Friday, February 29, 2008

Prison nation

From the New York Times, the shocking news that 1% of all adult Americans are in prison. The New Zealand rate - itself appallingly high - is about a quarter of that. Then there's this bit:

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
Crooked Timber links to the even more depressing statistics:
in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).
Which in many states means they don't get to vote. Convenient, right?

And the reason for all this? According to law professor Paul Cassell,

"One out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every 100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense."
Where "serious criminal offence" equals minor non-violent drug offences, or petty crime resulting in permanent incarceration under a harsh and unforgiving three strikes law. This isn't about "protecting society", it's about social control and displaying your own viciousness.

And people want to bring this madness here?