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There’s no two ways about it: The United States of America and its 50 state governments love putting people in prison. The U.S. has both the highest number of prisoners and the highest per capita incarceration rate in the modern world at 655 adults per 100,000. (It’s worth noting that China’s incarceration statistics are dubious, and they […]
Anthony Daniels (known to readers as Theodore Dalrymple) joins Brian Anderson to discuss Daniels’s quarter-century of writing for City Journal and his new book, False Positive: A Year of Error, Omission, and Political Correctness in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Theodore Dalrymple” first appeared in the pages of City Journal in 1994 with an aptly titled essay,“The Knife Went In,” which recounted conversations he had had with violent felons during his time as a physician in a British inner-city hospital and prison. Since then, Daniels has written nearly 500 articles for City Journal. Selections of his essays have been compiled in the books Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (2001) and Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses (2005).
I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal this week. Here are some sentences describing someone’s imprisonment.
- Alone in his cell, he isn’t permitted to leave (on weekends) for the 30 minutes of fresh air he gets on weekdays.
- The lights burn 24 hours a day.
- He can’t wear a watch and sometimes finds himself disoriented.
- Authorities state this is “normal treatment.”
- He has been interrogated for up to five hours a day, with no lawyer present.
- Prosecutors can sometimes harangue suspects who choose to remain silent for ten hours a day.
- The person is forced to sign statements in a foreign language that he cannot read.
- Family members are not allowed to visit.
- The cell has a window, but it is very deep in the wall and the prisoner cannot see out.
- Prisoner is allowed a shower twice a week (three times a week in summer). Cold water is all he gets from the tap in his cell.
So, what do you think of this punishment being meted out, to a person imprisoned for a non-violent, financial crime? It sounds cruel and unusual to me, especially for a person charged with a white-collar crime, who has not yet had his day in court. He has not been convicted, or even tried, for this crime. He is being treated like a violent criminal, subject to conditions often found in high-security prisons.
Like three other states—Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia—felons could not regain their right to vote without going through an appeals process. It wasn’t that they could never vote again; rather, they had additional steps to go through to be enfranchised. Florida has dropped that requirement by approving a constitutional amendment. I think this is a mistake. […]
In Banter’s third installment of the “Bridging the Dignity Divide” series, AEI Resident Fellow Gerard Robinson once again takes over as guest host. On this episode, he is joined by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections to discuss prison education and evidence-based criminal justice reform. Duwe also serves as an academic adviser to AEI for criminal justice reform. He joined last week’s guests, Renita Seabrook and Ames Grawert, in an event at AEI hosted by Robinson and AEI Resident Scholar Stan Veuger on prison education reform policies.
About the “Bridging the Dignity Divide” Series
Thursday’s “Daily Shot” made me happy about one thing — finally there is proof that Gwyneth Paltrow really is pure evil! Sure, the source of that information was a man who was hell-bent on destroying a monument of the Ten Commandments on public land, but still. It’s something, right?
Ok, maybe not, and if Paltrow finally was relegated to complete irrelevance, that would mean the death of a cottage industry that exists to debunk all the crazy things she tells her followers to do to themselves. I guess I will stick with siding with capitalism on this one.
But, the sad case of the man who actually did knock down that monument is the real reason for this writing, so on to the story from our own folks:
While the federal government shells-out for Chelsea Manning’s sex reassignment operation, state prisons are trying to figure out how to treat thousands of inmates afflicted with hepatitis C without busting their budgets. Via the WSJ:
The medicines, however, are so expensive, and the problem so widespread, that to treat all sufferers would blow up most prison budgets. List prices for the newer drugs range from $54,000 to $94,000 a person for a typical 12-week course. […] In a March court filing, the [Pennsylvania] department said treating the state’s estimated 7,000 infected inmates would cost about $600 million, which “would effectively cripple the Department from a budgetary standpoint” and squeeze other medical care and security needs.
My friend Sean Kennedy asserts in a column at Real Clear Policy that the “Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Is Misguided.” I respectfully disagree. On the contrary, criminal justice reform is a conservative effort that is necessary to restrain government that has grown too large, powerful, and costly.
Criminal justice reform, or CJR for short, is a broad-based movement made up of numerous policy reforms taking place mostly at the state level. Texas has pioneered many of the reforms and has inspired a growing number of states to follow suit which has led to, among other beneficial results, reduced recidivism rates and lower prison costs.
CJR is a policy response to the problem of overcriminalization which can be defined as the criminalization of routine behavior that has no business being criminalized and the overly burdensome punishments that are handed down for minor infractions. Or to put it another way, we have too many statutory and administrative laws that are too vague and carry overly disproportionate penalties in contravention to the old saying that “the punishment must fit the crime.”
In a press conference today, members of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections released a report detailing the findings of their year-long effort to identify the main drivers of federal corrections growth, and have recommended many broad reforms that states have adopted recently.
Over the course of the last ten years, states have confronted a stark realization that the previous decade’s worth of largely unrestrained growth in their corrections systems has become unsustainable. Not only were states lacking a return on their investment in terms of public safety — evidenced in part by stubbornly high recidivism rates — but, in pure dollar terms, their corrections expenditures have often times been the second fastest-growing area of their respective budgets (behind Medicaid).
Many states have now re-considered their previous “tough on crime” approach — which was, admittedly, an understandable reaction to the high crime rates of the ’60s and ’70s, but has nonetheless led to explosive prison growth — and instead have shifted to a more individualized, evidence-based model that prioritizes resources, seeks alternatives to incarceration, and saves taxpayers money responsibly.
In a perfect world criminals would be punished appropriately and expediently, and the innocent would find vindication in our courts of law. We do not live in a perfect world. We have the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, our crime rates are low and lowering, but our system can hardly be described as just.
Justice Alex Kozinski of the US Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit wrote an article in the Georgetown Law Journal last summer that is bringing the injustice of our system to light. As George Will put it:
[Justice Kozinski] provides facts and judgments that should disturb everyone, but especially African Americans, whose encounters with the criminal justice system are dismayingly frequent and frequently dismaying.
Yesterday, Mona Charen posted some skeptical thoughts on justice reform. I’ve been working on this subject for a few months now, so I thought I might offer some responses to her queries. The short of it is: she’s right that there are reasons to be cautious about reform, but there really are problems that need addressing. Furthermore, some reasonable answers have already been offered to many of her questions.
First of all, I should commend Mona for correctly debunking the oft-cited but highly misleading “two thirds of inmates are non-violent drug offenders” claim. As she reports, that is only true of Federal prisons, which represent a very small minority of America’s inmate population. The make-up of state prisons is quite different, and a majority of inmates have been convicted for violent crimes. So no, it isn’t the case that most of our nation’s inmates are basically harmless people who maybe used (or sold) a few drugs. The majority are there because they’ve hurt people, and it would be quite foolish just to release them en masse.
Republican presidential candidates should not be talking about “the new Jim Crow.” That phrase is pulled directly from Michelle Alexander’s foolish, irresponsible book (of the same name), and we shouldn’t lend it any credence. Incarceration is not the new Jim Crow, and approaching it that way will only precipitate a different kind of broken system.
Sounds easy right? Just a boring topic that states the obvious. The problem is, when it comes to the criminal justice system, the mainstream media has, on one hand, created the myth that prison is hell on earth, and, on the other, horribly mislead the public about the death penalty. The prison systems in the United States have been locked in the 1960s liberal fantasy that we can — and, worse, should — always try to rehabilitate career criminals.
To be clear, I am focusing this post on the worst of the worst: the murderers, violent gang members, rapists, child molesters, etc. The people who my wife and I have dedicated our lives to prosecuting. I will save discussing how retribution should apply to addicts or non-violent first time offenders for another day. But how we punish the worst of the worst will shock you. There is a massive moral deficit in the criminal justice system, one that values criminals far above victims — and it is disgusting. If we are to regain the moral clarity and fortitude to punish the worst of the worst, it will only come from the political right.
Those who don’t have experience in the trenches of the criminal justice system get a very myopic and negative view of it: cops are renegade vigilantes with a badge; the death penalty costs too much and often punishes the innocent; prisons are nothing but raping grounds and murder houses; cowboy legislatures keep increasing not only what is criminal but also the sentences associated with crime. Some of these debates are worth having, but the casual listener must understand that he is only being given anecdotal information from a pro-criminal left that seeks to relegitimize the liberal fantasy of the reformed killer. One needs only to look to how the left slobbers over Mumia Abu-Jabal — a convicted cop-killer who has turned his crime into celebrity — to see how morally bankrupt the criminal justice system is. In a moral society, Abu-Jamal would have been vilified and put to death — as most of those on death row or serving life sentences should be.
I don’t necessarily mean as an inmate (though I’d love to hear about that too if anyone has stories they’d like to share). I’m just curious how many people have visited prisons in whatever capacity, and perhaps have interesting stories to tell about it.
I’ve been working the prison reform beat of late, and along the way have been fostering some interesting contacts in the policy world. It’s an exciting issue. While so many areas of American policy are mired in inefficiency and political gridlock, the justice reform movement is very much on the move. Texas and Georgia have both made great strides in this area, saving millions of dollars and actually closing prisons while still keeping crime rates low.
Talking to the people involved is a little bit surreal, because they’re excited and upbeat and have nothing but nice things to say about one another. That includes the people on the other side of the aisle! It’s actually a little disconcerting. What sort of “through the looking glass” politics is this? Bipartisan policy reform? I’m still in 21st century America, right?
I’ve joked about the glass floor before, but now some brave feminists (formerly known as “criminals”) in my home state of Michigan are putting their bodies where their mouths are and getting themselves arrested–at a rate greater than that of men. That’s right: an article by Tim Skubick from AnnArbor.com expresses worry that the state […]
Just found this on the Daily Caller: Study Finds Private Prisons Offer Massive Cost Savings Preview Open
I’m uneasy about incarceration and believe it raises some serious ethical concerns. As I understand it, we imprison a larger percentage of our population than any other country in the world, and probably any other society in history. I think of them as “the other 1%” because it’s close to 1% of our total population. It seems we should seriously consider why it is so necessary that we lock up such an enormous number of people.
For starters, I know some prosecutors and they seem like fair-minded, conscientious people. They do their jobs. My concerns mostly aren’t on that level, though it does seem that mandatory sentencing and three-strike laws have put some not-very-dangerous people away for some serious time. I have no strong feelings on whether prison is too harsh of a punishment or not harsh enough; it probably depends. One unhappy feature is the fact that forcible removal from your life will always be a much more severe blow to people who already have a life. People who have a lot to lose (jobs, families, homes) will feel it pretty cruelly. People whose lives were already utterly empty and miserable may even welcome the prospect of at least getting three squares a day. In general, incarceration will be a much harsher punishment for generally-good people than for generally-bad ones. That’s definitely non-ideal.
That’s also a factor on the level of deterrence. The threat of incarceration will do a lot more to deter already-functional people from committing crimes, but of course, they were much less likely to do so in any case.