Category: punitive consensus

Arizona holds record for some of the longest, harshest sentences in country

In a recent article, Bob Ortega of the Tucsan Citizen discusses Arizona’s tough sentencing laws and the state’s over-reliance on incarceration. Arizona is known to have some of the longest, harshest sentences. With over $1 billion spent on prisons this year alone and a plan to create 6500 new prison beds over the next 5 years, there is no sign that Arizona plans to change its ways in the near future. Read about Arizona’s prison spending, tough sentencing, high crime rates, and more below. MW

Arizona prison sentences among toughest for many crimes

by Bob Ortega

Whether it’s putting a shoplifter behind bars for three years or a child-porn user away for 200 years, Arizona imposes among the longest, harshest sentences of any state in the country for a wide variety of crimes.

Politically, that has been popular, but the practice carries a hefty price tag. This year, the state will spend more than $1 billion to keep prisoners behind bars, and that figure will balloon if Arizona carries out plans to build or contract for as many as 6,500 new prison beds over the next five years.

Many other states, to cut costs as budget deficits have soared, have adopted sentencing alternatives over the past decade that have slashed their prison populations.

They diverted non-violent offenders into drug- or alcohol-treatment programs, increased tightly supervised probation, and took other steps that experts say save money while helping cut the likelihood that convicts will reoffend.

Nationally, crime rates have been falling for decades. Even with more convicted criminals on the street, many of these states have seen their crime rates fall as far or farther than in Arizona, where the prison population has climbed 50 percent over the past decade. (more…)

Dominionism sparks a nasty food fight

Jim Wallis with his conservative friends

A war of words has erupted on the web featuring self-described “secular liberal” Mark Pinsky and progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, on one side, and the consortium of scholars and columnists who write for Talk to Action on the other. 

Pinsky believes that critics of Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation have created the false impression that most evangelicals are dangerous theocrats. 

Next, Jim Wallis poured gasoline on the fire by claiming in a HuffPost piece, that “some liberal writers seem hell-bent on portraying religious people as intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.”

Are Pinsky and Wallis making legitimate claims, or is something more sinister afoot?

Anyone familiar with the good folks at Talk to Action knows how carefully they distinguish Dominionism and mainstream evangelicalism.  Rachel Tabachnick, the most high-profile critic of the New Apostolic Reformation, grew up Southern Baptist and is well acquainted with the wild diversity within evangelicalism.  She is all about nuance.  She is saying that Dominionism has a long history (see my piece on the evolution and meaning of the movement), that it is a minority movement within evangelicalism that is growing rapidly and, most importantly, gaining the support of prominent politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.

Pinsky and Wallis refuse to engage this argument, preferring to publicly cudgel a silly straw man into submission.

How do we explain this unseemly assault on the Talk to Action people? (more…)

Most Americans think crime is on the rise

Although crime rates have been falling for decades, most Americans think crime is getting worse.  We have always felt this way regardless of whether crime rates are rising or falling.  The Gallup poll featured below offers a few explanations.  AGB

Americans Still Perceive Crime as on the Rise

Two-thirds say crime increasing in U.S., 49% in their local area

November 18, 2010
by Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, NJ — Two-thirds of Americans say there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago, reflecting Americans’ general tendency to perceive crime as increasing. Still, the percentage perceiving an increase in crime is below what Gallup measured in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but is higher than the levels from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

1989-2010 Trend: Is There More Crime in the U.S. Than There Was a Year Ago, or Less?

Americans are somewhat more positive about the trend in crime in their local area, but still are more likely to see it going up than going down.

1972-2010 Trend: Is There More Crime in Your Area Than There Was a Year Ago, or Less?

These trends, based on Gallup’s annual Crime survey, come at a time when both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported drops in property and violent crime from 2008 to 2009 in separate studies, as well as documenting longer-term declines in both types of crime. Though the latest Gallup estimates, from an Oct. 7-10, 2010, survey, would reflect a more up-to-date assessment of the crime situation than those reports do, Americans were also likely to perceive crime as increasing both locally and nationally in the 2009 Gallup Crime survey.

The apparent contradiction in assessments of the crime situation stems from Americans’ general tendency to view crime as increasing. That said, the percentage holding this view appears to be higher when crime actually is increasing, as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, than when it is not.

Americans’ perceptions of crime may also be influenced by their general assessments of how things are going in the country. Americans generally believe the crime situation to be better when their satisfaction with national conditions is high, as in the late 1990s, when the economy was strong, and in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, when patriotism and support for political leaders surged. Thus, the current estimates of increasing crime may to some degree be inflated due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. today.

Apart from whether the crime rate is increasing, 60% of Americans believe the crime problem in the U.S. is “extremely” or “very serious,” up from 55% in 2009 and tied for the highest Gallup has measured since 2000. A majority of Americans have typically rated the U.S. crime problem as extremely or very serious in the 11-year history of this question.

As is usually the case, Americans are much less concerned about the crime problem in their local area, as 13% say the crime problem is extremely or very serious where they live.

2000-2010 Trend: Overall, How Would You Describe the Problem of Crime in the United States/in the Area Where You Live?

Americans who have been victimized by crime in the past 12 months are about twice as likely as those who have not been victimized to describe the crime problem in their local area as very serious (18% to 10%). Crime victims are also substantially more likely to perceive crime as increasing in their local area (62% to 43%). However, being a victim of crime bears little relationship to the way one perceives the crime situation in the U.S.

Survey MethodsResults for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-10, 2010, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Officials won’t let prisoner read book on prisons and slavery

By Alan Bean

An Alabama inmate is suing for the right to read a Pulitzer prize-winning book, “Slavery By Another Name.”  The book chronicles the use of prisons and harsh treatment to maintain control over black citizens in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. 

The folks who run the Kirby Correctional Facility think the book constitutes a security risk.

When I read this story I was reminded of the Never Again rally Friends of Justice sponsored on the second anniversary of the infamous Tulia drug sting.  For reasons that have always eluded me, prisons within a 100-mile radius of Tulia (a small town in the Texas panhandle) were placed on full lockdown the day of the rally.  That means prisoners were confined to their cells and fed PB&J sandwiches while the incendiary sermons, comedy routines, musical presentations and speeches unfolded in front of 400 people in a Tulia park. 

The presence of Friends of Justice at the June 2010 trial of Curtis Flowers in Winona, MS prompted a similar kind of over-reaction.  An African-American intern who drove to Winona to assist defense counsel was pulled over by an officer who forced her to explain her reasons for being in town.

The authorities don’t always react this way.  The officers who handled the September 2007 march on Jena, Louisiana were uniformly cordial and professional, even though a crowd of at least 30,000 people was marching through a community of 3,000. (more…)

Why did violent crime drop by 13% last year?

By Alan Bean

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the rate of violent victimization declined a jaw-dropping 13 percent in 2010.  Nobody seems to know why.  During the prison boom, drops in the crime rate were often associated with mass incarceration–they can’t commit crimes if they’re all locked up.  But we have been sending fewer American citizens to prison in recent years and the drop in crime has only accelerated.  And all of this during the worst recession in 80 years.  What’s going on?

There is little association between violent crime and unemployment statistics.  More often than not, violence is a rage response.  Cost-benefit calculation is only involved when criminals kill to eliminate potential witnesses, but few murders or assaults fit this scenario.  Drug and alcohol abuse can be contributing factors, but people rarely get violent because they are high and the use of some drugs (marijuana, for example) actually inhibit violent behavior. 

The best explanation for shifting rates of violent crime comes from Randolph Roth’s excellent American Homicide.  After analyzing statistics on violent crime from the earliest days of European settlement, Roth shows that America is a far more violent nation than other Western democracies.  For instance, “Th next most homicidal democracy, Canada, has had only a quarter of the homicides per capita that the United States has had since Worth War II.”

Here are a few of Roth’s big-picture observations: (more…)

When the prison boom goes bust

By Alan Bean

Scott Henson’s Grits for Breakfast blog offered a couple of terrific posts over the weekend.  “Private prisons and faux privatization” was inspired by a Forbes piece in which E. D. Kain asserts that running prisons is a government responsibility even if the work is subcontracted to a private prison company.

Thus any ‘privatization’ that occurs is simply the transfer of the provision of a government service (in this case, incarceration) to a private contractor. The contractor still operates with the full force of the law. In other words, it’s still government, just government-for-hire or for-profit government.

If there is any saving to the tax payer it is only because private prisons pay their workers less than state-run prisons.  Since this translates into less capable workers nothing of value is gained and much is lost.

“Texas prison  boom going bust” argues that county commissioners in small Texas towns can no longer build lock-ups far exceeding local needs on the assumption that a steadily growing prison population will fill the excess beds.

Jail-bed supply significantly exceeds demand statewide. With the exception of immigration detention, the bubble has burst. As has, hopefully, the “jail as profit center” myth among Texas county commissioners.

Prison privatization and the proliferation of the The Texas Gulag are two of the primary symptoms of America’s failed attempt to make crime pay.  Public officials have believed for years that everybody wins when we lock up more people this year than we did last year. Small towns get jobs; private prison companies slash wages and rake in profits, politicians get campaign contributions from the private prison industry and jobs in that sector when they leave politics.  Who could ask for anything more? (more…)

UK Seeks Bill Bratton’s Policing Advice

By Melanie Wilmoth

Jamilah King gives her take on the UK’s plan to contract with former Los Angeles police chief, Bill Bratton.

Having served in the New York, Los Angeles, and Boston Police Departments, Bratton certainly has a significant amount of experience. He is well-known for his “zero-tolerance” policing and his belief that punishing smaller, nonviolent offenses such as loitering, vandalism, and drug possession will prevent more serious offenses from being committed in the future. However, this type of policing tends to significantly increase prison populations. As King points out, “in Bratton’s first year as police commissioner in New York, juvenile arrests jumped to over 98,000 from just over 20,000 the previous year.”

Rather than addressing the systemic factors that contribute to high crime rates such as unemployment, low-quality public education, and poverty, we rely on punishment to “solve” our social problems. It is this punitive consensus that contributes to prison overpopulation and stymies the development of alternatives to mass incarceration.

Here is what King has to say:

The U.S. Is Still Recovering from ‘Supercop’ Bill Bratton’s Policing

By Jamilah King

When British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to contract former LAPD chief Bill Bratton to help sort through the ashes of that country’s worst urban rebellion in recent memory, the connection seemed obvious. Los Angeles is the U.S. city perhaps most synonymous with urban rage, and many credit Bratton for the city’s drop in violent crime that began in 2002. Never mind, say critics, that the the city’s response to its rioting was deeply flawed, or that Bratton himself was nearly a decade removed from its most recent uprising, which happened in 1992. (more…)

Burl Cain and the Trans-Mississippi God

By Alan Bean

Liliana Segura’s article on Louisiana’s Angola prison provides a guided tour of the punitive consensus that, with states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas leading the way, now controls America.  Consider this:

“Lifers in Louisiana were once eligible for parole in as little as five years. In 1926 the state legislature installed the “10-6 rule”: prisoners sentenced to life were eligible for release after 10 years and six months. This held true until the 1970s, which saw a precipitous decline in parole recommendations and the rise of “tough on crime” reforms that would soon dominate nationwide.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 ruling in Furman v. Georgia, which briefly suspended the death penalty, Louisiana abolished parole for a range of violent crimes. “Within less than a decade Louisiana went from turning all lifers loose in ten-and-a-half years or less to keeping virtually all of them in prison for their natural lives,” writes historian Burk Foster. As former head of the Louisiana Department of Corrections C. Paul Phelps once warned, “the State of Louisiana is posturing itself to run probably the largest male old-folks home in the country.”

 Like most journalists who write about Angola, Segura is fascinated, perplexed, and a little creeped-out by warden Burl Cain, a man with a gift for baptizing the brutal.  On the one hand, Angola inmates were much less likely to die a violent death before Mr. Cain assumed the reins.  But America’s most famous warden presides over one of the least forgiving corrections regimes in the world.  His easy willingness to identify American meanness with the immutable will of God is disturbing.  (more…)