I ordered Naomi Murakawa’s book “The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison in America” last month. It’s sitting in a pile of other books on my living room floor. I would love to get to it by March. Willie Osterweil reviews the book in this week’s edition of the Nation Magazine. He writes:
“This is the fundamental thesis of Murakawa’s book: legal civil rights and the American carceral state are built on the same conceptions of race, the state and their relationship. As liberals believe that racism is first and foremost a question of individual bias, they imagine racism can be overcome by removing the discretion of (potentially racist) individuals within government through a set of well-crafted laws and rules. If obviously discriminatory laws can be struck down, and judges, statesmen or administrators aren’t allowed to give reign to their racism, then the system should achieve racially just outcomes. But even putting aside the fact that a removal of individual discretion is impossible, such a conception of “fairness” applies just as easily to producing sentencing minimums as school desegregation.”
Murakawa’s book and thesis are important because they focus on Liberals’ role in expanding the carceral state and in creating the epidemic of mass incarceration. Too often, the conversation has centered on the Republicans’ so-called focus on “law and order” as the chief driver of mass incarceration. But the truth is that Liberals love prisons too. They always have.
I saw this map using 2010 Census data to illustrate U.S. incarceration earlier this week. The map below includes both the prison and jail population.
What do you notice in looking at this map?
First, prisoners are everywhere across the country. Second look at rate of prisoners in California which is off the charts and connect this to Murakawa’s thesis. Finally, Christopher Ingraham shares this stunning fact in the Washington Post:
To put these figures in context, we have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S. — 5,000 plus — than we do degree-granting colleges and universities. In many parts of America, particularly the South, there are more people living in prisons than on college campuses.
We need to complicate the story about who bears responsibility for the rise of the prison nation. I am glad for work like Murakawa’s and look forward to more scholarship in the future.
Read more information here.
Yesterday, GSA Network and Crossroads Collaborative released a set of reports finding that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, gender nonconforming youth, and youth of color not only face bullying and harassment from peers, but also harsh and disparate discipline from school staff, relatively higher levels of policing and surveillance, and blame for their own victimization.
To accompany the reports, Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, and GSA Network also released a set of policy recommendations based on the research for school staff, policy makers, and young people advocating for change.
Download the reports:
Join them for a tweetchat on #LGBTpushout on Thursday 10/9 at 3pm PST/6pm to discuss these findings as part of the National Week of Action against School Pushout!
I’ve been saying for a while that the rhetoric about the “end of mass incarceration” doesn’t match up with the reality that so many people in the U.S. continue to be locked up. Today, James Kilgore published an article on the topic where I am quoted. It’s worth reading (not because I am quoted but because he raises important points).
Ultimately, the report along with events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reinforced the concerns of many anti-mass incarceration campaigners that current changes were not digging deep enough to yield long lasting results. Peter Wagner, Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, highlighted the need for states “to decide whether the people they are sending to prison really need to be there” and the corresponding issue of deciding which people “currently in prison can go home.” Instead, he lamented, states are continuing to hike “the number of people they send to prison for new offenses and violations of parole and decreasing the number of people they let out.”
Author and activist Ruthie Gilmore, who currently is associate director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at CUNY, argued that the BOJ statistics have exposed the shortcomings of “opportunists” who have “blown up real solidarity.” She maintains that moderate reforms have promoted “the delusion that it’s possible to cherry pick some people from the prison machine” rather than undertake a broad restructuring of the communities which have been devastated by mass incarceration. Mariame Kaba, head of Project NIA which practices transformative justice as a foil to youth incarceration in Chicago communities, concurred with Gilmore, stressing that “the rationale for and logic of punishment is unchanged. The targets of our punishment mindset also remain overwhelmingly black and poor.”
Kaba points out that the discourse has altered but policy seems to have lagged behind. “Talk and actions are not the same thing,” she said, “there is a need to move beyond awareness and take steps to address mass incarceration in real ways.”
“Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole.”
Yesterday, a new report was released by the National Research Council. The report explored comprehensive data on the rise of U.S. state and federal prison populations from 1973 to 2009 to better understand demographics and the societal impacts of high incarceration rates. Some of the findings will be familiar:
* With the inclusion of local jails, the U.S. penal population totals 2.2 million adults, the largest in the world; the U.S. has nearly one-quarter of the world’s prisoners, but only 5 percent of its population.
* Nearly 1 in 100 adults is in prison or jail, which is 5 to 10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other democracies.
* Of those incarcerated in 2011, about 60 percent were black or Hispanic.
* Black men under age 35 who did not finish high school are more likely to be behind bars than employed in the labor market.
* In 2009, 62 percent of black children 17 or younger whose parents had not completed high school had experienced a parent being sent to prison, compared with 17 percent for Hispanic children and 15 percent for white children with similarly educated parents.
Below is an infographic from the report:
The W. Haywood Burns Institute has released an interactive map that breaks data down by state according to racial disparities and non-violent offenses. The map is based on federal data for 2011 is the most recent information available. In 2011:
—75 percent of all youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
—Two-thirds of those youth are of color.
—Black youth are 4.6 times as likely to be incarcerated than white youth.
—Native American youth are 3.2 times as likely.
—Latino youth are 1.8 times as likely.
Check out the maps yourselves to see how your state fares.
It’s no secret that I love data and data visualization. David Mendoza of the Mendoza Line has illustrated the rise of incarceration in the U.S. from 1978 to 2012. Click HERE to get the full effect of the visualization.
U.S. Imprisonment Rate Per 100,000 Residents, 1978-2012 by David Mendoza
First, the Drug Policy Alliance hosted a conversation with Michelle Alexander which is well-worth listening to here.
Over 50 percent of inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug offenses, according to an infographic recently released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (see chart below). That percentage has risen fairly consistently over decades, all the way from 16 percent in 1970.
The second-largest category, immigration-related crimes, accounts for 10.6 percent of inmates. This means that people convicted of two broad categories of nonviolent crimes — drugs and immigration — make up over 60 percent of the U.S. prison population.
More in the Huffington Post.
I found this short video titled “US Prison System by the Numbers.” It’s informative and a good short primer on the scope of the PIC in the U.S. It was created by Patrick Kipper.
The New York Times reports on a new ACLU study about marijuana use and enforcement:
Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.
The Times story includes the following map which illustrates the disparities in marijuana arrests.
Please read the entire interactive ACLU report HERE.