By Charles David Henry
Journalism Guild Writer
The most punitive and rapidly growing prison systems in the world are located in countries with brutal histories, a noted writer states.
These histories include colonialism or slavery, combined with capitalist exploitation of prison labor, said Michelle Alexander, author and senior fellow at the Ford Foundation.
In a review written for The Washington Post, Alexander describes how Baz Dreisinger, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justices, introduced “a wide range of approaches to crime, punishment and questions of justice in diverse countries.”
Dreisinger’s intriguing new book, Incarceration Nations, searches for clues that might “answer the question of what justice is or, rather, what it ought to be.”
When the world is forced to look at the reality of incarceration, the American criminal justice style of punishment seems to always be chosen. According to Dreisinger, this system “is not normal, natural or inevitable.”
“Western democracies, particularly America, have chosen capital punishment, solitary confinement, mandatory minimum sentences, Three-Strike laws, militarized police forces and building of prisons unlike anywhere in the world,” Alexander wrote.
“America has the world’s highest incarceration rate and an abysmal recidivism rate of 60 percent. However, the ratios of Aboriginal people jailed in Western Australia are now worse than the racial disparities for Blacks in the United States,” Alexander narrated.
In her review of Incarceration Nations, Alexander wonders whether it’s possible that privatization has something to do with stimulating the profit margin that’s feeding the Australian appetite for mass incarceration.
“These are the roots of the prison industrial complex,” Dreisinger explains. It’s “a tangle of legal, business, and government interest that has existed for centuries.” Despite that explanation, Alexander doesn’t think the author really answered these questions.
In a released statement, Dreisinger told the press. “America, it seems, is finally beginning to tackle the legacy of punishment and human warehousing coldly captured by the term mass incarceration.”
“We are the world’s largest jailer, with 2.3 million people behind bars.” One in 31 adults, or 7 million people, are under some correctional control. More Blacks are in some criminal restraint today than were enslaved in 1850. Up to 25 percent of the adult population in prison also suffers from mental illness, Dreisinger adds.
America considers juveniles too immature to vote or buy alcohol; however, our criminal justice system deems them mature enough to live in adult prisons, where one in 10 is sexually assaulted. “We are one of just nine countries who punish (with) both life sentences and the death penalty,” Dreisinger continues.
Different approaches to incarceration are being pursued in other parts of the world, often with greater success, Dresinger said. “In Rwanda, an entire nation has committed itself to healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice following a genocide in which neighbors hacked one another to death in the streets.”
The country of Norway, “reflecting its long-standing egalitarian culture and spirit of communitarianism, a spirit that extends to its prisons,” has a 20 percent recidivism rate.
“We in America might one day overcome our own history of genocide, slavery, discrimination and oppression and create a justice system that is truly a source of international pride rather than shame,” Alexander concludes.
By Charles David Henry