“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.

13 thoughts on “The forgotten Americans

  1. This is a great read on the experimentation that the government put in place to destroy mainly minorities. It shows the lack of compassion for human life and the government values profit over people. I am glad to do the work as a reentry community health worker with the ages of 18 -26 years old because we have just peeled the band aid off of what was created to tear the communities and families apart. To me it is modern day slavery. The jails that I work in do not have proper correctional health services. A high percentage of my clients do not need to be in jail but in a treatment facility for substance abuse or mental health. Some of my clients do not have proper representation from the courts. I take my expertise in the courtroom to represent my clients as a court advocate to make sure they are treated fairly because they cannot afford an attorney or the public defender is overloaded with cases. I don’t work against the justice system but I collaborate and coordinate recommendations and resources to assist everyone involved. I believe in solutions and our work has shown that if we build trusted relationships with our clients being released from jail back into the community we will reduce recidivism. Creating more jobs and educational opportunities when they return to the community. Providing resources for them to gain access to needed public health, behavioral health, health care coverage, and social services . One of the most important components to our program that you must complete our prerelease and/or post release course and volunteering to give back to your community. We make sure that stable housing isn’t an issue for our young adults and knowing that whatever the judge has order them to do upon release that they complete it all so they do not be sanction. I could go on and on but I am glad you touched on this issue.

    1. Wow! Holy mackerel! What a great commentary about this posting. Good morning and thank you very much for sharing your experoence with us. You, and your fellow workers, are certainly doing a great work by monitoring, aiding and supporting these Americans that have been maliciously given excessive jail sentences for minor offenses by some overzealous prosecutors all over the country. When 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 young Black and Hispanic males respectively are prone to spend time in the jail, compared to 1 in 36 White males, there is certainly a great deal of raw racism at play. By the way, who is overseeing those prosecutors?
      Please continue your meritorious social work. Did you ever consider going into Law School? You’d make a terrific public defender. A big kiss. Arrivederci!

      1. Thank you, Dr. Laplume. I have been asked to consider going to law school by many of my professors and peers. Hearing it come from you makes me think that they might be telling me the truth. I am very passionate about my work and even some of the judges and attorney’s has allowed me to work with them. I have won some cases as a court advocate and I’ve lost some but most of all I have learned from them all. You have motivated me to go higher.

  2. La equidad social se construye en base a una sociedad justa, no xenófoba, no racista, no discriminatoria y de respeto a los derechos humanos. Por mayor riqueza material y poder si esos principios no se cumplen las sociedades – tarde o temprano – sucumben y van al fracaso. La decadencia y caída del imperio romano – entre otras razones- se produjo por ello.

    1. Querido Carlitos: buenas noches y muchas gracias por tu comentario tan acertado. Sin igualdad y justicia social no puede haber una sociedad democratica, por mas poder economico que tengan. Por favor segui leyendo nuestros blogs y poniendo tus comentarios tan ponderados. Un abrazo y hasta la proxima!

  3. There is no “great country” without social justice and exercising racism in every layer of the society. The US should fix their problems first, instead of messing around with the rest of the world.

    1. Dear Grace: good morning and thank you very much for your commentary. Even though I agree that the USA should fix its grave social problems ( one of which is institutionalized racism), it should also continue to actively promote democratic values ( not tyranny of course) around the globe. Please keep reading our blogs and making comments. A big kiss. Ciao!

  4. Thin line between jail as deterrent and as a warehouse for society failure. It is bit insane the “Land of the Free” has 25% of worldwide jails in our country.

    1. Dear John: good morning and thank you very much for your pointed commentary. Indeed it is a fine line but I believe that this great society can, and will, redress that social injustice while at the same time protect the citizenry from criminals that deserve a just punishment. Please keep reading and commenting our blogs. Ciao!

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