Today, I would like to address aspects of our criminal justice system. Many of my readers are not likely to be intimately familiar with these (unless they happen to work in the criminal justice system) since their behaviors never resulted in them being charged with any crime. Others may have been involved in “youthful indiscretions,” or have friends or relatives who are or were incarcerated.
I extensively investigated incarceration rates and the high percentage of blacks who wind up serving time for my book “Negrophilia: From Slave Block to Pedestal – America’s Racial Obsession”; between this and my formal education in criminal justice, I believe I am qualified to speak on the topic.
Also, since the issue is tangential to my last two columns in this space, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to broach the subject.
As pointed out by experts and in the press, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation. Now, why would a country that fancies itself the freest in the world hold such a position? Some among the experts say that this is because as a nation with so many liberties, it is a simple function of human nature that individuals would attempt to push the envelope, resulting in more transgressions under the law, and thus more incarceration.
While this argument may have some validity, it is probably a rather small factor in the relevant dynamic. There are several factors that play into America’s high rate of incarceration, some of which are more pernicious than others and indeed, quite insidious. There are also a few that contribute to the high rate of incarceration and recidivism that may not merely be factors of bureaucracy, poorly executed policy (good intentions gone bad), or ignorance of human behavior on the part of those in the criminal justice system, but rather, calculation and the self-serving motives of individuals and organizations inside and outside the criminal justice system.
It is said that once an incarcerated individual has finished serving his or her sentence (whether released, paroled, or completing probation), he has “paid his debt to society.” Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Those with a criminal record – even if the offenses was not violent – are often faced with compromised civil liberties, little access to employment and the stigma of having been incarcerated.
This is particularly noteworthy when one considers that we are a nation so deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian doctrines such as forgiveness.
Hearkening back to last week’s column, which discussed apathy, ignorance and intellectual indolence on the part of the public, many Americans, when faced with questions of crime and punishment and egged on by activists and self-serving law-and-order politicians, respond with the unthinking refrain, “Lock the dirtbags up!” This without any knowledge whatsoever of precisely what qualifies as a “dirtbag” according to the criminal justice system itself. Prosecutors routinely heap an inordinate number of charges upon alleged offenders, hoping to intimidate defendants into plea deals that are often nearly as disadvantageous to them as risking conviction after trial.
Along with conventions like permanently rescinding the Second Amendment rights of many nonviolent offenders, our nation also incarcerates individuals for myriad offenses for which other developed nations employ things like house arrest and other methodologies that actually serve to incentivize offenders toward not offending again – and it’s usually far less expensive than the financial outlay for incarcerating people.
Almost 50 percent of those incarcerated in the U.S. are in prisons for drug-related offenses. Many of these don’t involve other crimes (robbery, assault, etc.). As I indicated in my column of Aug. 16, 2017, while there is still great debate over the “mental illness” aspect of addiction (despite the federal government and medical community having acknowledged this component decades ago), it is clearly not a crime problem, but a function of individual and social malaise.
Object lessons such as some Scandinavian countries and cities like Richmond, Virginia, abound, where forward-thinking lawmakers and law enforcement officials have reduced overall recidivism rates and saved millions of dollars by employing proven addiction recovery protocols, rather than attempting to incarcerate away drug use.
Then, there’s the phenomenon to which much discussion has been given, and that’s the practice of incarcerating people for nonviolent and petty offenses, after which they come out of prison hardened and with even more nefarious intent and criminal skills than when they went in.
Finally, there’s the profit motive. I’ve visited penal institutions (voluntarily) and was chilled to see such things as commercial catering services, video visitation services and kiosks resembling ATMs where friends and relatives can put money into prisoners’ commissary accounts, allowing them to purchase various items while inside. All of these are sold to inmates, their loved ones and the public as convenience, of course, but someone is making a pretty penny on all of it.
It occurs to me that an interesting project for an investigative journalist might be looking into whether or not entities with a financial motive in ensuring high rates of incarceration engage in the widespread lobbying of lawmakers at the state, federal and local levels to bring about harsher sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes. After all, industries of all types lobby for all manner of laws and regulations they believe will prove favorable to their endeavors, so it only stands to reason that the aforementioned business entities might do the same despite the questionable ethics involved.
The foregoing are but more examples of societal conventions few ever consider, but which potentially threaten the liberties of all Americans (not just the “dirtbags”). One cannot expect these conventions to change until the citizenry has adequate knowledge of the problems at hand and then becomes sufficiently motivated to advocate for change.
Article posted with permission from Erik Rush