Nel's New Day

June 2, 2015

U.S.: The Nation of Incarceration

Filed under: Incarceration — trp2011 @ 8:58 PM
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A major reason of the growing poverty in the United States is the nation’s fixation on imprisonment. People in prison cost money and cannot contribute to the economy. The US spends $80 billion on the big business of corrections every year, and one research project shows that the increase in incarceration during the past 35 years increased poverty by 25 percent.  There are 2.2 people in the country’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million on probation or parole. That’s one of every 35 adults. Bill Quigley has listed reasons for this travesty with background information here.

Imprisonment isn’t about crime: the crime rate has gone up and down with no relationship to the increase in incarceration.

Police discriminate: police have targeted poor people and people of color without cause for decades. In just New York City, police annually stop 500,000 people—80 percent of them Blacks and Latinos—with no indication of any crime. In Chicago, 72 percent of the stops are Black people in a city where they compose only 32 percent.

Police racially profile during traffic stops: Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers, and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers.

Police more likely ticket Black and Hispanic motorists than White drivers for the same offenses.

Police more likely search Blacks and Latinos than Whites after traffic stops.

Governments make money from traffic tickets, usually for poorer people: an example is Ferguson (MO) which gets 40 percent or more of city revenue from traffic tickets.

Poor people suffer more from traffic tickets: more well-off people simply pay the fines, but poor people who cannot afford them lose their driver’s licenses or go to jail. In California, over 4 million people lack these licenses because they have unpaid fines and fees for traffic tickets.

Black and disabled students are much more likely to be referred to the police than other kids: Blacks represent 16 percent of enrolled students but receive 27 percent of police referrals. Students with disabilities have the same problem: although they represent only 14 percent of school enrollment, they receive 26 percent of the police referrals.

Black people make up about 12 percent of the US population, but Black children represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests. 

Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites although both people of both races use marijuana at the same rate. In some states, Blacks are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites. In the two decades between 1980 and 2000, the arrest rate for Blacks went from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 people while the rate for Whites went from 3.4 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons.

The U.S. has much tougher drug laws and much longer sentences for drug offenses than most other countries: drug offenders receive an average sentence of 7 months in France, twelve months in England and 23 months in the US. Crimes in the U.S. would require community service in other countries or not be considered a crime at all.

The poor must remain in jail awaiting trial because they have no funds to pay bail: every day, jails hold 500,000 people who are presumed innocent but are too poor to get bail money.

Jails and prisons are used for job creation: over 3,000 local jails in the U.S. hold 500,000 people awaiting trial every day and another 200,000 convicted on minor charges. During one year, the jails process over 11.7 million people. The state and federal prisons hold about 1.5 million prisoners.

Most people in locals jails are not a threat to the population: almost 75 percent of people are in the jails for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses.

Posting financial bonds for release pending trial employs about 15,000 bail bond agents for the industry that collects about $14 billion every year.

The rate of mental illness inside jails is four to six times higher than on the outside: people with severe mental illness are sent to jails although they provide almost no treatment.

Of the almost 70 percent of people in prison who meet the medical criteria for drug abuse or dependence, only 7 to 17 percent ever receive drug abuse treatment inside prison.

Presumed innocent people who are too poor, too mentally ill, or too chemically dependent are kept in jail until their trial dates. 

Poor people have to rely on public defenders, and the vast majority of people with misdemeanor charges never see a lawyer. Thirteen states don’t mandate that people have access to public defenders in misdemeanor courts. Public defenders may also have several hundred cases at one time.

Many poor people plead guilty: a review from the American Bar Association concludes that the U.S. public defender system lacks fundamental fairness and puts poor people at risk of wrongful conviction.

The police force many people, much later exonerated, to plead guilty. 

Most people in prison don’t have trials: over 95 percent of criminal cases are finished by plea bargains. The percentage of trials have shrunk because of higher sentences for those who lose trials and the power given to prosecutors.

Jail makes people worse off:  people who can’t get bail are four times more likely to receive a prison sentence than those with bail. Within the walls of jails and prisons are tens of thousands of rapes and over 4,000 murders each year.

Average prison sentences are much longer than they used to be, especially for people of color: the average time for property crimes has increased 24 percent and the time for drug crimes has gone up 36 percent since 1990.

A Black man without a high school diploma has a 70-percent chance of being imprisoned by his mid-thirties. The rate for White males without this diploma is 53 percent lower, a change since the 8-percent difference in 1980.  In New York City, Blacks are jailed at nearly 12 times the rate of Whites and Latinos more than five times the rate of Whites.

Almost 1 of 12 Black men ages 25 to 54 are in jail or prison, compared to 1 in 60 non-Black men: that is 600,000 Black men, an imprisonment rate of five times that of White men. One out of three young Black males is under the direct supervision of the criminal justice system, either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.

Prison makes money for private businesses that lobby for greater incarceration: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) owns and runs 67 for-profit jails in 20 states with over 90,000 beds. Along with GEO (formerly Wackenhut), these two private prison companies have donated more than $10 million to candidates and spent another $25 million lobbying them. They have doubled the number of prisoners they hold over the past ten years. Contracts with most private companies require that the prisons stay between 80 and 90 percent full.

Over 159,000 people are serving life sentences in the U.S., a 400-percent increase since 1984: nearly half are Black and 1 in 6 are Latino; almost 250,000 prisoners are over age 50.

Prisoners pay exorbitant costs for telephone calls to their families, sometimes as high as $12.95 for a 15-minute calls.

The  3.9 million people on probation also make money for private companies that contract with governments to supervise them and collect debts. 

As many as 100 million people have a criminal record in the United States, and over 94 million of those records are online: people who have been arrested and convicted face serious problems getting a job, a home, public assistance, and education. More than 60 percent of people formerly incarcerated are unemployed one year after being released. Within three years of release, about two-thirds of state prisons are rearrested. Employment losses for people with criminal records have been estimated at as much as $65 billion every year.

Employers unlikely to check on the criminal history of White male applicants will check Black applicants.

Families are hurt by the prison mill because 180,000 women are subject to lifetime bans from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families after felony drug convictions.

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States is truly “exceptional.” More than half the world’s countries have incarceration rates of lower than 150 (per 100,000) while the U.S. has 764 imprisonments per 100,000 people. A nation with about 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of its prisoners. The government annually pays an average of $31,286 per inmate—New York pays $60,000.

“Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.”—Center for American Progress

January 7, 2015

Call Out Police Who Fail to ‘Protect and Serve’

Grand juries failed to indict police at least three times during the past few months for suspect shootings, one of the victims holding a piece of Walmart merchandise and the other standing on a sidewalk. In the seven years between 2004 and 2011, charges were filed in only 41 cases of at least 2718 homicides committee by police officers. Conviction rates for cases that go to trial are only half than for all other people. Police are above the law as shown by the recent Supreme Court ruling in Heinen v. North Carolina that police can break the law with impunity if they claim ignorance.

Yet these rights are not enough for the police. Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, has asked for the addition of law enforcement to federal hate crime laws. A mentally disturbed person killed two NYPD officers, and the head of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Obama because they told the public that blacks are not safe with all police officers. There are statistics to prove this, but Lynch accused de Blasio of having “blood on his hands.”

Canterbury wants hate crimes based on occupation. He ignored the concept that hate crimes are against people for innate characteristics—sex, race, disability, etc.–except for religion.

In juvenile fashion, officers turned their back on the mayor at the funerals of both murdered police officers and held a work slowdown. As mayor, de Blasio is the boss of NYPD officers, but some misguided cadets booed him when he spoke at their graduation ceremony. Canterbury and Lynch actually want federal laws putting police officers above criticism. By their behavior, some police officers indicate that they consider themselves entitled to any behavior that they choose, arrogantly blaming the civilian for any problems. To these officers, their badge and gun give them any rights, including beating and killing people for no offense.

Today the New York Times published a scathing editorial on NYPD officers’ egregious behavior:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been in office barely a year, and already forces of entropy are roaming the streets, turning their backs on the law, defying civil authority and trying to unravel the social fabric.

No, not squeegee-men or turnstile-jumpers. We’re talking about the cops.

For the second straight week, police officers across the city have all but stopped writing tickets and severely cut down the number of arrests. The Times reported that in the week ending Sunday, only 347 criminal summonses were issued citywide, down from 4,077 over the same period last year. Parking and traffic tickets were down by more than 90 percent. In Coney Island, ticketing and summonses fell to zero.

The city has been placed in an absurd position, with its police commissioner, William Bratton—a pioneer of “broken windows” policing who has just written a long, impassioned defense of that strategy as an essential crime-fighting tool—leading a force that is refusing to carry it out.

Police union officials deny responsibility for the mass inaction. But Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said officers had talked among themselves and “it became contagious,” apparently like the flu.

Call this what it is: a reckless, coordinated escalation of a war between the police unions and Mr. de Blasio and a hijacking of law-enforcement policy by those who do not set law-enforcement policy. This deplorable gesture is bound to increase tension in a city already rattled over the killing by the police of an unarmed man, Eric Garner, last summer, the executions of two officers in Brooklyn last month, and the shootings on Monday of two plainclothes officers in the Bronx.

Mr. Bratton spoke delicately at a news conference on Monday. He said there could be other explanations, like officers being too busy handling police-reform demonstrations and attending funerals. He promised to investigate—and to “deal with it very appropriately, if we have to.”

Mr. de Blasio’s critics foretold doom when he was elected a year ago. They said graffiti, muggings and other crime would rush back with a vengeance. They were dead wrong — crime rates continued to decline to historic lows in 2014 — but now it seems the cops are trying to help prove them right.

The madness has to stop. The problem is not that a two-week suspension of “broken windows” policing is going to unleash chaos in the city. The problem is that cops who refuse to do their jobs and revel in showing contempt to their civilian leaders are damaging the social order all by themselves.

Mr. de Blasio, who has been cautious since the shootings, found his voice on Monday, saying for the first time that the police officers’ protests of turning their backs at the slain officers’ funerals had been disrespectful to the families of the dead. He was right, but he needs to do more.

He should appeal directly to the public and say plainly that the police are trying to extort him and the city he leads.

If the Police Department’s current commanders cannot get the cops to do their jobs, Mr. de Blasio should consider replacing them. He should invite the Justice Department to determine if the police are guilty of civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities. He should remind the police that they are public employees, under oath to uphold city and state laws.

If Mr. de Blasio’s critics are right and the city is coming unglued, it is not because of what he has done. He was elected by an overwhelming vote, because he promised action on police reform, starting with the end of stop-and-frisk tactics that corralled so many innocent New Yorkers into the criminal-justice system. The city got the mayor it wanted—and then, because of Mr. de Blasio, it got Mr. Bratton.

Mr. Bratton’s faith in “broken windows” needs rethinking. But nothing will be fixed as long as police officers are refusing to do their jobs.

A video emerged this week of a New York cop, apparently with nothing better to do, horsing around on the hood of a squad car, falling off and hitting his head. It would be hard to invent a more fitting image of the ridiculous—and dangerous—place this atmosphere of sullen insubordination has taken us.

Hugh Sansom commented:

“In October, 2011, the Bronx DA indicted 11 police officers for fixing tickets on behalf of family and friends. PBA members and Patrick Lynch rallied in support of these cop-lawbreakers. As NYC news organizations reported then they jeered at the DA. Some tried to intimidate cameramen. Many held signs saying that fixing tickets was part of the ‘NYPD culture.’ “

Of the 25 black police officers, both past and present, interviewed about being racially profiled, all by one said that it had happened to them. One third of those officers said that they complained to supervisors, and all except one “either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions,” according to a story in the City Journal. 

Since NYPD officers started pouting, tickets and summonses for minor offenses shrank by 94 percent and overall arrests went down by 66 percent. A major problem from these actions is that police budgets will suffer from lack of fines that make up for funding shortfalls. On the other hand, city residents, particularly the targeted low-income people, will save money.

Last October, for example, a small group of black teenagers were told to leave a predominantly white neighborhood. An officer trailed them in his squad car and then shouted in his megaphone to “get out of the neighborhood.” A citizen questioned the action at a community meeting. The officer’s commanding officer, Captain Frank DiGiacomo, knew nothing about the event but said that his officer was probably trying to prevent crime. He said:

“Most of the crimes that happen in our command are from outside people committing the crimes. If [teens] are not playing basketball, you’re not playing soccer, you’re not doing something productive in the neighborhood, I can see [officers] moving them.”

The police no doubt assumed that the youth were “outside people” because they weren’t white.

Over a half century ago, African-American author James Baldwin, who grew up in New York, wrote:

“One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. Before the dust has settled or the blood congealed, editorials, speeches, and civil-rights commissions are loud in the land, demanding to know what happened. What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like men.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, son and grandson of police officers, wrote:

“Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors…. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.”

More people need to call out the police officers who fail the people they are hired “to protect and serve.”

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