The United States has an enormous prison problem. A more-than-2.4-million-prisoner-sized problem, to be precise, locked up in the archipelago of federal penitentiaries, state corrections facilities, and local jailhouses that form the nation’s thriving prison-industrial complex. Since 1980, the number of incarcerated citizens in the US has more than quadrupled, an unprecedented rise that can attributed to four decades of tough-on-crime oneupmanship, and a draconian war on drugs.
Today, more than one out of every 100 Americans is behind bars, and the US has the largest prison population in the world, both in terms of the actual number of inmates and as a percentage of the total population. The numbers are staggering: The US incarceration rate is nearly 3.5 times higher than that of Mexico, a country that has spent the last decade in the throes of an actual drug war, and between five and ten times higher than those seen in Western Europe. There are more people locked up in the US than in China. In fact, the US is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners, despite accounting for just 5 percent of the overall global population.
But the data gets even more disturbing when broken down at the state level. A recent analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that while states like Louisiana have undoubtedly led America’s march toward mass incarceration, no state or region has been immune to the prison boom. And each state is a global aberration, with incarceration rates that compare to those found in isolated dictatorships and countries recovering from civil war.
As the chart shows, 36 states have higher incarceration rates than Cuba, the country with the world’s second highest prison rate. New York comes in just above Rwanda, which is still trying thousands of people in connection to the 1994 genocide. Even Vermont, birthplace of Phish, Ben & Jerry’s, and the country’s only socialist senator, imprisons a higher percentage of its population than countries like Israel, Mexico, or Saudi Arabia.
Looked at in terms of actual inmate numbers, this means that the number of people behind bars in most US states is on par with the prison populations of entire nations. And not Luxembourg or Burundi. Big, messy countries, like Venezuela and Egypt.
“The question here is are we using prison too much, and when you compare one US state to another US state, you start to think ‘Eh, maybe it’s all just the same,’” said PPI Executive Director Peter Wagner, who co-authored the analysis. “But the bigger picture here is that every single state is out of step with the rest of the world.”
“Other than the United States, most of the countries with high incarceration rates have had a very recent social trauma,” Wagner added. “New York has the same incarceration rate as Rwanda and there has not been a massive genocide in New York State. The irony is that New York actually used to have a much higher rate of incarceration. It’s actually one of the grand exceptions in the country, of a state that has been reducing its prison population.”
The numbers, Wagner explained, underscore the central role that states have played in America’s unprecedented prison buildup. While much of the recent prison debate has centered on federal sentencing laws and drug policy reform, the real mass incarceration action has taken place at the state level. According to PPI data, more than half of US inmates—57 percent—are in state prisons, and another 30 percent are incarcerated in local jails, generally for violating state laws. Though prison rates have varied widely across the US, all 50 states have implemented some set of policies—like mandatory minimums, “truth in sentencing” policies, or “three strikes” rules—aimed at putting more people in prison for longer periods of time.
Unsurprisingly, the economic and social impacts of this trend have been massive. According to a 464-page report published by the National Research Council earlier this year, state spending on corrections increased 400 percent between 1980 and 2009. The result, the NRC points out, is that prisons are now some of the primary providers of health care, counseling, and job training to the country’s most disadvantaged groups. Meanwhile, the social and cultural costs of mass incarceration are disproportionately borne by poor communities, minorities, and people with mental illnesses.
And the actual benefits of mass incarceration are minimal, at best. Sure, crime rates have gone down since 1980, but studies have found the connection between increased prison rates and lower crime is tenuous and small. In fact a report released by The Sentencing Project this week found that in states that have substantially reduced their prison population in recent years, like California, New York, and New Jersey, the crime rate has actually fallen faster than the national average.
“It’s really a situation of diminishing returns for public safety,” said executive director Marc Mauer. “And the amount of crime control that we produce becomes less over time as well.”
Recently, though, there are signs that America is doing a rethink on its experiment with mass imprisonment. Earlier this month, the US Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively extend lighter sentencing guidelines to about 46,000 prisoners currently serving time for federal drug crimes, a move that was endorsed by the Department of Justice. Efforts to implement criminal justice and federal sentencing reforms that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago have been gaining traction from both parties in Congress, forming a rare left-right coalition that is decidedly soft on crime.
At the state level, tight budgets have forced governors and lawmakers to ease drug laws and relax harsh incarceration policies, and to look for more cost-effective criminal justice solutions, including investing in better drug treatment and parole programs. Even in Louisiana, the world’s prison capital, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has passed modest measures, setting up an early release program for some nonviolent drug offenders, although he recently vetoed stronger sentencing reforms.
“We’re always going to have prisons and we’re always going to have crime, but many states are starting to rethink their drug policies, their sentencing laws,” said Mauer. “The impact is not dramatic yet, but I think there’s no question that the climate is beginning to shift. The question is how far can we go now that we’ve started to move in the other direction.”
Eric Thomas has been a huge positive influence on both BiasHacker and myself and now we have decided to offer his merchandise for purchase on our website. If you follow the link here you will be able to purchase all of Eric Thomas’s books, shirts, hoodies and other items. Be a part of the Success Movement and help push our society to the next level.
“Greatness is upon you, you better act like it” — Eric Thomas
I was looking over the Eric Thomas Blog when I came across this great article that I believe should be shared.
IT MIGHT BE TIME TO MOVE ON…
2 DAYS AGO • 163 VIEWS
That major thing you’re doing to better your future…yeah. You know the thing. School, marriage counseling, business start up research, financial planning…..hurry up and finish. There are other things you could be doing with that time.
I was talking to a friend of mine. Things seemed to be going much better for her than I had seen in the past. She was satisfied with her job and since she had finished her masters, she was relaxed and found that she had an abundance of extra time on her hands. I envied her a little because I have none of that really, but more than anything, I was happy for her. Since I didn’t want her to waste any of those golden hours that she had newly freed up, I started making suggestions of things she could do with her time. I suggested picking up a hobby, learning something new, or even starting an organization. I figured, depending on what she chose, she’d make a huge difference in her life experience and most likely someone else’s too. Heck, she might even make a boatload of money that she otherwise wouldn’t see from her job.
It occurred to me, finally, that she was an avid reader and a lover of books in general. I knew she had to have tried her hand at it and realized she had to have something waiting for her attention. In all this conversation, I realized that there is a bunch of stuff I want to do outside of my career. I still want to learn how to play the bass guitar. I have a book idea in me every third year. I have one or two hobbies I wanted to get started and I definitely had some investments I wanted to make. So what’s the hold up? School. Gradschool. It has been the best thing in the world for showing me who I am and for that, I’m grateful. But since I know now, I’m ready to go. Now it’s just getting in the way of the rest of my life. Leaving the lab at or after 10 pm is not conducive to a diverse and productive life.
So what does this mean for you? Get the heavy stuff out of the way already! Your life is still waiting to be lived! If you have only one passion in your life, you’re pretty lucky. It makes it easier to pursue it. No looking to the left or the right. Just full speed ahead. I often think you guys are lucky because your goals are straightforward and for as long as you keep that goal in your mind; your greatness is plotted out. But don’t forget to balance your life a bit. Make sure your priorities are in order. You don’t want to become so obsessive about your career that your family suffers, or you suffer.
For others, like me, who might have too many talents, it tends to make us a bit more flighty. When we hit a rough patch in a project, we can leave it and do something else. The problem, though, is that when we do that, nothing gets done. We end up with a lot of unfinished projects or dreams. We need to buckle down and be finishers. And it’s best to begin practicing with the things of greatest priority, like your career. Don’t stop. Keep pushing, especially when stuff gets difficult. But if you are up to something preparatory that is taking up much of your time, finish it. You know as well as I do that there are a bunch of other things you want to get your hands on and your desire to step away from the trouble this process is causing you is only going to prolong your waiting.
Think about it this way. The world might not be changed by our careers. That might just change our individual circumstances for the better. It might be your art, your use of the new language you learned, or your non-profit that changes the world for the better. I think it’s about time we move on to some new things. See you at the top.
What do you think? What type of person are you? If you’re the flighty type, how have you managed to stay focused for the long haul?
The conception of cultural capital by the theorist Pierre Bourdieu attempts to describe the disparity between the cultural spheres of the working class and the upper classes. Someone who is from the working class is considered to have low cultural capital. However, by the perception of the working class high culture is silly and wasteful. The working class may appreciate the exact mockery Evelyn Waugh gives to the prissy and ostentatious displays of status symbols through elaborate acts of the upper class. Though Waugh wrote fiction, his critique of the upper class is based on his upper class experiences. It sheds light on the realities of a class society as well as the influence of cultural capital on social class.
Cultural capital serves to perpetuate the differences between classes by submitting the human subject to separate social spheres or “symbolic universes”. This seems quite technical, but in a nutshell it cracks open the division on a peanut quite cleanly. For example a working class child may be raised by parents to chastise and mock high art. Commentary in an art gallery may be confined to, “I could have painted, sculpted, drew, that.” This may happen without considering the intellectual thought process which led to the artistic piece or the potential meaning of the art itself. This process then applies itself to a broad range of social behaviors from etiquette, to social space, to proper mannerisms etc.
Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus exemplifies these processes.The habitus refers to the lifestyle, the values, the dispositions and the expectations of particular social groups. A particular habitus is developed through experience. Individuals learn in the best way by what they see in life and how to expect life. Because different social groups have different chances and experiences in life, the habitus of each group will be different.
The result of an individual from a lower middle class or working class status who tries to gain an upper middle class status is immediate isolation. The patterns of behavior for an upper class individual can differ quite substantially from the working class. This creates a steep learning curve for any person who wants to move between classes or is forced by the economic turns to move to a different class statues. If one person is comfortable eating barbecue from an open fire and the other wants lobster from five star restaurant, this becomes a point of contention. Add this social disparity to proper hand gestures, colloquialisms, and proper etiquette and much conflict will inevitably arise. Years of powerful socialization sets these behaviors and people from different backgrounds immediately pick up on any behaviors that do not fit into their idea of proper actions. This becomes the source for making fun, harassment, and variations of humiliation.
Cultural capital is a powerful engine in shaping the norms between classes. Even if one has the resources and capability to move between classes, the social resistance to their type works to keep their dreams down. If someone from the upper echelons of a society falls down, the working class may prey upon their once had success as a source of comic relief. Day to day behaviors driven by cultural capital has a powerful impact on class.