Senator Jim Webb is Soft On Crime!
That’s the soundbite you’ll be hearing again and again. Jim Webb has introduced a bill to create a commission that will study all aspects of prison reform. It’s about time.
Any politician who questions the Prison-Industrial Complex is immediately slandered with charges of “soft on crime!” and other less printable insults. But somebody has to do this.
As Glenn Greenwald says in this article: “He isn't just attempting to chip away at the safe edges of America's oppressive prison state. His critique of what we're doing is fundamental, not incremental.”
Our mindless paranoia over “crime!” in general, the war on drugs in particular, and the privatization of our prison system, have all combined to create this nightmare. A Brown University professor has described this country as “a nation of jailers whose prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.”
That’s kind of harsh, but it needed saying. But will it play in Peoria?
When Webb was giving a Senate floor speech introducing this bill, he said:
“We have 5% of the world's population; we have 25% of the world's known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world's greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”
Since 1980, the number of drug offenders in American prisons has increased from 41,000 to over half a million. That’s a 1,200% increase.
Race plays a role here too. African-Americans comprise 12% of the population. They have roughly the same rate of drug usage as the rest of the population (in spite of what you’ve probably heard). But they make up 37% of all people arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison.
This commission (if Webb’s bill becomes law) will also investigate the gang rape and other violence that’s become such a routine part of prison life.
Webb also said, “America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. We are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail.”
Webb is taking a huge political risk by introducing this bill. Needless to say, millions of dumbfucks (of all political viewpoints) will fall for the “soft on crime!” bullshit that gets flung at him. But even worse, the prison industry is one huge powerful organization that doesn’t want to be fucked with. Webb is up against a huge army of deep-pocketed donors, lobbyists and Swiftboaters.
He’s fighting an important battle. Let’s hope this issue gets some coverage from our celebrity/trivia-obsessed “media.”
cross-posted at Bring It On!
Labels: Senator Jim Webb prison reform