(Originally posted on the ACLU of Washington's blog.)
With 5 percent of the world's population, the United States today boasts 25 percent of its prison population. Despite declining crime rates in the last three decades (even in the midst of our current recession), rates of incarceration in the U.S. have been stunning. The Economist recently called this trend "a disgrace."
Even more staggering has been the racial dispararity in the people our nation incarcerates.
In her new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Ohio State University legal scholar Michelle Alexander cogently considers the tidal wave of incarceration that has swept America in the past 30 years. She says mass incarceration has created a "new racial undercaste" which, although race-neutral on its face, has sharply greater impacts on people of color. "A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch," Alexander asserts; if we avert our gaze, "history will judge us harshly."
Consider, for example, these facts:
- The U.S. presently incarcerates a greater percentage of its black population than South Africa did during the height of its apartheid regime.
- More black citizens are disenfranchised today than on the eve of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote in 1870.
The racial disparities in the criminal justice system have been most dramatic in the execution of the "war on drugs." Multiple studies have consistently shown similar rates of drug use across racial and ethnic lines; people of color, however, are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated at steeply greater rates. These inequities are most visibly manifested in the perverse 100 to 1 disparity in sentencing for offenses related to crack and powder cocaine.
Whatever one thinks of Professor Alexander�s thesis, however, it is impossible to deny the costs of America�s incarceration boom, both in dollars and human lives.
Incarceration is phenomenally expensive, and our spending on prisons is rapidly outpacing critical social needs such as education. In Washington alone we spend nearly a billion dollars annually on corrections. Overincarceration also has devastating effects on families. As one recent comprehensive report on prison conditions noted: �What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons. It comes home with prisoners after they are released and with corrections officers at the end of each day�s shift. When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them.�
All of us want to be safe. Despite consistently decreasing rates of crime, however, our nation continues to shovel huge amounts of resources into an inequitable, ineffective system of mass incarceration. Fortunately, many people, including some in the U.S. Congress, are beginning to examine ways to make our criminal justice system better.
* "Los Angeles County got the best courts that money could buy". KNBC (October 16, 2008) * "Innocent people remain in prison" LAPD Blue Ribbon Review Panel Report (2006) * Los Angeles County is "the epicenter of the epidemic of real estate and mortgage fraud." FBI (2004) * “…judges tried and sentenced a staggering number of people for crimes they did not commit." Prof David Burcham, Loyola Law School, LA (2000) * “This is conduct associated with the most repressive dictators and police states… and judges must share responsibility when innocent people are convicted.” Prof Erwin Chemerinksy, Irvine Law School (2000) * "Condado de Los Angeles tiene las mejores canchas que el dinero puede comprar".KNBC (16 de octubre de 2008) * "Las personas inocentes permanecen en prisión" LAPD Blue Ribbon Panel de Revisión Report (2006) * Condado de Los Angeles es "el epicentro de la epidemia de bienes raíces y el fraude de la hipoteca." FBI (2004) * "... Los jueces juzgado y condenado a un asombroso número de personas por crímenes que no cometieron." Prof. David Burcham, Loyola Law School, LA (2000) * "Esta es una conducta asociada con los dictadores más represivos y los estados de la policía ... y los jueces deben compartir la responsabilidad, cuando es condenado a personas inocentes." Prof. Erwin Chemerinksy, Irvine, la Facultad de Derecho (2000)
Thousands of Rampart-FIPs (Falsely Imprisoned Persons) remain locked up more than a decade after official, expert, and media report documented that they were falsely prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced in the largest court corruption sandal in the history of the United States...
Blue Ribbon Review Panel report (2006):
10-10-01 Corruption of the California courts noticed by the United Nations
10-10-01 United Nations Human Rights Council Records for 2010 Review (UPR) of Human Rights in the United States
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
10-06-09 ACLU: "A Human Rights Nightmare is Occurring on Our Watch" // "Una pesadilla de Derechos Humanos que está ocurriendo en Our Watch" // "Ein Albtraum des Meschen Rechte ist auf unserer vorkommenden"
Please Sign Petition - Free Richard Fine // Por favor, Firme la petición - Liberar a Richard Fine
Richard Fine - 70 year old, former US prosecutor, had shown that judges in Los Angeles County had taken "not permitted" payments (called by media "bribes"). On February 20, 2009, the Governor of California signed "retroactive immunities" (pardons) for all judges in Los Angeles. Less than two weeks later, on March 4, 2009 Richard Fine was arrested in open court, with no warrant. He is held ever since in solitary confinement in Los Angeles, California. No judgment, conviction, or sentencing was ever entered in his case.
Please sign the petition: Free Richard Fine -