Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow


Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
by Leah Sakala, April 10, 2012


In a recent op-ed, Professor Jess Rigelhaupt argues that the Obama administration needs to prioritize ending mass incarceration. He draws on Michelle Alexander’s powerful arguments about how mass incarceration fuels racial inequality in Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow. Both Professor Rigelhaupt and Professor Alexander point to the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in state legislative districts as an example.

As Professor Alexander explains on page 188:

Under the usual-residence rule, the Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated. Because most new prison construction occurs in predominantly white, rural areas, white communities benefit from inflated population totals at the expense of the urban, overwhelmingly minority communities from which the prisoners come. This has enormous consequences for the redistricting process. White rural communities that house prisons wind up with more people in state legislatures representing them, while poor communities of color lose representatives because it appears their population has decreased. This policy is disturbingly reminiscent of the three-fifths clause in the original Constitution, which enhanced the political clout of slaveholding states by including 60 percent of slaves in the population base for calculating Congressional seats and electoral votes, even through they could not vote.

Her book provides a comprehensive picture of how mass incarceration is jeopardizing our democratic system and our wellbeing as a nation.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the parallels between prison-based gerrymandering and the infamous three-fifths clause, check out John Drake’s new journal article, “Locked Up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to Prison-based Gerrymandering,” or my blog post about prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

Jailing Americans For Profit: The Rise Of The Prison Industrial Complex



Jailing Americans For Profit: The Rise Of The Prison Industrial Complex
April 10, 2012
By John W. Whitehead

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.”—Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”

In an age when freedom is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.

As author Adam Gopnik reports for the New Yorker: “[A] growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible.”

Consider this: despite the fact that violent crime in America has been on the decline, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. Approximately 13 million people are introduced to American jails in any given year. Incredibly, more than six million people are under “correctional supervision” in America, meaning that one in fifty Americans are working their way through the prison system, either as inmates, or while on parole or probation. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of those being held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses—namely, marijuana. Presently, one out of every 100 Americans is serving time behind bars.

Little wonder, then, that public prisons are overcrowded. Yet while providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry, it’s a $70 billion gold mine. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years.

The problem with this scenario, as Roger Werholtz, former Kansas secretary of corrections, recognizes is that while states may be tempted by the quick infusion of cash, they “would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened. Among the laws aimed at increasing the prison population and growing the profit margins of special interest corporations like CCA are three-strike laws (mandating sentences of 25 years to life for multiple felony convictions) and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation (mandating that those sentenced to prison serve most or all of their time).

And yes, in case you were wondering, part of the investment pitch for CCA and its cohort GEO Group include the profits to be made in building “kindler, gentler” minimum-security facilities designed for detaining illegal immigrants, especially low-risk detainees like women and children. With immigration a persistent problem in the southwestern states, especially, and more than 250 such detention centers going up across the country, there is indeed money to be made. For example, GEO’s new facility in Karnes County, Texas, boasts a “608-bed facility still smelling of fresh paint and new carpet stretch[ing] across a 29-acre swath of farmland in rural South Texas. Rather than prison cells, jumpsuits, and barbed wire fencing, detainees here will sleep in eight-bed dormitory-style quarters, wearing more cozy attire like jeans and T-shirts. The facility’s high walls enclose lush green courtyards with volleyball courts, an AstroTurfed soccer field, and basketball hoops, where detainees are free to roam throughout the day.” All of this, of course, comes at taxpayer expense.

“And this is where it gets creepy,” observes reporter Joe Weisenthal for Business Insider, “because as an investor you’re pulling for scenarios where more people are put in jail.” In making its pitch to potential investors, CCA points out that private prisons comprise a unique, recession-resistant investment opportunity, with more than 90% of the market up for grabs, little competition, high recidivism among prisoners, and the potential for “accelerated growth in inmate populations following the recession.” In other words, caging humans for profit is a sure bet, because the U.S. population is growing dramatically and the prison population will grow proportionally as well, and more prisoners equal more profits.

In this way, under the pretext of being tough on crime, state governments can fatten their coffers and fill the jail cells of their corporate benefactors. However, while a flourishing privatized prison system is a financial windfall for corporate investors, it bodes ill for any measures aimed at reforming prisoners and reducing crime. CCA understands this. As it has warned investors, efforts to decriminalize certain activities, such as drug use (principally possession of marijuana), could cut into their profits. So too would measures aimed at reducing the prison system’s disproportionately racist impact on minorities, given that the incarceration rate for blacks is seven times that of whites. Immigrants are also heavily impacted, with roughly 2.5 million people having been through the immigration detention system since 2003. As private prisons begin to dominate, the many troubling characteristics of our so-called criminal justice system today—racism, economic inequality, inadequate access to legal representation, lack of due process, etc.—will only become more acute.

Doubtless, a system already riddled by corruption will inevitably become more corrupt, as well. For example, consider the “kids for cash” scandal which rocked Luzerne County, Penn., in 2009. For ten years, the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation, which specializes in private prisons for juvenile offenders, paid two judges to jail youths and send them to private prison facilities. The judges, who made over $2.6 million in the scam, had more than 5,000 kids come through their courtrooms and sent many of them to prison for petty crimes such as stealing DVDs from Wal-Mart and trespassing in vacant buildings. When the scheme finally came to light, one judge was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison and the other received 28 years, but not before thousands of young lives had been ruined.

In this way, minor criminals, from drug users to petty thieves, are being handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. This is the culmination of an inverted justice system which has come to characterize the United States, a justice system based upon increasing the power and wealth of the corporate-state.

No matter what the politicians or corporate heads might say, prison privatization is neither fiscally responsible nor in keeping with principles of justice. It simply encourages incarceration for the sake of profits, while causing millions of Americans, most of them minor, nonviolent criminals, to be handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. This perverse notion of how prisons should be run, that they should be full at all times, and full of minor criminals, is evil.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Freedom Wars (TRI Press) is available online at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org



Read more: http://njtoday.net/2012/04/10/jailing-americans-for-profit-the-rise-of-the-prison-industrial-complex/#ixzz1rh0JAxph
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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?



PHOTOGRAPH: American Poverty: The New Yorker January 2012

The New Yorker: A Critic at Large
The Caging of America
Why do we lock up so many people?
by Adam Gopnik


"... 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 unco√∂perative 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. ..."

How did we get here?

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atlarge_gopnik#ixzz1rUzIoXL6