated for a short time, (often led to think it will be for longer), and is then suddenly released back to the community, doesn’t work. “Shock” probationers fared worse than matched samples not sent to prison. The debilitating aspects of prison life apparently outweighed their aversive effect.

There is also the matter of how one assesses “success” or “failure.” Rather than making simple rearrest or reconviction the measure of failure, recent research has taken account of the winding down of an offender’s criminal activity. This is a profoundly important issue.

In most fields, limited progress is seen as productive. A person with viral pneumonia who has been treated in a hospital is not labeled a “failure” and re- hospitalized at the first sign of a cough. But a rehabilitative program which lowers the number or de-escalates the seriousness of repeat crimes is usually seen as unacceptable.

As a result, one can have a “successful” program with high rates of recidivism. In one study of a family therapy program geared to hard-core delinquents, 30 adolescents (each with 20 previous adjudicated offenses), were matched with a control group of 44 delinquents with similar offense histories. At the end of a 15- month follow-up, 60 percent of the family therapy group had committed a new offense. This looked like failure. But then, we see that 93 percent of the control group which didn’t get the therapy had been so charged.

Rebilitation programs, to the degree they’ve actually been used, have showsn signs of success.  Imprisonment, on the other hand, has shown to increase criminal activity.  This is the problem with the newspaper article, ‘Prisons of Our Own Making’.  The author was looking at larger population statistics, but wasn’t looking at the research on the ground.  It’s hard to conclude, as the author does, that high prison rates have even been a good temporary solution. 

Another article (Recidivism: The Effect of Incarceration and Length of Time Served) points out that successful methods depend on individual cases.  Treating even prisoners as individual human beings… oh my! what a libeal attitude… but interesting it’s a liberal attitude based on actual evidence.  The idea is that we should look at the acual data about criminals and what actually works rather than imposing a generalized ideology about being ‘tough on crime’ or whatever.

The backwardness of some people’s thinking always amazes me.  So, we get ‘tough on crime’ which includes vast numbers of victimless crimes such as drugs and which includes vast numbers of poor minorities (statistics showing the legal system is racially biased).  Young minority men go to prison leaving young minority children without fathers.  Young minority mothers have to try to raise kids on their own in poor areas and so are forced into welfare.  Even when the fathers get out of prison, employee prejudice and difficult job markets in poor areas makes it almost impossible for ex-cons to get jobs.  So, ex-cons end up committing crimes such as drug dealing in order to make money.  Their own children see their father’s lifestyle and see they have little opportunity themselves (inferior public schools in poor areas, lack of programs to help poor minority kids, and a bleak future of little job opportunity).  Is it much of a surprise that many of these kids get involved in drugs either in selling them or using them?

If we spent the same amount of money on helping people as we spend on the legal system (courts, prisons, etc.) and on the War on Drugs, we could utterly transform this society.  But those who benefit from the system as it is (the owners of privatized prisons, federal agencies that make money by confiscating property in drug raids, etc.) are obviously not motivated to change it.  Also, there are some people who believe a certain sector of society is just plain evil or somehow culturally maladjusted and so these people deserve all of their misery… and we should punish them to the furthest extent of the law even if it means destroying our whole society in the process.

The ironic thing is that the majority of Americans have used an illegal drug in their lifetime (and so, if we could only catch all of these victimless criminals, most Americans should be in prison).  The sad part, however, is that 70% of those imprisoned for drug charges are minorities (because, in the 1980s, lawmakers created sentencing disparites between drugs used by minorities and drugs used by whites).

Time to stop America’s preposterous war on pot

In his 1995 memoir, the man who had been a cold, calculating secretary of defense for both Kennedy and Johnson belatedly confessed that he and other top officials had long known that the war was an unwinnable, ideologically driven mistake. “We were wrong,” he wrote, almost tearfully begging in print for public forgiveness. “We were terribly wrong.”Yes, they were, and so are today’s leaders (from the White House to nearly all local governments), who are keeping us mired in the longest, most costly, and most futile war in U.S. history: the drug war. As one adamant opponent of this ongoing madness put it, “I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the War on Drugs is a failure. Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing War on Drugs, about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion.”

That was no ex-hippie stoner expressing himself through a haze of herbal smoke. It was America’s “Uncle Walter,” the journalistic icon Walter Cronkite, calling earlier this year for a new truthfulness and sanity in American drug policy.

I just noticed the comments in the comment section of ‘Prisons of Our Own Making’.

4. JG

Sorry to spoil your party, Ross, but you’ve obviously never read the best-selling book, “Freakonomics”, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, who, by chance, also have a column by the same name in The New York Times.

Go to chapter 4, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone”, and you will learn about the direct link between the decline in crime since the 1990s and Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

As observed by Levitt and Dubner:

“Perhaps the most dramatic effect of legalized abortion, however, and one that would take years to reveal itself, was its impact on crime. In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years – the years during which young men enter their criminal prime – the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals. . . . Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.”

7. WGM

Here’s some stats you didn’t link to…

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov…

While you are right that the violent crime rates are down, and we imprison 2.3 million Americans, we are now spending in some instances over six times as much on corrections, police, and the judicial process to keep people behind bars. I’m sure if we spent six times more on the war in Afghanistan we could eradicate all of our foes, but that still doesn’t make it a wise allocation of money.

I wonder what would happen if six times more money was spent on all those terribly liberal programs that got tossed by the wayside so long ago. Programs for the mentally ill that are now housed in our prisons, and prevention programs that were only ineffective long ago because they went unfunded by politicians looking for short-term political points.

19. schrodinger

This is especially true in California, where we can’t afford to keep these people locked up even if it were a good idea. Far too many in the conservative movement condemn government spending, but fail to look beyond the headlines to see why government spending is soaring and to identify what can be done about it. The huge growth in the prison population is a major reason why California is spending so much more on government than we did.

We can’t afford this. Being tough on crime is all very well, but it contributes to the growth of government spending. The failed war on drugs is a huge contributor to this. We really need to stop prosecuting non-violent drug offenders.

Most conservatives are condemning Huckabee for these pardons. Nobody has pointed out that the pardons saved Arkansas money, and that helped to keep taxes low and government small. Being a small government conservative means making choices. 

21. Jon Jost

Prison are a problem in this country; but they are only symptomatic of far deeper problems, ones with which conservatives would be the last to fathom or attempt to grapple, as Mr Douthout demonstrates: does he speak of racism, an economic (enlarging each day) underclass, the the vast chasm between the 1-5% of the extremely wealthy and the rest of the country; does he address Wall Street led collapse of the economy with outsourcing, etc. Hell no.

22. Brendan

Poverty creates violent crime. If people have economic opportunity, or even a fantasy that economic opportunity is available to them, they won’t turn to drugs, crime, violence.

You’re right in one place, Mr. Douthat. Letting criminals off easy won’t make them stop being criminals. But locking them up in giant prisons doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. It does allow a massive private business interest to rise up in order to run those prisons or provide services. Massive private business interests that are only interested in getting bigger and bigger prisons.

43. ohmygod

As long as folks like this writer think in glorious technicolor Black + White we’ll all be stuck in prisons of our own making. HIs argumentation sounds like it’s coming out fresh from politbureau party school. Isn’t it interesting btw how similar the Republican pundits sound and act like the old Russian politicians. The arguments the same ‘superficiality’, always talking about something but meaning something different. What’s actually the essence of this article? Exactly, there is none! Sentences like: Above all it requires conservatives to take ownership of prison reform and correct the system they helped build’. Correct exactly what, Mister? What about a bit being more specific besides the babble. He says ‘The Democrats still lack credibility on crime’. What does that support to mean? Anything besides politbureau schmuff? WHY write an utterly empty article and WHY print the same old ideological nonsense?

54. Rob P.

ALL western countries experienced declining crime rates starting in the early 1990’s that continues to this day. Aggregate numbers may be higher in some cases in Canada and the US, but that is largely a function of there simply being more people. To attribute declining rates to incarcerating more people is inaccurate.

Furthermore, I find it curious that there seems to be a lot of money to keep an army of people (more than 2 million) locked up for relatively minor crimes for ridiculous periods of time at tragically young ages. There seems to be little money, and in fact more often teacher layoffs and reduced budgets for education whenever the economy sours.

[…]  Given the cost of building and staffing prisons, as well as warehousing people, it seems a more effective approach to making a safer society would be to fully fund education, provide even the most disadvantaged with real world job skills and ongoing support if they require treatment for mental illness. This isn’t politically correct though and is much less exciting than the easy ‘tough on crime’ soundbite that passes for intelligent discourse.

Other, equally diverse countries have a rate of incarceration that is 1/6th that of the US. Criminalizing entire generations of people for minor crimes hasn’t reduced the crime rate in the US. One state, Texas, has increased spending on prisons by 1,600% over the last 25 years, without a matching reduction in crime rates. At that level of spending, Texas should be crime free, and yet the opposite is true.

My Response to the News

C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help in Plan to Kill Jihadists
By MARK MAZZETTI

One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.

“It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin,” the official said. “It went well beyond that.”

I wrote about this story previously, but this is new info.  It seems that the argument for it being withheld from Congress was false.

Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.’s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Paramilitary hit teams… oh how it brings back the memories of America’s dark past.

In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.

Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company’s training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.

It sounds like the CIA and the former Blackwater are so entangled as to be inseparable.  Big government and big business melded together… fascism anyone?

Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.

If we were to go by American history, then there probably were and are all kinds of covert programs being hidden from Congressional oversight.  In my previous post about this story, I pointed out that it’s hard for Congress to serve it’s purpose of oversight when it’s left in the dark.  How does the Congress oversee an agency whose practice is to control info and keep it secret?  The only reason we see this info now is because there was a change in CIA leadership and the new guy didn’t want to get in trouble for the wrongdoings of the previous leadership.  However, even he didn’t know about this CIA program even after being head of the CIA for several months.   It was a secret even from him.  The CIA even lacks clear internal oversight.

A Nuremberg for Guantánamo
By GUÉNAËL METTRAUX

AT the end of World War II, the Allied powers found themselves in charge of thousands of captured enemies, many of whom had committed unspeakable crimes. Some among the victors thought that the prisoners should simply be shot. Others, including many in the American government, steadfastly insisted that these men should be subjected to criminal proceedings. Thus the Nuremberg trials were born, tribunals that meted out justice for some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities while demonstrating the return of the rule of law on the European continent and the superiority of democratic values over Fascist lunacies.

[…]

An international criminal tribunal would not answer all the legal questions surrounding the war on terrorism. But by putting its faith in the law, the Obama administration would send a potent message to both its supporters and its enemies. By giving a fair trial to the Guantánamo detainees, the United States would reassert its core values and demonstrate the supremacy of those values over the evil that has been challenging them.

Oh, what a lovely dream!  An America dedicating itself to justice, civil rights, and faith in the law… could such a thing be possible!?!

Sadly, there is a reason the US government doesn’t want to support international military tribunals.  There are many people of many countries (including politicians and leaders) who would like to see a number of Americans sent to trial for war crimes.  If we decided to subject citizens of other countries to fair trials, that might just lead to other countries demanding the same in return.  That is a can of worms that even Obama wouldn’t want to open.

Priority Test: Health Care or Prisons?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

The United States is anomalous among industrialized countries in the high proportion of people we incarcerate; likewise, we stand out in the high proportion of people who have no medical care — and partly as a result, our health care outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality are unusually poor.

Choices always have to  be made about how limited money is spent.  For that very reason, the way America spends it’s money seems bassackwards.  Even if you assume that even the majority of criminals (who, by the way, are non-violent) can’t be rehabilitated, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend the money on people you can help?

¶The United States incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average. Of those sentenced to state prisons, 82 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to one study.

¶California spends $216,000 annually on each inmate in the juvenile justice system. In contrast, it spends only $8,000 on each child attending the troubled Oakland public school system, according to the Urban Strategies Council.

¶For most of American history, we had incarceration rates similar to those in other countries. Then with the “war on drugs” and the focus on law and order in the 1970s, incarceration rates soared.

¶One in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 were imprisoned last year, partly because possession of crack cocaine (disproportionately used in black communities) draws sentences equivalent to having 100 times as much powder cocaine. Black men in the United States have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives, according to the Sentencing Project.

I like statistics.  Nothing like facts to put ideology in its place.

Indeed, education spending may reduce the need for incarceration. The evidence on this isn’t conclusive, but it’s noteworthy that graduates of the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, an intensive effort for disadvantaged children in the 1960s, were some 40 percent less likely to be arrested than those in a control group.

Above all, it’s time for a rethink of our drug policy. The point is not to surrender to narcotics, but to learn from our approach to both tobacco and alcohol. Over time, we have developed public health strategies that have been quite successful in reducing the harm from smoking and drinking.

If we want to try a public health approach to drugs, we could learn from Portugal. In 2001, it decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use. Ordinary drug users can still be required to participate in a treatment program, but they are no longer dispatched to jail.

“Decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal,” notes a report this year from the Cato Institute. It notes that drug use appears to be lower in Portugal than in most other European countries, and that Portuguese public opinion is strongly behind this approach.

For many many reasons, punishment just isn’t a very effective method.  To put it in laymen’s terms, it doesn’t give you much bang for your buck.  Besides, for a supposed Christian nation, we seem a little too much in love with punishment.  If Jesus was here, he wouldn’t approve.

“There are only two possibilities here,” Mr. Webb said in introducing his bill, noting that America imprisons so many more people than other countries. “Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States, or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”

It makes me happy when someone states the obvious.

Obama Calls Health Plan a ‘Moral Obligation’
By JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE

“These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” he said. “That was true in the debate over Social Security, when F.D.R. was accused of being a socialist. That was true when J.F.K. and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare. And it’s true in this debate today.”

Hope and fear may not be the best way to put it, but it’s not entirely inaccurate.  Research shows that liberals and conservatives tend to be of two distinct personality types (Ernest Hartmann’s thin vs thick boundaries, Myers-Briggs’ Sensation vs iNtuition functions, etc.).

Conservatives ‘fear’ change because they tend to want the world to stay the same or else to return to some idyllic past.  Conservatives are interested in the concrete reality of the present which is built on a sense of continuity with the past.  They’re more comfortable with what is familiar.

Conservatives seem to be more pessimistic.  Research shows that pessimists have a more realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of pessimism is that it allows the acceptance of (even maybe necessitates the expectation of) human failure.  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people can’t change you might as well just punish them and lock them away instead of trying to rehabilitate them.

Liberals ‘hope’ for change because they tend to want improvement and progress.  Liberals are interested in imagined possibilities that even though not entirely real in the present have the potential to be real in the future.  They’re more open to new experiences.

Liberals seem to be more optimistic.  Research shows that optimists have less realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend not to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of optimism is that it allows for hope and even determination… no matter how often people fail, there is always potential (many successes only come after hundreds of failed attempts).  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people are unable or feel unable to change unrealistic expectations are unhelpful and possibly dangerous such as if unrehabilitated criminals are released.

Even though the two attitudes balance eachother, America has always been a country of hope.  If there is any single defining ideal of America, it is definitely the ideal of hope.  At the same time, America’s being a young and less stable (or more dynamic if you prefer) country contributes to a constant fear of what we’re collectively becoming.