Advocates: Tell Us Who Belongs in Prison

Old prison jail cells

Subtitles:

Is the Door is Closing on the Criminal Justice Reform Movement?

What Do Americans Want Regarding Prison Policy?

What do Americans Want from Cops?

Author

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.

Article:

One of the objectives of Crime of America.Net is to expose the inconsistencies that drive reporters, policy makers and citizens nuts.

We have three articles in a recent issue of “The Crime Report,” (http://thecrimereport.org/) that address:

  1. The one trillion dollar cost of incarceration in the US
  2. Ex-Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner who many insist that his six-month jail sentence is too lenient for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman
  3. An article on New York where the city has begun to move away from making arrests for minor offenses.

What do the three articles have in common? They show the wild inconsistencies in the debate over the use of criminal justice policy, sanctions, and incarceration.

We believe that today’s justice system needs reform (cited below) but we find a strong degree of disingenuousness from those advocating for change, which is why we believe that reform has stalled.

Cut the Prison Population

According to endless public commentaries, Brock Turner deserves a longer sentence than six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. We agree.

But we have a national advocacy organization, Cut50, proclaiming that they are “popularizing the idea that we can smartly and safely reduce the number of people in our prisons and jails by 50%.”

How can we rationally have a debate when large portions of the country are at polar opposites? Brock Turner deserves more incarceration yet we need to cut the American prison population by 50 percent?

Advocates for less incarceration (there are many beyond Cut50) will browbeat the rest of us with articles stating that, The economic toll of incarceration in the U.S. exceeds $1 trillion, and more than half of that falls on the families and communities of the people incarcerated, says a recent study by Washington University researchers.”

Advocates remind us that the US leads the world as to incarceration and our overreliance on prisons is a national disgrace.

Others will cite the detrimental impact on the families of those incarcerated or cite racial inequities.

Then we have Brock Turner and his six-month jail (not prison) sentence and the articles of others (mostly college students who are first-time offenders) who also received short sentences for sexual assault.

So what is it? A system that discriminates against women victims of sexual assault or a society that over-incarcerates?

Our Challenge to Advocates

The problem is that we can’t have both; someone has to decide who gets prison and who gets other forms of punishment.

Our challenge: Let Cut50 and all advocates of lessening the reliance of incarceration tell us who gets incarcerated.

Does Brock Turner get prison? Obviously not if you want to cut the incarcerated population by 50 percent.

Who else doesn’t get prison? Does Bernard Madoff get prison for his outrageous ponzie schemes?

Isn’t it a bit gutless advocating for a dramatic reduction in the prison population without telling us who doesn’t get prison?

And please don’t provide the obvious categories. According to the US Department of Justice, most convicted of felonies don’t go to prison (most are repeat offenders) so pot smokers and other minor offenders don’t apply.

Most people in prison are violent offenders. According to “Prisoners in 2014,” violent offenders made up 54% of the state male prison population at yearend 2013, the most recent year for which data were available. That’s based on conviction data, not criminal history. If you include both, the percentage of those incarcerated with violent backgrounds is much higher.

If you are going to substantially decrease the prison population, you are going to have to dramatically cut violent offenders.

Advocates: Please tell us who you plan on cutting by category.

Please be honest and tell us that Brock Turner and his peers don’t deserve prison.

Anything less by Cut50 and other anti-incarceration advocates is simply less than honest. The dishonesty is destroying the chances for reform.

Cutting Back on Arrests

From the Washington Post, “The New York Police Department has denied allegations of racial profiling and defended its “broken windows” practices, arguing that they make the city much safer. The city also has begun to move away from making arrests for minor offenses. Officers in Manhattan no longer will arrest people for minor crimes like riding between subway cars or drinking in public. Instead, they will get a criminal summons”.

Yet violent crime is skyrocketing in many (not all) cities in the US and citizens are complaining that cops are not being aggressive enough. According to one newspaper report, a citizen in Chicago (where violence is exploding) states that, “police are leaving us out to dry” due to their lack of aggression in arrests for minor violations.

We at Crime in America.Net have consistently called for written contracts between police and communities’ telling cops what kind of policing they want.

But it’s the same as with those arguing for dramatically less incarceration. Please tell us, what are the crimes you want cops to ignore?

In New Jersey there is a proposal for making it illegal to eat while driving your car. Violators could face a $200 to $600 for the first offense and a $400 to $600 fine for a second offense. A third offense could get your license suspended.

Is this part of a rational conversation as to what we want cops to do? Do we really want cops pulling over people for eating a Big Mac? Are we opening another Pandora’s box leading to more negative encounters with the police?

There comes a point where Americans simply have to tell law enforcement what it wants. Like the challenge to those arguing for less incarceration, we want to know the exact types of laws we don’t want enforced.

We’ll go first, no arrests for marijuana possession or minor distribution (that are not linked to other crimes).

Advocates, your turn.

Do Prison Inmates Deserve Incarceration?

We recently wrote, “Do Prison Inmates Deserve Incarceration?” that got a lot of shares in social media forums and some very puzzling questions (one reader-you’re kidding-right?).

Partial Article

There are endless groups advocating for lessening or ending America’s reliance on prisons. “They are costly and inefficient,” many will say. “Americans have the shame of having the highest rate of incarceration in the world.”

Within the last five years, the anti-prison coalition includes a strong segment of conservatives. That alliance of conservatives and liberals was thought to be the turning point in finally getting the American public to accept other strategies beyond incarceration.

Reasonable Conclusions

So we can come to two reasonable conclusions based on the above, the use of incarceration is greatly decreasing and federal and state governments are creating programs and structures to take on more people who would have gone to prison in the past.

The answer is “no” to both.

Prisons

The use of incarceration has either declined slightly or increased (depending on the numbers you choose) and federal and state governments are doing little to prepare alternatives.

Per the latest US Department of Justice data (Bureau of Justice Statistics) on “correctional populations” (prison, jail and community corrections), the incarcerated population (up 1,900) slightly increased during 2014.

There was a small increase in the jail population (1.8%) followed by a small decrease in the prison population (1.0%). The correctional population (prison, jail and probation-parole) declined by an annual average of 1.0% since 2007 (Correctional Populations in the United States).

The number of “prison inmates” from 2004 to 2014 increased by 0.6 percent and the rate decreased by 0.2 percent (Prisoners in 2014).

The bottom line for the US correctional population (2004-2014) is stagnancy in the prison population with reductions of 1 percent a year in the overall correctional population (prison, jail and parole-probation) mostly driven by a decrease in the probation population (probably due to less crime).

The New York Times is reporting that, in some states, the prison population is increasing.

 How Could This Be?

How could this be? How could the most supportive administration in our lifetime in favor of lessening our dependence on the use of prisons, backed up by dozens of national organizations and associations, the great majority of criminologists and many in corrections plus an alliance of conservatives and liberals have done so poorly?

In our opinion, it’s the belief within American society that the great majority of people in prison deserve to be there based on the severity of the crime(s) or repeat violations.

Deserve Prison?

In our minds, there cannot be any other explanation. Most Americans believe that inmates are in prison because they have done something extremely violent or they have committed so many crimes that prison is the only reasonable alternative.

Note that there is Department of Justice data indicating that most convicted of felonies do not go to prison and about half (51%) of all defendants had five or more prior arrest charges, and more than a third (36%) had 10 or more (Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties).

We Do Want Change

We are supportive of efforts on the front end as to people being diverted from prosecution. We understand that too many people come into contact with the criminal justice system (i.e., marijuana use should be legal or decriminalized).

Prison sentences don’t have to be as long as they are. Three strike provisions should only apply to a higher class of violent crimes. The mentally ill should be treated before they get to the justice system.

We like the observation that people should go to prison based on their propensity towards “violence,” not because we are mad at them. But that would leave a lot of people doing a lot of harm out of prison.

Even on the back end of the system, there are legitimate questions. Some believe that fifty percent of women inmates could be safely released if we had programs in place. Any inmate over 50 serving at least half of his sentence should be considered for release based on declining rates of recidivism. Parole should be reinstated.

Final Analysis

We believe that violent crime is increasing throughout the country and the door is closing on the criminal justice reform movement. But we also believe that the reason why reform has stalled is because we just can’t bring ourselves to have an honest conversation with the American people.

It’s time to put our cards on the table and provide a strategy that most American’s will buy.

But if they can’t stomach Bernard Madoff and Brock Turner not going to prison for years, then telling American’s that the cost of incarceration in the US is one trillion dollars is meaningless.

Sources

The Crime Report, (http://thecrimereport.org/)

Do Prison Inmates Deserve Incarceration?, https://www.crimeinamerica.net/2016/08/10/do-prison-inmates-deserve-incarceration/

Incarceration Cost One trillion Dollars, http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/incarceration-in-the-u-s-costs-more-than-trillion-a/article_070eecea-42c1-5258-a508-062079e9b333.html

Associated Press article on Brock Turner, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4a78fb25e5384e37b3afbc6c31ceda71/brock-turner-sex-assault-focuses-attention-sex-registries

Washington Post article on arrests in New York City at https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/09/08/i-got-arrested-for-putting-my-feet-up-on-the-subway-i-was-lucky-i-was-white/?utm_term=.5c42217595b1

Cut 50, http://www.cut50.org/

The New York Times is reporting that, in some states, the prison population is increasing, http://www.wsj.com/articles/inmate-populations-rise-again-in-some-states-1473725090

Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com. Media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.


My book: “Amazon Hot New Release”- “A Must Have Book,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization available at Amazon

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