Jul 14 2010

Crazy Prison Industrial Complex Fact of the Day

Take a look at the exponential increase in our incarcerated population over time.  These numbers really hit home when you go back as far as 1880. 

Incarcerated Population and Rates, 1880-2008
Prison and Jail Inmates Rate per 100,000
1880 58,609 116.9
1890 82,239 131.5
1904 97,308 118.4
1910 128,314 138.9
1923 120,284 107.4
1933 210,418 167.5
1940 274,821 207.4
1950 264,557 174.8
1960 346,015 193.0
1970 328,020 161.4
1980 503,586 220.4
1990 1,148,702 458.2
2000 1,937,482 682.9
2008 2,304,115 753.5
Source: 1880-1970, Cahalan (1986); 1980-2008, CEPR analysis of BJS data.
Jul 12 2010

Memo to anti-prison activists: in order to dismantle the pic we have to stop advocating that people be locked up…

I just stumbled upon this wonderful blog post titled Justice or Just Us?. It was written by Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

I hadn’t yet seen Jakada’s blog when I wrote my own post immediately after the Oscar Grant verdict came in. In words more eloquent and arguments more cogent, Jakada reflects my sentiment about how best to address the unjust verdict.

Here Jakada speaks for me:

I have been an activist for far too long to think that sending someone to prison ever sets things right. Prison adds damage-to-damage and trauma-to-trauma. We don’t want prison to be the only option for young folks who make mistakes. Is it really the only answer for police who make mistakes?

And again here:

In all the media hype surrounding the trial and the cops vs. protester coverage, something is lost. That something is healing, transformative justice. How do we transform the system that recruited, trained and armed Mehserle and thousands just like him? How do we change the fact that police and civilians alike see young men of color as threatening? How do we build a powerful social movement and not just participate in one-off flash mobs?

I wish that these questions could be blared from loud speakers in all of our communities on a daily basis. They are so relevant and profound. Indeed my work is devoted to developing restorative and transformative ways to repair harm caused by violence and crime. While it is a heavy lift to be a prison abolitionist, honestly it is an even heavier one to be a proponent of restorative and transformative justice. Even some of my anti-prison activist friends can’t as they tell me often “wrap their brains around” these concepts.

And so the work goes on at organizations like mine and at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The current US Social Forum that just wrapped up in Detroit posited that “another world is possible.” This must be true.

Jakada ends with these beautiful words which I will appropriate for my own:

As we heal our society so that there can be true and transformative justice, I am reminded that there is just us- we are all we have. We must come together to find the answers and move forward with our heads held high and our commitment to real solutions always lighting our path.

Read Jakada’s entire blog post, you will not regret it!

Jul 12 2010

Crazy Prison Industrial Complex Fact of the Day

Incarceration vs Crime Rates

This graph clearly illustrates the DISCONNECT between crime rates and incarceration rates. Incarceration has had a small effect on the violent crime and property crime rates over time. However when you put this up against the collateral and direct damage caused by the expansion of prisons, one has to ask: “Is this small drop in crime worth the high economic, social, and moral costs of incarceration?” The answer to this must be an unequivocal “NO!” We have expanded the numbers of people under “correctional’ supervision over the past 30 years with no concomittant precipitous drop in rates of crime.

It’s time for a different solution. And fast.

Jul 10 2010

Wherein I remember why I can’t stand Russell Simmons…

Lockdown, USA is a documentary that purports to tell the story of the fight against the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York City. For those who are not familiar with those laws, here is short primer from the film Lockdown, USA.

Anyway, this documentary is uneven to say the least. Frankly the worst parts are the ones that focus on Russell Simmons. The best parts focus on the actual “organizers” who had struggled for decades to overturn those laws and on thefamilies who are devastated by the impact of the unjust laws.

Oh and one more thing… This music video is better than the film as a whole:

P.S. I am tempted to write a note to the filmmakers imploring them to make a director’s cut of the documentary where they delete all of the Russell Simmons parts. But I guess that’s unrealistic. Oh well…

Jul 09 2010

Visualizing the Proliferation of Prisons Set to Music…

Paul Rucker writes:

In May of 2009, I was honored to be part of a Prison Issues residency at the Blue Mountain Center. While there I had the honor of being in the company of some amazing people. Artists, activist from around the world provided over two weeks of inspiration, knowledge, and camaraderie.

While doing my individual research, I happened upon some maps created by Rose Heyer that showed the growth of the US Prison system. With that information, I was inspired to create Proliferation, an animated mapping of the US Prison system set to original music.

Green Dots: 1778-1900
Yellow Dots: 1901-1940
Orange Dots: 1941-1980
Red Dots: 1981-2005

For more information about Paul Rucker, visit his his website.

Jul 06 2010

Visual Image of Prison Expansion 1980-2000

I am completely obsessed with data visualization and infographics. I have been an Edward Tufte groupie for years. I love data visualization because I know that most people don’t read research studies and yet those studies often provide very important information that needs to be conveyed to the general public. It’s important to find better ways to translate data for the public so that they can be used to inspire social action. Below is a good example of an infographic that illustrates the expansion of prisons over 30 years.

Expansion of Prisons

This is an image from the Prisoners of the Census website.

Jul 05 2010

Prison Expansion: By the Numbers

It is worth taking a look at the actual raw numbers of people under “correctional” supervision in the U.S. If you are not appalled by these numbers, then you are not human.

People under Correctional Supervision 1980-2000