“In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights”

PD*29534905That’s the title of this important NY Times op-ed by Michelle Alexander, who who is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press 2010). The entire op-ed is essential reading, but this excerpt focuses on one of the reasons why reforming the policy of overcriminalization has become politically difficult:

Those who believe that righteous indignation and protest politics were appropriate in the struggle to end Jim Crow, but that something less will do as we seek to dismantle mass incarceration, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge.  If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars.  A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs . Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.

Sentencing expert Doug Berman comments insightfully:

However, I strongly believe that liberty, not fairness, needs to be the guiding principle in this major shift.  After all, one big aspect of the modern mass incarceration movement has been an affinity for structured guideline reforms and the elimination of parole all in order to have greater fairness and consistency at sentence. 

What we have really achieved is less liberty as much, if not more, than less fairness.


6 thoughts on ““In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights”

  1. Thanks for posting this.
    IMO, the best that can be hoped for will be reduced sentences and a shift to more parole and probation officers and facilities.
    Arrests and just as importantly, our country will maintain its lead as far as maintaining a long and growing list of victim-less crimes, and ever-larger numbers of people who will have criminal records. Specialty lawyers will see their incomes soar as rich people line up to have the records of their loved ones expunged, while the rest will still be denied voting rights, equal access to jobs etc. As a political trade-off to recalcitrant right wingers, it won’t surprise me to see that people with criminal records will be denied SS, Medicaid, and Medicare rights.
    The 30 year long grip of secret Nazi lovers will continue to lead our country’s way into its inevitable status as a third world country.

  2. Bill,
    I have heard Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama (people in positions of political power as of late and individuals certainly in positions to lead the debate on how we handle criminal sentencing matters) called many things but I believe you are the first to refer to them as “secret Nazi lovers.”
    Obviously, anyone in a position of political power who fails to promote the dismantling of our system of incarceration HAS to be a “secret Nazi lover. ” I feel foolish that I ever considered these people simply misguided. Tell me, as we “inevitably” slide into “third world status” is it China, with their unquestionably reasonable incarceration policies that will lead the first world in the future? Possibly Russia?
    And, for the record, having defaulted on a credit card or having lost one’s house to foreclosure is more likely to disqualify someone for employment than having a felony record. I guess you expect your left wing “secret Nazi lovers” are going to cave into the “recalcitrant right wingers” and deny these people SS, Medicaid and Medicare, also.

  3. Cmilford,
    If you read my comment, then you would know that I didn’t name any names – so I don’t know what you’re misstating what I wrote.
    It sounds as though your views aren’t very clear in your own mind, but if they are, by all means, please tell us your response to the article.
    Are you an investor in CCA?

  4. Bill,
    I believe we incarcerate too many non-violent offenders and we do so for the political benefit of legislators who want to look tough on crime and not for the benefit of society as a whole. What I don’t need, however, is the NY Times giving me their filtered view of the subject.
    As for your comment concerning “secret Nazi lovers” I simply had to laugh when I read that. You seem to believe any national leader who fails to address the issue of incarceration of non-violent offenders is a “secret Nazi lover.” Pure comedy gold. Additionally, your implied belief that the over incarceration of non-violent offenders has created an inevitable and irreversible decline into third world status is also laughable.
    China, a third world totalitarian state continues to advance even those the Chinese government incarcerates individuals for non-violent offenses such as free speech, political dissent and producing multiple offspring in defiance of the national one child policy dictate.
    Incarceration rates of non-violent offenders do not correlate well with GDP growth. It is a human rights issue, not an economic development issue.

  5. I don’t know what you’ve been smoking that causes your hallucinations, but I don’t believe you should
    be arrested for it.
    How many is “too many” in your worldview?
    Your notion that Obama and the others you falsely
    claimed I cited as being communists is evidence that to you, anyone to the left of Atilla The Hun
    is a threat to your extreme right wing views.
    Are you an investor in CCA? Sounds like just the of business that folks of your ilk would consider
    a prudent place to put your money: more prisons.

  6. Mr. K,
    Your blog interested me enough to do some research on China’s use of incarceration.
    Their system, which apparently has roughly about as many of its citizens incarcerated as we do is difficult to compare to ours, because China uses what we define as prisons, for more than just punishment for crimes.
    Thanks again, and I hope that you will blog some more about this and related topics.

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