Showing posts sorted by relevance for query mass incarceration. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query mass incarceration. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Political Economy of Mass Incarceration


ineteconomics |  A new model probes why the US leads the world in jailing and imprisoning people, and what it will take to reverse course.

Mass incarceration in the United States has mushroomed to the point where we look more like the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe and the Middle East than the democracies of Western Europe. Yet it vanished from political discussions in campaigns in the 2016 election. In a new INET Working Paper, I describe in detail how the US arrived at this point. Drawing on a new model that synthesizes recent research, I demonstrate how the recent stability in the number of American prisoners indicates that we have settled into a new equilibrium of mass incarceration. I explain why it will hard to dislodge ourselves from this damaging and shameful status quo.

Mass incarceration started from Nixon’s War on Drugs, in a process described vividly by John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, in 1994:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
This was the origin of mass incarceration in the United States, which has been directed at African Americans from Nixon’s time to today, when one third of black men go to prison (Bonczar, 2003; Baum, 2016; Alexander, 2010).

Federal laws were expanded in state laws that ranged from three-strike laws to harsh penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The laws also shifted the judicial process from judges to prosecutors, from the courtroom to offices where prosecutors pressure accused people to plea-bargain. The threat of harsh minimum sentences gives prosecutors the option of reducing the charge to a lesser one if the accused is reluctant to languish in jail awaiting trial—if he or she is unable to make bail—and then face the possibility of long years in prison.

Friday, September 16, 2016

the not-seen make-work, waste-work externalities of mass incarceration..,


antimedia |  Though the U.S. population accounts for only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, its prisons held 22 percent of the world’s prisoners at the end of October 2013, making America’s incarceration rate the highest in the world.

And while the cost of today’s federal prisons has surpassed the Federal Bureau Of Prisons’ $6.85 billion budget, state prisons are not far behind. With “[s]tate corrections budgets … nearly [quadrupling] in the past two decades,” Vera Institute of Justice notes, each average inmate now costs taxpayers over $31,000 per year. In 2010 alone, states spent over $5.4 billion on maintaining their prisons.

But while we know everything about government’s prison budgets, few reports shed light on the hidden costs of high incarceration rates.

In order to help the U.S. population understand what mass incarceration means to smaller communities, Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study entitled “The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.,” led by doctoral student and certified public accountant Michael McLaughlin.

According to the study, for “every dollar in corrections spending, there’s another 10 dollars of other types of costs to families, children and communities that nobody sees because it doesn’t end up on a state budget.

Researchers concluded the “annual economic burden” resulting from the high rate of incarceration in America is an estimated $1.2 trillion, or nearly 6 percent of the GDP. This burden is also eleven times higher than what governments take from taxpayers to support state and federal prisons.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mass Incarceration: The Problem With the Standard Story


newyorker  |  So what makes for the madness of American incarceration? If it isn’t crazy drug laws or outrageous sentences or profit-seeking prison keepers, what is it? Pfaff has a simple explanation: it’s prosecutors. They are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it.

 Pfaff, in making his case, points to a surprising pattern. While violent crime was increasing by a hundred per cent between 1970 and 1990, the number of “line” prosecutors rose by only seventeen per cent. But between 1990 and 2007, while the crime rate began to fall, the number of line prosecutors went up by fifty per cent, and the number of prisoners rose with it. That fact may explain the central paradox of mass incarceration: fewer crimes, more criminals; less wrongdoing to imprison people for, more people imprisoned. A political current was at work, too. Pfaff thinks prosecutors were elevated in status by the surge in crime from the sixties to the nineties. “It could be that as the officials spearheading the war on crime,” he writes, “district attorneys have seen their political options expand, and this has encouraged them to remain tough on crime even as crime has fallen.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors grew more powerful. “There is basically no limit to how prosecutors can use the charges available to them to threaten defendants,” Pfaff observes. That’s why mandatory-sentencing rules can affect the justice system even if the mandatory minimums are relatively rarely enforced. A defendant, forced to choose between a thirty-year sentence if convicted of using a gun in a crime and pleading to a lesser drug offense, is bound to cop to the latter. Some ninety-five per cent of criminal cases in the U.S. are decided by plea bargains—the risk of being convicted of a more serious offense and getting a much longer sentence is a formidable incentive—and so prosecutors can determine another man’s crime and punishment while scarcely setting foot in a courtroom. “Nearly everyone in prison ended up there by signing a piece of paper in a dingy conference room in a county office building,” Pfaff writes.

In a justice system designed to be adversarial, the prosecutor has few adversaries. Though the legendary Gideon v. Wainwright decision insisted that people facing jail time have the right to a lawyer, the system of public defenders—and the vast majority of the accused can depend only on a public defender—is simply too overwhelmed to offer them much help. (Pfaff cites the journalist Amy Bach, who once watched an overburdened public defender “plead out” forty-eight clients in a row in a single courtroom.)

Meanwhile, all the rewards for the prosecutor, at any level, are for making more prisoners. Since most prosecutors are elected, they might seem responsive to democratic discipline. In truth, they are so easily reëlected that a common path for a successful prosecutor is toward higher office. And the one thing that can cripple a prosecutor’s political ascent is a reputation, even if based on only a single case, for being too lenient. In short, our system has huge incentives for brutality, and no incentives at all for mercy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

is russia weaponizing drugs and drug prohibition?


WaPo |  Russia believes that its heroin problem was caused, even perhaps intentionally, by the United States with the destabilization of Afghanistan. But Russia can also surely see that the war on drugs is weakening the United States. Every year Americans of all races collectively spend $100 billion to buy illegal drugs. As a country, we then bear costs of roughly $100 billion a year from fighting the crime related to illegal drugs and from the loss to productivity caused by incarceration. Our national defense budget, by way of contrast, is $600 billion a year. If you want a competitor to be thrown off focus by a distraction, a project that drains its resources at this scale annually would seem welcome.
Then there is the social division spawned by the war on drugs. The burdens of mass incarceration and the increased capacity of the police for violence have fallen most heavily on African Americans and Latinos, despite the equal-opportunity use of drugs by whites, blacks and Latinos. The combined impact of racial disparities in mass incarceration and in the application of police force has now, in 2016, brought about the most severe racial split that our country has seen in a long time. 

This racial division isn’t merely depressing and dispiriting. It isn’t merely material for politicians from either party to exploit. It also weakens us as a country. Any country where citizens are engaged in intense conflict and controversy among themselves has a reduced capacity to play an impactful role in the world. What the war on drugs has done to us is good news for Russia. 

And here it is worth remembering that “law-and-order” Donald Trump would double down. When Trump invokes his mighty wall on the Mexican border, he often extols as a virtue that it will keep the drugs out. Every time I hear crowds chant, “Build the wall,” I can’t help but think about the all the tunnels that international drug traffickers have already constructed underneath our border. A Trump wall would go up; the web of drug tunnels would go under. 

At this point, our situation is already crystal clear. The drug war is not solving the problems of either addiction or crime. It is, however, tearing our social fabric, and that weakens us as a country, including within the geopolitical order. Trump and Putin are on the same page here. With regard to the war on drugs, they are aligned in pursuing a policy that makes America weaker.

Monday, August 25, 2014

it's really hard to unsee the "rule of law" as the extended phenotype of oppression...,


commondreams |  In Gaza, we see yet another example of the law’s injustice. At least 250 Palestinians were arrested during Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, many of whom were charged with “belonging to an illegal organization”—which, according to the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, generally refers to Palestinian political parties, especially but not only Hamas. Others are undergoing interrogation and have been denied access to a lawyer.

At least 15 of those arrested and later released were held under the “Unlawful Combatants Law.” Providing even less protection than administrative detention orders, this law allows the detention of Gazans for an unlimited period of time without charge or trial, in violation of international human rights norms. Enacted by the Israeli Knesset in 2002, the Unlawful Combatants Law embodies some of the many practices shared between Israel and the United States, which codified its own legal definition of “unlawful combatants” who could be indefinitely detained under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The death and destruction inflicted on the Palestinian people in recent weeks, part of what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has referred to as Israel’s policy of “incremental genocide,” is one reminder that incarceration and more overt forms of violence are not mutually exclusive.

The Israeli government also employs a variety of other tools to repress and dispossess the Palestinian population. These include forced evictions, land grabs and other forms of ethnic cleansing, the denial of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, significant monetary and military support for settlements, and apartheid policies and practices—including the “community-shattering” separation wall and the system of checkpoints and permits restricting the free movement of Palestinians.

Mass Incarceration in the Land of the Free
On the other side of the globe, the burgeoning U.S. prison population now comprises a quarter of all the prisoners in the world.

Close to 70 percent of all people in U.S. incarceration, moreover, are people of color. As Adam Gopnik observed in The New Yorker, “there are more black men in the grip of the [U.S.] criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery” on the eve of the civil war.

Over the past three decades, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled. This is in large part a result of the “war on drugs.” Since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was passed, incarceration for nonviolent offenses dramatically increased—disproportionately impacting poor black people. “Relegated to a second-class status” by their experience with prison, notes legal scholar Michelle Alexander, an inordinate number of black men have once again become “disenfranchised,” losing the right to vote, to serve on juries, and to be free of legal discrimination in regards to employment, education, and access to public services.

This exponential increase in incarceration has accompanied the unprecedented rise in the detention of undocumented immigrants as well as the growth of the prison-industrial complex, demonstrating the salience of the political economy of incarceration. These developments are rooted in the socio-economic changes of the post-industrial era and the retrenchment of social safety net programs that occurred in the United States from the 1980s forward, paralleled by the spread of the neoliberal economic paradigm to the Global South. As the scholar and social justice activist Angela Davis has highlighted, prisons were central to the government’s strategy of addressing the structural violence “produced by the deindustrialization, lack of jobs,” and “lack of education” that has characterized this era, impacting poor people of color in particular.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

not teh black...,


espn | Mass incarceration has turned segments of Black America so upside down that a tatted-up, N-word-tossing white goon is more respected and accepted than a soft-spoken, highly intelligent black Stanford graduate.

According to a story in the Miami Herald, black Dolphins players granted Richie Incognito "honorary" status as a black man while feeling little connection to Jonathan Martin.

Welcome to Incarceration Nation, where the mindset of the Miami Dolphins' locker room mirrors the mentality of a maximum-security prison yard and where a wide swath of America believes the nonviolent intellectual needs to adopt the tactics of the barbarian.

I don't blame Jonathan Martin for walking away from the Dolphins and checking himself into a hospital seeking treatment for emotional distress. The cesspool of insanity that apparently is the Miami locker room would test the mental stability of any sane man. Martin, the offspring of Harvard grads, a 24-year-old trained at some of America's finest academic institutions, is a first-time offender callously thrown into an Attica prison cell with Incognito and Aaron Hernandez's BFF Mike Pouncey. Dolphins warden Jeff Ireland and deputy warden Joe Philbin put zero sophisticated thought into what they were doing when they drafted Martin in the second round in 2012.

You don't put Jonathan Martin in a cell with Incognito and Pouncey. You draft someone else, and let another team take Martin. The Dolphins don't have the kind of environment to support someone with Martin's background. It takes intelligence and common sense to connect with and manage Martin. Those attributes appear to be in short supply in Miami.

"Richie is honorary," a black former Dolphins player told Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero. "I don't expect you to understand because you're not black. But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It's about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you've experienced. A lot of things."

I'm black. And I totally understand the genesis of this particular brand of stupidity and self-hatred. Mass Incarceration, its bastard child, Hurricane Illegitimacy, and their marketing firm, commercial hip-hop music, have created a culture that perpetrates the idea that authentic blackness is criminal, savage, uneducated and irresponsible. The tenets of white supremacy and bigotry have been injected into popular youth culture. The blackest things a black man can do are loudly spew the N-word publicly and react violently to the slightest sign of disrespect or disagreement.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Surveillance State Exists To Destroy The Lives Of The Poor


prospect |  During the last two decades, policing has become synonymous with surveillance: the intense scrutiny of persons in public spaces. Poverty and the symptoms of drug addiction signify criminality to the police in ways similar to race. This surveillance targets the most vulnerable people in American society: people of color and poor whites. L. experienced a form of social oppression well known to people of color, targeted because their presence is considered a threat to others, because of their appearance, race, or presence in certain public spaces. 

Mass incarceration in the U.S., is largely thought of as a problem for black and brown communities. But this characterization risks masking the pervasive injustice that befalls others who live in and around those communities. The threat of surveillance has fallen disproportionately on African Americans and Latinos for decades. But during the era of mass incarceration, surveillance has increasingly become further disconnected from any legitimate suspicion of criminal behavior.  

The new approach makes surveillance seem like a primary responsibility of government. But this purported governmental “responsibility” (which does not appear in the Constitution) is rapidly overtaking the right to be free from surveillance, a protection that the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees. 

We live in a country where the poor are often presumed guilty, since they have failed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This “failure” has profound consequences. As Barton Gellman and Sam Adler-Bell, a senior fellow and senior policy advocate at the Century Foundation, noted in the 2017 Century Foundation report, “The Disparate Impact of Surveillance,” the gaze of the state is “heaviest in communities already disadvantaged by their poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status.” 


Friday, July 07, 2017

A Turnkey Operation For A Totalitarian Society


The Federal government put policies in place that practically mandated a criminal monopoly over the trade in a wide array of illegal substances, while criminalizing the entire population with which users/dealers were most closely identified.  Leaving aside marijuana for a moment, and fast forwarding to the crack cocaine epidemic - while cocaine/crack can still be found as a street drug in this country; it's just that not as many people want it. They've seen how it can derail someone's life. Although both the supply and the numbers of cocaine users remain many times what they were 45-50 years ago. 


The criminalization and stigmatization of prohibited drugs users works to pre-emptively wall them off from most avenues of participation in legitimate society.  Their permanent stigmatization in the mainstream economy, effectively encourages them to confine their energies to participating in the criminal economy.  As for trends in urban violence, they're probably destined to cycle through for some time.


45 years of Drug War has made gangsterism dynastic. Furthermore, it has entrenched it through the prison systems. Alcohol prohibition only lasted 13 years and firmly established organized crime for two or three generations thereafter. What would the mafias have become if the "noble experiment" of alcohol prohibition hadn't been put to an end after only 13 years?  Along with Mass Incarceration, this is a crucial difference between the current Drug War and the Prohibition Era.


Then, when that situation eventually gets out of hand, the government steps in with well-funded militarization of the police, paramilitary tactics, and mass incarceration policies. It's a turnkey operation for a totalitarian society, and the justification for it appears entirely rational as long as the population thinks of it solely in terms of fear reactions and their relief, and never questions the flaws in the original premise that led to the breakdown of civic order in the first place. (Nixon's declaration of war on the left and on blacks for opposition to the Vietnam War)

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

architects of mass incarceration now pretending at criminal justice reform...,



democracynow |  AMY GOODMAN: Ava DuVernay’s new documentary, called 13th, is being released by Netflix on Friday. It premiered at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center here in New York. Part of the documentary looks at how ALEC, the America Legislative Exchange Council, has played a central role in the expansion of the U.S. prison system—ALEC’s work with states to write legislation promoting the privatization of prisons, in addition to pushing for harsher, longer sentences.

Joining us now is Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, who is also featured in 13th.

Talk about the thesis of the film 13th. It’s not just about the 13th Amendment, but the clause within the 13th Amendment that goes from slavery in the amendment of 1865 to mass incarceration today, and then how private corporations play a role in this.

LISA GRAVES: Well, this film is a magnificent, incredible meditation about race and crime in America, and it really tells new stories. One of the stories it tells is about how that amendment, where it says that you can’t be enslaved or you can’t be put in involuntary servitude unless you’re convicted of a crime, except as punishment, has really manifested in the 21st century and the 20th century through a lot of criminal justice policies.

And one of the things that Ava DuVernay brilliantly shows is the role of corporations in joining in this effort, this very racialized criminal justice system, how corporations, through ALEC, have helped advance their own bottom line. And one of the things that she helps document is the role of the Corrections Corporation of America within ALEC. It was a member of ALEC for a number of years, as we’ve written about. It was the chair of ALEC’s crime task force for a number of years, and ultimately it left ALEC after it was disclosed that CCA was in the room when corporations were voting on the SB 1070 legislation in Arizona that would have put—that was designed to put more immigrants in detention facilities and jails for immigrants. And CCA is just one of the many corporations that has been part of ALEC as it has pushed forward both for privatization of prisons, as well as measures to make people go to jail for longer—longer sentences.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how ALEC works. You’ve got the private corporations, like CCA, and then you’ve got the legislators, who introduce the legislation written by the—or co-written by the corporations.

Friday, February 26, 2016

granny goodness can't even pretend to apologize for the mass incarceration state she helped create...,



salon |  According to a Feb. 16 CNN/ORC poll, a whopping 65 percent of South Carolinian black voters are planning to support Hillary Clinton in Saturday’s primary, while only 28 percent are planning to support Bernie Sanders.
The furor that broke out last night, however, may just shift the political winds.

In the middle of a $500-per-person Clinton fundraising event in Charleston on Wednesday evening, a young Black Lives Matter activist stepped out in front of the former secretary of state, turned toward the small audience, and held aloft a banner emblazoned with the phrase, “We need to bring them to heel.”

The protester, as she later explained, “wanted to make sure that black people are paying attention to [Clinton’s] record” by drawing attention to the racist rhetoricClinton used in 1996, when she, as first lady, strongly supported the “tough on crime” method of governance, and successfully lobbied for a bill based on that method to be passed into law.

“They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” Clinton warned the public at the time. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we need to bring them to heel.”

The crime bill that Clinton advocated for is now widely regarded as a “terrible mistake,” and the demonizing language that she used to describe young people who belong to gangs (a group that, because of institutionalized racism and oppression, is majority black and Latino/a) would now be political suicide.

Since the ’90s, the Democratic Party — and Hillary Clinton along with it — has morphed from voicing demagogic, dangerous ideas about black children and supporting catastrophic crime policies to, today, speaking of how “we have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance,” and promising an end to the decades-long era of mass incarceration, which, of course, they hold much responsibility for creating.

But, despite Clinton’s sudden populist transformation, the memory of the American people isn’t quite so short and fleeting.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

state spent $2.4 million jailing residents of just one chicago block...,


dnainfo |  The 4800 block of West Adams and 4,636 other blocks in the city were the focus of Chicago's Million Dollar Blocks, a new data project published Monday. A collaboration between social justice advocates and tech company DataMade, the site features an interactive block-by-block breakdown of how much money the city spent on jailing criminals from 2005 to 2009.

Based on data released by the Chicago Justice Project last year, the site was developed as a way "to see how incarceration affects communities on a local level," according to Dan Cooper, one of the project's leaders.

"All we hear about is how the state is in billions of dollars in debt, and meanwhile we have more than a billion dollars every year pumped into a corrections system that's had a track record of failure," said Cooper, the co-director of Adler University's Institute on Social Exclusion. "We're always hearing about money being spent on development, and here you have this shadow budget pumping tons of money into taking people out of neighborhoods, instead of bringing them in."

Million Dollar Blocks looks at more than 300,000 criminal records, showing what developers called a "conservative estimate" of how much the Illinois Department of Corrections spent on people from each block and neighborhood. Cooper said he and his colleagues assumed the minimum sentence for each offense, when in reality the state likely spends much more.

Developers at DataMade spent months putting together data based on offenders' home addresses, assuming that the state spends an average of $22,000 on each criminal every year. DataMade founder Derek Eder said his team didn't factor in offenders who served more than one sentence, again suggesting that the actual amount spent on incarceration is even larger than what the site projects.
Alongside the map is a brief report breaking down some of the ways mass incarceration impacts local communities, plus suggestions for how the state could more effectively reinvest its corrections budget.

Daryl P., who's lived in Austin his whole life, said the state's incarceration pattern is hardly making the area less dangerous.

Monday, January 30, 2012

incarceration (NOT EDUCATION) acts as a hidden foundation for this country...,

NewYorker | A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic —the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Deepening Contradictions In The White World


CounterPunch |  Without an understanding of the particularity of American fascism, we will, following Trotsky, be compelled to flippantly answer “yes” to both of these questions. But now that it is clear that Trump is not the apocalypse as we were told by so many liberals and leftists leading up to and following his election, such an answer would leave us politically incapacitated. If we want to begin to understand fascism in America, we must turn to Black Panther Party Field Marshal George Jackson’s analysis of fascism in his 1971 bookBlood in My Eye. 

As opposed to Trotsky’s one-dimensional “butcher” view of fascism, Jackson proposes that fascism has three faces: “out of power,” “in power but not secure,” and “in power and securely so.” The fascism that Trotsky describes is a depiction of the second face, which is “the sensational aspect of fascism we see on screen and in pulp novels.” However, in America, fascism shows its third face, during which “some dissent may even be allowed.” Jackson explains American fascism in this way:
Fascism has established itself in a most disguised and efficient manner in this country. It feels so secure that the leaders allow us the luxury of faint protest. Take protest too far, however, and they will show their other face. Doors will be kicked down in the night and machine-gun fire and buckshot will become the medium of exchange.
Never has a better diagnosis of the conditions which allow antifa and the anti-Trump movement to have “the luxury of faint protest” been given. To draw a parallel with Jackson’s own European example, just as Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce was permitted to publish an anti-fascist manifesto in 1925, three years after the fascist march on Rome, American antifa intellectuals with groups like the Campus Anti-Fascist Networkare free to remain aboveground in the nation’s most elite colleges and universities and condemn fascism openly without fear of repression from the state. 

What’s more, they are even allowed to openly express hatred for other white people with little more than an eyebrow raised from conservatives and intermittent pats on the back from liberals.

In direct contrast to the line of Refuse Fascism and other anti-fascist organizations active in the United States, Jackson’s analysis shows that fascism hardly started with the Trump administration. Many have failed to notice this reality since fascism has most frequently deployed its third, not second, face against the left in recent decades. However, while fascism is in power and securely so for the time being, Trump has produced contradictions in its efficiency and disguise by challenging the liberal ruling class with appeals to industrial capitalists and workers, tariffs that drove his own economic adviser to quit, and challenges to the Pentagon’s increasingly hawkish attitude toward Russia.

The left’s failure to understand fascism in general and the multiplying and intensifying contradictions of the Trump era in particular is largely traceable to its underdeveloped understanding of whiteness. While black America has been subjected to mass incarceration, police terror, relentless gentrification, and disproportionate deaths on the front lines of America’s imperialist wars for decades, many white leftists have determined that it is not these historical experiences of fascism in America, but the recent rise of Trump, that is most deserving of outrage and resistance.

This failure to understand fascism in relation to the color line takes its most egregious form in organizations like the Campus Antifascist Network, who attack right-wing “fascism,” yet say nothing of the liberal university’s mass participation in research for war-making, policing of poor and working class black neighborhoods, and central role in the viscous gentrification of America’s blackest cities. This analysis has the effect of obscuring rather than clarifying the contradictions we face today. The contradiction between Trump and large segments of the ruling class illustrates a political climate that C.L.R. James described in The Black Jacobins in reference to the Haitian Revolution:
The first sign of a thoroughly ill-adjusted or bankrupt form of society is that the ruling classes cannot agree how to save the situation. It is this division which opens the breach, and the ruling classes will continue to fight with each other, just so long as they do not fear the mass seizure of power.
The question is, then, how can we understand and use the mushrooming and intensifying social contradictions of the Trump era not to side with the liberal wing of the ruling class against the conservative one, but to seize power from the ruling class as a whole?  Fist tap Brother Makheru

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Predations From Within The American Negroe Socio-Economic Class Structure



Counterpunch |  Eric Holder, the nation’s first black Attorney General made his mark as Washington’s first black chief prosecutor by advancing mass pretext policing (mass frisks, stops, and arrests on minor or made-up and discretionary police grounds) in Black neighborhoods. The nation’s first black president Barack Obama severely constricted his very tepid and belated steps toward criminal justice reform by ruling out any concern for those arrested and sentenced for technically violent offenses. That’s a big problem since more than half the nation’s 1 million Black prisoners are behind bars on technically violent charges.

Locking Up Our Own is a compelling and indispensable volume for those who want to get the whole story on the rise of the “the New Jim Crow” – a story that must include serious attention to class and other fractures within Black America. But it is not without problems. Oddly enough given Forman’s desire to provide a somewhat sympathetic explanation for the Black “leadership” class’s participation in the “new Jim Crow,” he fails to note how persistent harsh racial residential segregation – what sociologists Doug Massey and Nancy Denton have rightly called “American Apartheid” – has fed Black support for aggressive policing and harsh sentencing. The Black middle and professional class lives in much greater immediate proximity than its white counterpart to the deeply impoverished and crime-prone Black “underclass”

Forman might have reflected more ambitiously and radically on the question of what happened to the struggle for Black equality and social justice more broadly in the long capitalist neoliberal era, marked at home and abroad by the triumph of the right over the left hand of the state. Many on the Black Left will find Forman too mild and forgiving in his discussion of the role played by Black bourgeois elites in the rise of racially disparate mass incarceration. They will do so with good reason.

A good counter-text here is Elaine Brown’s 2002 volume The Condemnation of Little B. In this forgotten classic and Black radical text, Brown – a former chairman of the Black Panther Party – tried to understand how the entire city of Atlanta, including its prominent Black citizens, came to unjustly condemn a poor 13-year-old Black boy, Michael Lewis, for the 1997 murder of a white man visiting a well-known drug haven in that city’s Black ghetto. Brown showed how Lewis’s conviction was “effectively predestined, attributable to the comfortable ‘New Age racism’ of white liberals and middle-class blacks who have abandoned the cause of civil rights and equal opportunity.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

what property matters in the promethean era of nano, genomic, macroquantum science and technology?


nonsite |  This line of argument has been most popularly condensed recently in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which analogizes contemporary mass incarceration to the segregationist regime. But even she, after much huffing and puffing and asserting the relation gesturally throughout the book, ultimately acknowledges that the analogy fails.37 And it would have to fail because the segregationist regime was the artifact of a particular historical and political moment in a particular social order. Moreover, the rhetorical force of the analogy with Jim Crow or slavery derives from the fact that those regimes are associated symbolically with strong negative sanctions in the general culture because they have been vanquished. In that sense all versions of the lament that “it’s as if nothing has changed” give themselves the lie. They are effective only to the extent that things have changed significantly.

The tendency to craft political critique by demanding that we fix our gaze in the rearview mirror appeals to an intellectual laziness. Marking superficial similarities with familiar images of oppression is less mentally taxing than attempting to parse the multifarious, often contradictory dynamics and relations that shape racial inequality in particular and politics in general in the current moment. Assertions that phenomena like the Jena, Louisiana, incident, the killings of James Craig Anderson and Trayvon Martin, and racial disparities in incarceration demonstrate persistence of old-school, white supremacist racism and charges that the sensibilities of Thomas Dixon and Margaret Mitchell continue to shape most Americans’ understandings of slavery do important, obfuscatory ideological work. They lay claim to a moral urgency that, as Mahmood Mamdani argues concerning the rhetorical use of charges of genocide, enables disparaging efforts either to differentiate discrete inequalities or  to generate historically specific causal accounts of them as irresponsible dodges that abet injustice by temporizing in its face.38 But more is at work here as well.

Insistence on the transhistorical primacy of racism as a source of inequality is a class politics. It’s the politics of a stratum of the professional-managerial class whose material location and interests, and thus whose ideological commitments, are bound up with parsing, interpreting and administering inequality defined in terms of disparities among ascriptively defined populations reified as groups or even cultures. In fact, much of the intellectual life of this stratum is devoted to “shoehorning into the rubric of racism all manner of inequalities that may appear statistically as racial disparities.”39 And that project shares capitalism’s ideological tendency to obscure race’s foundations, as well as the foundations of all such ascriptive hierarchies, in historically specific political economy. This felicitous convergence may help explain why proponents of “cultural politics” are so inclined to treat the products and production processes of the mass entertainment industry as a terrain for political struggle and debate. They don’t see the industry’s imperatives as fundamentally incompatible with the notions of a just society they seek to advance. In fact, they share its fetishization of heroes and penchant for inspirational stories of individual Overcoming. This sort of “politics of representation” is no more than an image-management discourse within neoliberalism. That strains of an ersatz left imagine it to be something more marks the extent of our defeat. And then, of course, there’s that Upton Sinclair point.

Monday, March 05, 2012

what's america's real crime rate?

economist | IF YOU start feeling good about America, run don't walk to Adam Gopnik's damning New Yorker feature on the land of the free's penchant for imprisonment:
For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.
Absolute quantities can be misleading, but the trend in the incarceration rate is equally unsettling. As Mr Gopnik reports, "...in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that." Read Mr Gopnik's essay and see if you don't agree that "The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life."

But what if locking away all these people has made America notably safer for those of us on the sunny side of the razor-wire? Mr Gopnik, drawing on the work of Franklin Zimring, a law professor at Berkeley, tries to debunk the idea that mass imprisonment accounts for more than a small part of the remarkable decline in America's crime rate over the past several decades. While I'm sympathetic to Mr Gopnik's argument that a combination of improved policing tactics and ineffable changes in the culture account for the greater part of the decline in America's crime rate, I'm even more impressed with Christopher Glazek's argument, set forth in a fascinating n+1 essay, that once we've accounted for all the undocumented crime terrorising the denizens of Lockuptown, the crime rate is not really so low. Mr Glazek writes;
Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.

Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.
Unfortunately, there is little hard data on the Lockuptown crime rate.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The For-Profit Militarized Police State Is JoeBidenBama's Political Legacy



jacobinmag |  Defund the police” has become a nationwide mantra, and for good reason: budget data from across the country show that spending on police has far outpaced population growth and drained resources from other public priorities.

Basically, our cities have been siphoning money from stuff like education and social services and funneling the cash into ever-larger militarized security forces.

Nationally, the numbers are stark: between 1977 and 2017, America’s population grew by about 50 percent, while state and local spending on police grew by a whopping 173 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to data from the Urban Institute. In other words, the rate of police-spending growth was triple the rate of population growth.

Chicago and New York embody the trends.

The former has been losing population over the last decade. At the same time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel grew the police budget by 27 percent during his eight-year term, to the point where Chicago now spends more than 38 percent of its general fund on police. Those increases coincided with a spate of police brutality scandals, as well as budget cuts that resulted in teacher layoffs and the mass closure of Chicago public schools. And yet Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has been pushing a new 7 percent increase in the police budget.

In New York, it’s a similar story. Back in 2008, the city spent $4.1 billion on its police force, according to City Council documents. Twelve years later, the city is spending $6 billion on its police force. That’s a 46 percent increase during a period in which the city’s population growth was essentially flat. A new report by New York City comptroller Scott Stringer notes that in the last five years alone, spending on police rose by 22 percent, driven by a 6 percent increase in the number of officers on the force.

All this happened during a period when the city experienced many years of budget cuts to social servicesandschools. Indeed, as Public Citizen points out, New York’s police budget is now “more than the city spends on health, homelessness, youth development and workforce development combined.”

These are hardly anomalies, as illustrated by a Center for Popular Democracy report looking at twelve major cities. That analysis concluded that “governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalization, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs” to the point where today, “police spending vastly outpaces expenditures in vital community resources and services.”


Monday, April 27, 2020

Covid-19 Serial Killers: Unaddressed Congregate Situations Are THE Reservoirs Of Infection


NEJM |  A new approach that expands Covid-19 testing to include asymptomatic persons residing or working in skilled nursing facilities needs to be implemented now. Despite “lockdowns” in these facilities, coronavirus outbreaks continue to spread, with 1 in 10 nursing homes in the United States (>1300 skilled nursing facilities) now reporting cases, with the likelihood of thousands of deaths.6 Mass testing of the residents in skilled nursing facilities will allow appropriate isolation of infected residents so that they can be cared for and quarantine of exposed residents to minimize the risk of spread. Mass testing in these facilities could also allow cohorting7 and some resumption of group activities in a nonoutbreak setting. Routine rRT-PCR testing in addition to symptomatic screening of new residents before entry, conservative guidelines for discontinuation of isolation,7 and periodic retesting of long-term residents, as well as both periodic rRT-PCR screening and surgical masking of all staff, are important concomitant measures.

There are approximately 1.3 million Americans currently residing in nursing homes.8 Although this recommendation for mass testing in skilled nursing facilities could be initially rolled out in geographic areas with high rates of community Covid-19 transmission, an argument can be made to extend this recommendation to all U.S.-based skilled nursing facilities now because case ascertainment is uneven and incomplete and because of the devastating consequences of outbreaks. Immediately enforceable alternatives to mass testing in skilled nursing facilities are few. The public health director of Los Angeles has recommended that families remove their loved ones from nursing homes,9 a measure that is not feasible for many families.

Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Drug War Has Profoundly Compromised Prosecutorial Integrity


Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is probably the single greatest disappointment for me with 45's administration. His anti-drug stance is retrograde cover for reinstituting the prosecutorial savagery which resulted in mass incarceration over the past forty years.  AG support for harsh or mandatory minimum sentences, coupled with the claim that it provides a vital service in making cases as leverage to flip people to inform on their associates, was the essential recipe for transforming America into the incarceration nation.



Even when it's used as prosecutors claim it is intended to convict ringleaders, the threat of harsh or mandatory minimum sentences to intimidate people into betraying their friends and family members is ethically suspect and legally corrupt. Claiming that it's used to dismantle illegal drug networks is at best historically suspect. In terms of practical results, this policy is has wreaked havoc and proven corrosive in terms of breaking down any pre-existing structures of social trust, community, and friendship that might have been built over time.  The explicit message of this policy is that treachery and betrayal is an act worthy of reward. The worst punishment is reserved for those who demonstrate loyalty and integrity. Drug Warriors justify this policy by asserting that Drug Dealers are already lower than murderers or violent rapists, and thus have no integrity to preserve, because they deal Drugs. But that isn’t the worst of it. What’s really ethically indefensible is the difference between the way the policy is described by politicians and prosecutors to the general public, and the way that it’s actually employed. 



Prosecutors routinely tout their use of the tactic as the use of informants to “bust up the ladder”- that is - to flip low-level retailers to snitch on the people above them in the hierarchy.  That's what's always depicted in the movies and on the teevee crime procedurals. Using snitches this way, the prosecutor claims he is working his way toward the “kingpin” at the top of the hierarchy.  The "kingpin" is finally made vulnerable to criminal conviction through informant testimony, or by having a snitch facilitate a transaction with government agents, as if there’s an ultimate "kingpin" whose conviction will lead to final victory in the Drug War. 

This simple plot line may hold a deep psychological appeal to children, buybull buddies, or people addicted to purely fictional crime procedurals - but there's no practical or historical reason to believe it's ever really happened, ever. Too many cases show that  drug selling organizations were dismantled in exactly the opposite manner.  The "kingpin" is the one who gets caught right up front and then receives lenient sentencing for informing on all his subordinates. 

Nicky Barnes is a name which comes to mind for buying leniency for himself and/or close relatives by ratting out everyone beneath him in his organization. Rayful Edmond is another prime example of the top-down snitching effect. 



Examining the stories of prisoners documented by FAMM and the Marshall Project shows cases where the heaviest time landed on the people at the bottom - people who literally had no one available to betray, no “substantial information” to provide to aid prosecutors. So all the time landed on the lowest underlings..  This is fine from the perspective of the harsh prosecutions system, because that System requires someone as a sacrifice to keep the numbers looking good and providing the image of an effective law enforcement campaign. (not to mention the profit motivation for the private for-profit prison-industrial complex itself)
People have been subjected to mandatory minimum sentences simply as a result of having once provided their residence or business as the location for a drug transaction. Mandatory minimums have been handed down for driving buyers and/or sellers to and from a transaction.  One instance of driving a buyer to the home of a seller is formally an overt act in furtherance of an illegal drug sale, and therefore all that’s required to convict someone of one count of “felony drug conspiracy.” 



Strictly speaking, millions of Americans have committed at least one felony in their lives. Anyone who’s gotten far enough into illegal drug use to purchase their own stash of weed and have acquaintances involved in the same activity has done the above at least once. From the prosecutor's perspective, conspiracy is conspiracy, no matter how minor.

Driving a friend over to a dealer’s apartment to buy a $15 bag of weed is taking part in a drug sales conspiracy, and conspiracy is a felony. Of course rendezvous like these take place daily in the underground marketplace. Most of the time the risk of getting arrested is negligible. In the event that someone is swept up in a raid and busted for that participation, felony conspiracy offers a lever for the prosecutor seeking people to snitch for them. This, notwithstanding the fact that someone who simply drives their friend over to a house and waits outside in the car while they do a deal may have no information of value to bargain with.

Meanwhile, those same ball-busting prosecutors reward those who have risen high enough in the hierarchy of a drug conspiracy to have detailed knowledge of its working and who can offer critical testimony against their companions with reduced sentences, comfortable confinement settings, or witness protection.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

a lot of people get a basic fact wrong about criminal justice



WaPo |  The bipartisan congressional effort to reform federal criminal penalties has stalled, with little prospect of progress until autumn at the earliest. If you fear that Congress’ inaction could undermine the nation’s recent progress toward reversing mass incarceration, it may be helpful to reflect upon an underappreciated fact about American criminal justice: The number of people in prison has little to do with what happens in Washington.

In some policy areas, including health care, military affairs and the economy, the most consequential political decisions are made in the nation’s capital. But in the criminal justice system, states, cities and counties are the central players. For every federal law enforcement agent, about a half-dozen state highway patrol officers, county sheriffs and city police patrol the streets. Similarly, less than one-seventh of the country’s prison inmates are in federal facilities.

Because the federal prison system is so small, even dramatic congressional reforms in federal criminal penalties would have only a modest impact on the level of incarceration in the United States. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was thus making an empty promise when he pledged to reduce the number of prisoners in the United States below that of China: Not even granting presidential pardons to every single federal prisoner would achieve this goal.