USA - 2 million in jail as poverty & difference become crimes FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 29 Dec 1999 23:09:09 -0800 (PST)

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With poverty and difference increasingly criminalized, market-dominated
governments' "housing of choice for homeless people" has increasingly
become "incarceration in mental hospitals and jails".  Ah, the corporate
state's tender mercies!  See below for a related commentary, on the USA
prison industry:
FWD  Boston Globe - 29 December 1999 - page A16


     By Gaylord Shaw - Newsday, 12/29/1999

       WASHINGTON - On Jan. 1, 1900, there were 57,070 people locked up in
local, state, and federal jails and prisons in the United States. That was
122 inmates for every 100,000 Americans.

As of midnight Friday, a new study says, there will be 1,982,084 adults in
US jails and prisons. That is 725 inmates for every 100,000 Americans.

Before the year 2000 is two months old, America's prison population will
reach 2 million - probably hitting that level on Feb. 15, the study
predicts. By the end of 2000, if current rates continue, it said, the
nation's prison population will reach 2,073,969.

''Our incarceration binge is America's real Y2K problem,'' said Jason
Ziedenberg, coauthor of the study published this month by the
Washington-based Justice Policy Institute. ''As we approach 2 million
prisoners in 2000, we have to find alternatives to incarceration to solve
America's social problems.''

The cost of housing inmates will soon exceed $40 billion a year, the study
found, and state governments invariably are spending more on prisons and
jails than on colleges and universities.

''As we enter the new millennium, the ascendance of prisons as our decade's
major public works project and social program is a sad legacy,'' said
Vincent Schiraldi, director of the institute, in the report titled ''The
Punishing Decade: Prison and Jail Estimates at the Millennium.''

The institute describes itself as ''a policy development and research body,
which promotes effective and sensible approaches to America's justice
system.'' Others in the criminal justice field generally view it as a
liberal think tank supported largely by liberal foundations.

The institute's research is based largely on nonpolitical statistics from
government records dating back 100 years. When crunched in today's
computers, the rows and columns of numbers become charts and graphs
depicting the results of new laws generated by politicians throughout the

The get-tough laws include mandatory minimum prison sentences for a range
of crimes, especially those involving drugs and guns. By prescribing  a
fixed minimum jail time to be imposed upon conviction of a crime - such as
15 years in prison for selling 2 ounces of cocaine - the laws prohibit
judges from considering extenuating circumstances.

The laws have been extended to such offenses as possession of marijuana
plants and have brought the imprisonment of an inordinate number of
first-time, nonviolent offenders, according to judges and others who decry
the trend.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose record in a quarter-century on the
Supreme Court is anything but soft on crime, has been among the critics.
''These mandatory minimums impose unduly harsh punishment for first-time
offenders and have led to an inordinate increase in the prison
population,'' he told Congress this year.

Others on the highest court also have spoken out. ''Judges should not have
their sentencing discretion controlled,'' said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

New York generally gets credit, or blame, for starting the trend toward
harsher sentences for  drug crimes. In 1973, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller
won enactment of laws mandating years of jail time for possession of small
quantities of drugs and up to life imprisonment for trafficking. In the
1980s, other states enacted drug-sentencing laws modeled on the Rockefeller
laws. In 1986, Congress federalized the Rockefeller-style drug laws,
enacting statutes that allow drug crimes to be prosecuted in federal as
well as state courts, and mandating long prison sentences.

>But researchers say any correlation between incarceration and crime rates
>remains elusive. Contrasting New York and California, the study found that
>between 1992 and 1997, New York state's murder rate fell 54.5 percent
>while its prison population grew by 30 inmates a week. At the same time,
>California was adding 270 inmates each week but its murder rate fell by 28

[This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 12/29/1999.]

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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