Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Failure: U.S. 5% World Population, 25% of Prisoners

We have failed as a society when so many of our citizens are locked-up in prisons. Something is very wrong. We are throwaway society that puts commercial gain above social and spiritual advancement:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

[...]The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s much higher.”

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Mr. Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Transcript: Clinton Interview with Keith Olbermann 4-21-08

Hillary Clinton had the nerve to appear on Countdown and get interviewed by Keith Olbermann, who has eviscerated her over the last few weeks. Here's the complete transcript:

OLBERMANN: Let’s start with something that got remarkably short shrift in last week’s debate.

Is the election in the fall, in your estimation, going to be decided on the price of a gallon of gas and is it not true that a president can’t really do anything about the price of a gallon of gas?

CLINTON: Well, I think it’s going to be very much influenced by the economy. I don’t know what else might happen between now and then but it appears to me that the economy is not going to recover and in fact the price of gas is going to be a big issue. I think oil hit $117 a barrel today which is just unbelievable. When George Bush became president it was $20 a barrel.

I do think there are things that we can do in the short run. I would, if I were president, launch an investigation to make sure that there’s not market manipulation going on. I am still haunted by what we learned during the Enron scandal about those electricity traders manipulating the market and causing the people in California, Oregon and Washington to pay such high prices that were not at all related to supply and demand.

Hillary threatens Iran:
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the oil suppliers and that obviously leads us into something else that really flew by during the debate that seemed awfully important. In that debate you were asked about a hypothetical Iranian attack on Israel and your hypothetical response as commander in chief and you said, let me read the quote exactly, “I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than Israel. Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would include massive retaliation from the United States but I would do the same with other countries in the region.”

Can you clarify since there was no follow-up to that which hypothetical Middle East conflicts would incur massive retaliation by this country and what constitutes massive retaliation?

CLINTON: Well, what we were talking about was the potential for a nuclear attack by Iran. If Iran does achieve what appears to be its continuing goal of obtaining nuclear weapons — and I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times. We used it very well during the Cold War when we had a bipolar world — and what I think the president should do and what our policy should be is to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel.

What about the Swiftboat tactics you are employing against Obama, Hillary:
OLBERMANN: Not to equate nuclear conflict or its use as a deterrent to the Pennsylvania primary but that is the other headline, I suppose, of the day. Let me ask you about the campaign and something you said in Pittsburgh today and again, let me read the quote about being president: “It’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything. Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That is almost word for word the narration of this new ad that your campaign put out today, and that ad flashes a very brief image of Osama bin Laden. For nearly six years now since Sen. Max Cleland was cut down by a commercial that featured a picture of bin Laden, that tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats. Is it not just, in your opinion, as much of a scare tactic for a Democrat to use it against another Democrat, as it is for a Republican to use it in a race against the Democrat?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, that ad is about leadership, and I obviously believe I do have the leadership experience and qualities to become the president and the commander in chief. And as you said in the beginning, lots of times important issues get short shrift in the back-and-forth in a campaign.

Pentagon Increasing Recruitment of Ex-Cons as Soldiers

In order to fight his wars George Bush's needs more bodies. You have to get from somewhere since so many have been slaughtered in Iraq. Doesn't matter to King George who they are and whether those same felons will turn around and shoot up their neighborhoods as gang members:

The Army and Marines last year doubled the number of convicted felons they enlisted, raising new concerns about the strain on the military from fighting two wars.

About 861 enlistees convicted of felony assault, burglary, possession of hard drugs and even rape and other sex crimes went into uniform for the first time last year, a House panel reported Monday.

The Army and Marines recruited 115,000 men and women in 2007, two years after reports first surfaced about enlistment standards being watered down to meet quotas.

"Concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

In 2006, the regular Army granted 249 waivers to felons so they could join up. But the number jumped to 511 last year, Waxman said, citing statistics provided by the Pentagon's top personnel official, David Chu.

The Marines went from 208 waivers to 350 during the same period, Waxman said.

Those numbers are even higher if active-duty and Army Reserve waivers for those charged with felonies who were never convicted are factored in.

Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said the Army uses a 16-step review process to "look at the whole person" seeking to enlist - and the waivers are signed by generals.

As to why waivers have increased, Smith said, "There are more and more young people getting caught up in the criminal justice system than in the past."

"I won't say the military is desperate" to meet Pentagon recruiting goals, said defense analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, "but they're eager to explore any available avenue."

Some in the Army say the consequence of recruiting more felons is lack of trust and cohesion in the ranks. Other officers argue that soldiers with criminal records often succeed in combat because they're risktakers.

And if Bush starts a war with Iran he will need those extra soldiers:
DEFENCE Secretary Robert Gates said he believes Iran is 'hell-bent' on acquiring nuclear weapons, but he warned in strong terms of the consequences of going to war over that.

'Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need and, in fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels,' he said in a speech he was delivering on Monday evening at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

[...] He said he favours keeping the military option against Iran on the table, 'given the destabilising policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat, either directly or through proliferation.'

Mr Gates also said that if the war in Iraq is not finished on favorable terms, the consequences could be dire.

'It is a hard sell to say we must sustain the fight in Iraq right now, and continue to absorb the high financial and human costs of this struggle, in order to avoid an even uglier fight or even greater danger to our country in the future,' he said.

He added, however, that the US experience with Afghanistan - helping the Afghans oust Russian invaders in the 1980s only to abandon the country and see it become a haven for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network - makes it clear to him that a similar approach in Iraq would have similar results.

Mr Gates said the US military was not organised or equipped for the kind of wars it finds itself in today.

'The current campaign has gone on longer, and has been more difficult, than anyone expected or prepared for at the start,' he said. 'And so we've had to scramble to position ourselves for success over the long haul, which I believe we are doing.'