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November 20, 2007

Vengeance Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

By: Bernard Chazelle

It's always struck me as odd that a country so passionate about freedom be so quick to deny it to so many of its own citizens.

When you read the numbers below, keep two facts in mind: (1) only 15 percent of arrests involve serious property theft or violence; (2) we keep 10 times more people in prison than we did in 1970 when the crime rate was actually higher.

  • The US has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of all prison inmates.
  • The US incarceration rate is the world's highest, five to eight times higher than those of other industrialized nations.
  • Liberty-obsessed America has a million more prisoners than China, a police state with four times our population.
  • One third of all black males and 60 percent of black high school dropouts will go to prison at some point in their lives.
  • African-Americans serve as much time in federal prison for a typical drug offense as whites do for a violent crime.
  • African-Americans constitute 14% of the nation's drug users (roughly their fraction of the general population) but 56% of people imprisoned for a drug offense.
  • Over 5 million people are denied the right to vote because of a prior conviction.

Which brings us again to the Iron Law of Institutions: If the Democrats passed a law restoring to former convicts the right to vote, they might well secure for themselves a permanent majority. But whoever pushed for such a measure would likely pay a price. And, remember, a politician shall never willingly endanger his/her position.

One silver lining is the growing recognition from our top leaders that excessive prison sentencing is unbearably cruel and must be stopped at all costs!

I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the [30-month] prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.

George W. Bush, 07/02/07

Jessica Hall, on the other hand, was not deemed worthy of a presidential pardon. A mother of three with a husband on his third tour in Iraq, she was sentenced to two years in prison for throwing a McDonald's ice cup at another car that cut her off while driving. She had no prior record and the tragic consequence of her "road rage" was the unfortunate spilling of McDonald's water on another car. She spent nearly two months in jail before the uproar created by the decision caused her sentence to be commuted to probation.

Sources: [1, 2]

Posted at November 20, 2007 10:11 PM | TrackBack

In my lifetime, which began in 1970, this country has singularly failed to be passionate about freedom. It's been quite passionate about declaring itself to be passionate about freedom, but when it comes to defending actual freedom, eh, not so much.

Posted by: Rojo at November 21, 2007 02:58 AM

The evil of banality, indeed. All nine facts you describe are self-justifying consequences of the highly remunerative scam known as the Prison Industrial Complex perpetrated by dead from the ass both ways, dufus, fuddy-duddy, suck-up bunko artists. Their motto is:
"Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee. This means YOU!"

Posted by: Pvt. Keepout at November 21, 2007 10:19 AM

It's just a business, and it's business as usual, again.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 21, 2007 10:44 AM

By the end, Kurt Vonnegut had given up on his youthful hope that the United States would ever become a humane and reasonable nation, because power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But sometimes reformations (personal or collective) occur. And one step towards our own national reformation might be to call Speaker Pelosi's office, at 1-202-225-0100, and mention that we had heard of former White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan's admission that the Bush Gang lied to the people about Plamegate. Surely this warrants investigation and hearings about whether it is the kind of high crime and misdemeanor for which one ought to DEMAND IMPEACHMENT?

I'm mistah charley, ph.d., and Mike Meyer did not approve this message beforehand, although he may agree with it now - you'd have to ask him.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 21, 2007 11:16 AM

Isn't one reason the Chinese have fewer inmates, that they shoot so many of their convicts?

Posted by: Anderson at November 21, 2007 11:32 AM

Anderson: They shoot about 1000 a year. Say, they would be in jail for 20 years instead, that would add 20,000 prisoners
a year on average.

1,500,000 + 20,000 = 1,520,000

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 21, 2007 12:00 PM

mistah chalrey ph,d. I agree.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 21, 2007 12:16 PM

Bernard -

Sure, we have 25% of the prisoners with only 5% of the population. But George Bush has already explained why this is exactly as God intended! (He was speaking about carbon emissions at the time .... but even so....)

We have 25% of the world's prisoners.....and 25% of the world's economic output! That's exactly the correct share.

Of course, this suggests that our economy could become even MORE SPLENDID by locking up MORE PEOPLE!

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at November 21, 2007 02:26 PM

That's it, Aaron, just like the "defense" expenditures which they want to get back up to 5% of GDP. That's exactly the right measure. When you key everything to GDP it doesn't look so bad--and in a capitalist state what could be more appropriate.

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 21, 2007 02:49 PM

Another angle on the odd coincidence of stats that Aaron noticed:

If that much of our 5% of the world's population is in jail... and assuming that prisoners use a whole lot less energy than average Americans... then the rest of us really need to work overtime to use up their share of the world's energy while they're locked away.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at November 21, 2007 03:55 PM

forget china, india and our slow-ass criminal injustice system dont have that many people in jail.

of course we do seem to elect a lot of our criminals to represent us in parliament/state legislatures, which seems a more appropriate use of their talents.

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 22, 2007 06:20 AM

I think your numbers are off about the incarceration rate for drug offenders. This is from several years ago, so you may be correct:

"According to the National Institute of Drug buse (NIDA), 13% of all monthly drug users in America are black. (That's about the same as the percentage of the population that's black.) But 35% of those arrested for drug possession are black; 58% of those convicted of drug
possession are black; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession are black."

These data come from here:

Posted by: Mark G. Miller at November 22, 2007 09:43 AM

Mark: Wow! Your numbers are even more awful than mine! This is my reference (does the added word "state" explain the discrepancy with your 74% ?)

African Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses and 56% of persons in state prison for drug offenses.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 22, 2007 11:35 AM

And you wonder why the Black Man is angry.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 22, 2007 12:32 PM

chronic discrimination

Posted by: hapa at November 23, 2007 06:15 AM