Incarceration Nation

I just had to do a short post in reaction to a policymic.com article entitled “Statistics Show How Mass Incarceration Represents a New Racial Caste System

The statistics on and social consequences of America’s unhealthy obsession with incarceration are staggering and saddening. Here’s some stats I’ve picked out:

  • The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.
  • The total incarcerated population in the U.S. is a staggering 2.4 million — a 500% increase over the past 30 years.
  • One in 28 American children has a parent behind bars.
  • There are more people behind bars today for a drug offense than there were in 1980 for all offenses combined.
  • The U.S. spent $80 billion on incarceration in 2010 alone.

The war on drugs: how it’s particularly harmful to black people and the poor…

  • The vast majority of those arrested with a drug offense are not charged with serious offenses. For example, in 2005, 4 out of 5 drug arrests were for possession, not sales.
  • Three out of four young black men in Washington, D.C., can expect to serve time behind bars. This is despite the fact that people of all races use and sell drugs at the same rate.
  • African-Americans comprised 12% of regular drug users, but almost 40% of those arrested for drug offenses.
  • The U.S. imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
  • More than 96% of convictions in the federal system result from guilty pleas rather than decisions by juries.
  • Conservative estimates put innocent people who plead guilty between 2% and 5%, which translates to tens of thousands of innocent people behind bars today.
  • Eighty percent of defendants cannot afford a lawyer. Tens of thousands of people go to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer or going to trial.

“The land of the free”? That seems like a sick joke now.

The economic cost of all this, although staggering, is at least measurable and recoverable. But of the social cost I can’t begin to imagine. Combine America’s impending economic collapse with the bitterness and distrust of African-Americans, who represent 13% of the U.S. population, and the poor in general, and we could have the conditions for violent social unrest in the coming decades in America.

Hopefully when the dust has settled on an inevitable rage against the state some new shoots of liberty will have emerged and, as the American people look back in recognition of a dark past of compulsive mass criminalization, the future will look bright once again for them.

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3 thoughts on “Incarceration Nation

  1. I am trying to find the source for one of the stats in the article:
    Eighty percent of defendants cannot afford a lawyer. Tens of thousands of people go to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer or going to trial.
    The only place I can find this on the internet is tied to this same set of stat with zero references to studies. The number seems too high yet is bandied about as fact with no source. Can you help me.

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    1. I found a study guide of a book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar, which references this stat, so it seems as if it comes from her book. There’s also these links that refer to the same stat – NY times article calls it a ‘well informed estimate’ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/opinion/sunday/the-right-to-counsel-badly-battered-at-50.html

      http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/public-defenders-gideon-supreme-court-charts

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2006/05/gideons_silence.html

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