A punitive justice system and social disparity bequeath U.S
with the largest incarceration in the history of the world
According to the National Criminal Justice Commission, the U.S. has engaged in the largest imprisonment buildup of any country in the history of the world. Americans in prisons and jails have quadrupled to 2.3 million. Minority groups rate of incarceration increased tenfold. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times that of whites.
According to Bruce Western’s study on Reentry, communities with few resources are facing additional social pressures by absorbing 700,000 returning prisoners each year. This disparity exists because African Americans are inclined to be arrested at higher rates than whites due to a police practice of racial profiling, and due to media depiction of African Americans and minorities in gangsters’ images.
“Basic human equality is associated with full membership in a community,” says the British sociologist, T.H. Marshall. Bruce Western writes, “The penal system was used to manage many of the byproducts of persistent poverty: untreated drug addiction and mental illness, homelessness, chronic idleness among young men, and social disorder. It was the management of these social problems, which fueled incarceration rates for drug users, public-order offenders, and parole violators.” This analysis may explain the shift in American attitude from a moderate social conscious society to fearful and vengeful.
“It’s an unjust system that one person gets life in prison for stealing a pizza, while a Wall Street Ponzi defrauds investors of $50 billion, ends up with a slap on the wrist,” says L. McBroom.
The Council on Crime in America presented a study that tends to vindicate the rising cost of victimized citizens. It claims that direct costs to victims which occurred six months or more after the crime is more important than the fiscal cost of incarceration.
Fear has been used as a tool in enacting politically motivated laws. Supporting such a theory, columnist Ben Wattenberg writes, “A thug in prison can’t shoot your sister.”
Nixon launched the war on crime with a plan to criminalize anti-Vietnam War demonstrators.
Reagan’s war-on-drugs justified U.S. black-ops in Central America. Politicizing the U.S. Supreme Court ignited mandatory minimum prison sentences and gave birth to Three Strikes Laws in many states.
Clintion’s Anti Terrorist, and Prison Litigation Reform Acts launched the largest prison construction projects in U.S. history.
Post 9/11, fear of foreign terrorism was a key in enacting the Patriot Act Legislation, notwithstanding, calls for imprisoning forever any terror-suspect without trial. A reminder of 18th century France where French citizens who were deemed abhorrent to the crown was arrested by secret warrants called lettres-de-cachet and imprisoned indefinitely in the Bastille fortress in Paris.
The climbing costs of maintaining the penal industry has strained many states’ budgets and diverted funds from schools and social programs to penal maintenance.
In New Mexico, prisoners rioted due to overcrowding and poor nutrition; it costed the state $38 million to clean up and repair the problem.
Overcrowding in Alabama state prisons led to the release of 222 inmates under federal court order on July 25, 1981. Similar action took place in Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, Illinois and New York.
In California, the correction’s budget reached $7.6 billion. During 2006’s visit to San Quentin, a law enforcement German Delegation noted that California’s Correctional budget is more than the annual gross domestic products of five African nations combined: Mali, Niger, Chad, Togo and Sierra Leone .
With 33 prisons operating over 200 percent over normal capacity, the cost of inmate medical care increased from $345 million in 1995 to $2.2 billion in 2007. The federal court had to place the prison’s health care system under federal receivership. California is facing ongoing federal litigation about overcrowding.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed violent crime in the United States is up 5.6 percent. These facts indicate that mass imprisonment and a punitive justice system did not deter offenders or protect society from harm, because “…that method failed to address the core of the social disparity,” says Bruce Western.