Who Hijacked Our Country

Monday, April 06, 2009

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!



Anonymous S.W. anderson said...

"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."

I see something important those results have in common with the Vietnam War: America has a bad habit of creating costly, dangerous, counterproductive Frankenstein monsters its leader can't or won't summon the good sense and political courage to put a stop to.

Webb should be saluted and supported for acting on good sense and exhibiting the political courage to tackle this no-win drug war, along with the prison-industry establishment that profits from it.

I just wish Webb's timing was different. With a massive economic crisis, two wars and a federal government in desperate need of reform, I can see his worthy effort getting sidetracked.

April 6, 2009 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

Fine, when heavily-armed thugs break into YOUR house and force YOU to buy and then snort cocaine, I hope you'll rethink your stance on Senator Webb who's obviously a candy-ass, military-hating coward.

April 7, 2009 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Demeur said...

I think the problem is multifold. As our population grew there was a shift in morality and an inability to keep up with the changing times. With latch key kids and a shift in education, values were given a back seat in schools and at home. What was once a small precentage of the population those incarcerated now dwarf the rest of the world. Fifty years ago it was unheard of to so much as talk back to a teacher or adult without consequences. Now it's an everyday occurrence. Neglect and abuse are what fill the prisons and it won't get better soon as the next generation passes on those bad traits.

I don't think decriminalizing drugs wouldn't help much either. That was tried in by the Swiss with little success. I wish Jim the best but I won't be holding my breath.

So what's next oursourcing the prison population to Afghanastan or China?

April 7, 2009 at 7:18 AM  
Blogger Ahma Daeus said...

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogsppot.com or email: williamthomas@exconciliation.com
To sign the petition please visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html


William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115

April 7, 2009 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Since 1980... Hmmm. Let's think about that date.

Wasn't that about the time Reagan got into office, January of 1981? The GOP had the White House for 12 years, and after 8 years of Clinton (a centrist) fighting a Republican Congress for six of his eight years, there were 8 more years of the GOP in the White House (an administration even more hardcore than Reagan's)... so that's 20 of the last 28 years since 1980 that modern "conservatives" have been in the White House.

I haven't seen a graph of the rise in the prison population since 1980 but I would bet it looks similar to an exponential curve.


Ours has truly become a punitive society. Gee, I wonder where that has come from? I would blame the right-wing leaders and right-wing talkers for about half of the problem.

It isn't solely the fault of the right-wing leaders and talkers, because as Demeur said, there are lots of other things in play i.e. changes in our society prior to the Reagan years.

Then again, if one looks at all the punitive measures instituted largely by the right-wingers over the last 28 years, can all those measures and our exploding prison population be viewed as a sort of backlash against what happened socially in America in the 1960s?

They still want to get rid of the New Deal, which happened over 70 years ago. They still want to get rid of the 60s too, and that was happening about 40 years ago...

Trying to get rid of the New Deal (and LBJ's Great Society, for that matter) at this point punishes millions of Americans who depend on things such as Social Security, Medicare, etc. When it comes to trying to get rid of the social revolution of the 60s, what things do they think we need to be punished for besides drug use? Do they want to put people in jail for homosexuality? Having children out of wedlock? Having sex before marriage? Swearing?

What a bunch of freaks.

I'm glad Webb has the cojones to try and put a stop to the nonsense. I hope he realizes it will have to be a gradual thing. Numbers don't lie, and if there is any responsibility left in the mainstream media, it will give those numbers some good press. Like Bush II said, if you repeat the same things often enough, you propel the propaganda or whatever.

Again as Demeur says, there are a lot of basic social values and mores not being taught as much or as well in the schools and at home as there used to be. I think it will probably take another 30 to 50 years to get us back to where we were 30 years ago re. prisons.

But Webb needs to be supported. Our country needs to become less punitive, less violent. If social conservatives have their way, things are only going to escalate.

April 7, 2009 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

The disparity in the incarceration rate with in this country is a crime unto itself. Too many Americans are stupid morons who really believe the solution to a problem is to declare "war" on it or lock it up and throw away the key. I just hope that those who would accuse Webb of being "soft on crime aren't the same people who voted to bail out the banksters rather than investigating and incarcerating them for the massive fraud perpetrated against the American taxpayer.

April 7, 2009 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

I agree with S.W. anderson. Prison reform has been grossly needed since the Vietnam war. I fear it will be put on the back burner as people have no idea what the prison system is really like.

April 7, 2009 at 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

It's not just the prison system, it's an entire culture of law and law enforcement that has simply gone beyond it's mandate and ceased to be answerable to the citizenry.

I'm a perfectly law abiding citizen but I get nervous to be around police. It is virtually impossible for a regular preson to go through an entire day without breaking some law, and this is not just because so many laws have been created with the express purpose of circumventing basic civil protections.

I'm going to stop before I get worked up.

April 7, 2009 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Good analogy, the Vietnam war and our burgeoning prison population. They're both Frankensteins that we created.

I think our prison system will be reformed ultimately, but I don't know how soon or whether Webb's bill will make any difference or not. With the world getting constantly smaller and more connected and intertwined, it'll get harder and harder for human rights abuses to go unnoticed and unchanged. That's my theory anyway.

Randal: Heavily armed thugs aren't the worst problem facing our nation. If these candy-ass reforms get passed, gangs of roving homosexuals will be invading people's homes, forcing everyone to watch while they do sinful disgusting things to each other, right in front of the children.

Demeur: Hmmm, outsourcing our prison population to China or Afghanistan -- a capital idea :)

I do think decriminalizing drugs will make a difference in the prison population. I didn't know about Switzerland trying it, but I read that Portugal (of all places) decriminalized most drugs several years ago, and it was a huge success: reduced drug use and lower crime rates.

Ahma Daeus: Thanks for the link. I signed the petition.

Snave: No doubt there's a connection between Reagan-Bush and their "limited government" and the skyrocketing prison population.

I just can't get a handle on that conservative mindset, where a huge corporation should be able to do whatever it wants, no matter how many millions of people are affected; but people should be jailed for personal behavior that has no affect on anybody else.

But to be fair, prison reform and the war on drugs are issues that cut across party lines. A lot of conservatives -- the real ones, who actually believe in that "smaller government" they're always preaching about -- are against the war on drugs.

Lew: I agree completely, that "the disparity in the incarceration rate with in this country is a crime unto itself." 30 years for possession of marijuana; a slap on the wrist for stealing billions from taxpayers.

Enemy: That's true, prison reform doesn't resonate with most Americans because they have no first hand connection with it. It doesn't help that most ex-convicts aren't able to vote. They'd be a huge voting bloc if they didn't lose their voting rights permanently. That's another thing that needs to change.

Thomas: There really is that mindset among too many law enforcement officers. I live near the Canadian border, and the Border Patrol has been increasing their roadblocks and highway checkpoints. They're supposedly just looking for terrorists and illegal immigrants, but everybody -- medical marijuana patients, people with outstanding warrants for unpaid traffic tickets -- gets caught up in the sweep. And the public quotes from some of the Border Patrol officers is really infuriating. You can tell they're really getting off on this power they've got.

April 7, 2009 at 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

I still can't believe this comes from my home state, Virginia. Damn, we really did secede from the confederacy, didn't we?

Webb is not a bad guy, IMHO. I doubt he'll get far with this, but at least someone is opening up some dialogue on this hideous problem.

April 7, 2009 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Bee: Yes, at least this subject will be debated out in the open, for once. It'll be interesting to hear some of the lame reasons legislators will give for why the prison system is just fine and we shouldn't tamper with it.

April 7, 2009 at 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Carlos said...

Don't get me started on the "War on Drugs." What a waste of money, lives and resources.

April 8, 2009 at 2:50 AM  
Blogger DB said...

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.”

Interesting. Seeing as we are a "Christian nation", there is obviously something wrong with the approach to criminal justice. Oh, and yes, the system is racist. The numbers are too shockingly high to argue otherwise.

April 8, 2009 at 3:29 AM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

Actually SW, This is the PERFECT time to address this. Governments everywhere are desperate for ways to spend less money, and Webb is stepping up.

April 8, 2009 at 7:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: Yup, the war on drugs plus the Prison Industrial Complex = an incredible waste of lives and resources.

DB: That was an excellent quote by Webb. I'll be curious to see how other senators respond to that.

BTW, congrats on your latest post. You sure did smoke out the rightwads with that one. 72 comments the last time I checked. That's excellent; liveliest debate I've seen in a long time.

JR: Unfortunately they only want to spend less money on "socialist" stuff like job creation and the infrastructure. When it comes to wars, prisons and spying apparatus, money is no object.

April 8, 2009 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Like Carlos says, "Don't get me started on the 'War on Drugs'".

I think this is where at least half of the problem is with the high incarceration rates.

April 8, 2009 at 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of this problem is very old, the incarceration rate of the poor and the non white. The Drug stuff came later.

In the 60's states like Texas had 100 year sentences for Marijuana. Then when the suburban kids started getting busted the penalties went down. Then Nancy Reagan and "just say no" came along and states were told to get tougher or lose money and Texas went back to 100 year sentences.

Jessie Jackson crusaded 20 years ago about why penalties for crack are far more then cocaine when you can't make one without the other, he was shot down on both sides. They are finally revisiting that now.

Liberal forecasters predicted the new laws would bankrupt the country and Buckley agreed over 10 years ago.

In California a federal court found the state's prison medical care draconian and now the state is under order to spend billions to upgrade it.

A big part of prison reform is: Liberal or Conservative, most Americans inherently believe that if you are in jail - you DESERVE to be there (unless DNA proves otherwise) and we are safer because you are.

I mean what are we going to do with all of these junkies on the street?

I can really see them trying to save money other ways that maintain the incarceration rate (and get them get reelected) until the Courts throw it out and "takes" the blame.


April 8, 2009 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Drug laws in particular, but victimless crime laws in general, are the culprit. America's Puritan Ethic dictates that personal behavior that's "offensive" to somebody (without doing any actual harm) needs to be corrected by doing hard time.

Erik: From what I understand, the absurd paranoia about marijuana is based on race. Pot was always associated with Hispanic immigrants and of course jazz musicians. When white people started smoking it, it symbolized a swarthy ethnic person moving into a "decent" white neighborhood.

Paranoia in general, and that belief that "people are in jail because they did something to get in there" are part of the problem too. Take California's Three Strikes law. I think people voted for it thinking it applied only to violent criminals. Instead, there were countless people getting life in prison for stealing a candy bar, after 2 previous convictions for burglary and forgery.

April 8, 2009 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Demeur said...

I'd say and I'm sure Snave would agree with me that the programs to keep kids off the streets have been eliminated. Gym classes and sports have been eliminated. With nothing better to do kids hang at the mall or think of other dumb stunts to post on you tube. If we give them no options or guidence they'll resort to their own.

If you compare the costs it's much cheaper to invest in a child than a prisoner serving a long term.

April 9, 2009 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Demeur: Penny wise and pound foolish would sum up our approach to crime. We skimp on all the things that would help prevent crime, and then pay a hundred times as much to incarcerate millions of people.

April 10, 2009 at 1:43 AM  

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