“Listen…Republicans might be filling the prisons but Democrats built them.”
A Washington D.C. political operative clandestinely whispered that precept in my ear when I was visiting the Capitol office of a Florida elected representative a few years ago. The big surge of the prison population in the USA is truly a bipartisan initiative.
Two newly published books from Naomi Murakawa and Elizabeth Hinton propose that the shameful fact that the USA has the largest prison population per capita of the planet was created by the civic frustration over the losing war on illicit drugs and the tough-on-crime pandering of the Republicans. But the Democrats were willing enablers of this odd, unique and cruel social experimentation that has destroyed countless families and communities.
Trying to stop the mob lynching of blacks in the South after World War II, the Democrats approved block grants to the states to build modern prisons and train Corrections personnel; they also promoted standardized sentences to curb the discretionary power of racist judges. In 1993 Bill Clinton pushed for the draconian “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.”
The mandatory minimum sentences disproportionally punish Minorities for relatively minor offenses. Blacks are jailed five times more than whites as the penalties for possession of crack cocaine (used by blacks) are higher than the ones for possession of powdered cocaine (used by whites). Hispanics are twice more likely to be in prison than whites. Some of them require Mental Health services that are not properly provided in jail.
An editorial of The Lancet stated that “prisoners and detainees worldwide have higher burdens of HIV, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis than the communities form which they come…the reasons for this neglect include the very factors that make them vulnerable to infection and unable to get treatment: unjust and inappropriate laws; underfunded and overcrowded prisons… compulsory drug detention centres that provide no evidence-based treatment for substance abuse…discriminatory criminal justice systems.”
The USA has the greatest rate of incarceration of the whole planet, much higher than the totalitarian regimes of the right and left ends of the political spectrum. Almost one in every 1000 Americans is in jail and the country has 25% of the world’s jailed population. These are Americans—without any condescending hyphenation please. And many of them will one day hit our streets again and mingle in our midst. The “ostrich defense” is not a viable long-term approach for a society that prides itself in being democracy’s beacon.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.