This blog first appeared on May 5, 2014 in DelawareLiberal by ProgressivePopulist.
Much is being written recently about the appalling status of
incarceration rates in the U.S.A. Not much is being done. All sorts of
causal factors are cited: the War on Drugs, poverty, moral breakdown,
the economy, mental illness, demise of the social contract.....the list
Solutions don't seem to be endless. International
comparisons are shocking. We're number one in rate of incarceration
Something in excess of 2 million of our citizens
languish in federal and state prisons and local jails. One telling
piece of data suggests that 2 of 3 prisoners will be jailed again in
three years post-release. State prison numbers tell us about 53% of
convictions are for violent acts, 18.3 % property issues, 16.8% drug
convictions and 10.6% public order issues such as illegal weapons.
Obviously many crimes involve several of these categories together.
Delaware figures prominently in position # 6 for violent crime and # 13
for property charges. Most shocking to me was 86.8 % of Delaware drug
convictions involve African Americans. The numbers indicate locally and
nationally that drug use rates are comparable between African Americans
and Anglo Americans. What's up here? I'll leave the assessment up
to you, dear readers.
Overall, though accounting for 13% of the
U.S. population, African Americans comprise about 39% of the prison
population; the ratio is similar in Delaware, so no slack is cut here
These numbers are causing a much needed national
conversation and criminal justice reform activism is heating up, but way
too slowly by my observation. Reforms are all over the lot; some focus
on our absurd commercial bail bond system; other on pre-trial
detention, the small number of convictions via jury and bench trials vs.
plea bargains, better representation for the poor population with
public defenders, sentencing guidelines. The most explosive growth in
the past 30 years ties to drug convictions. So drug policy is being
We as a nation seem not to have resolved our philosophy
regarding incarceration; ie: rehabilitation vs. punishment. That debate
rages on. Endlessly.
I find it ironic that much of the reform
movement in the criminal justice system lately to reduce the prison
population comes from the right. They are focused on the cost issues.
The right is also taking the initiative regarding the stunning
statistic that something in the area of 25% of the prison population
suffer severe mental illness. Further, some of that population is
getting in-prison treatment and the imprisoned mentally ill outnumber
the hospitalized mentally ill.
I would have expected that
Democrats have seen the error of their ways in defensively reacting to
charges of being "soft on crime" back in the 70's and 80's and tolerant
of drug use by putting the hammer down on offenders. But I do not see
and hear from my fellow Democrats a major embrace of criminal justice
reform. We appear to me to be the advocates of the status quo in the
criminal justice world, though much of our coalition is severely
impacted by injustice in our criminal justice system.