I’d received my email from the Marijuana Policy Project reminding me the US has past a milestone of some kind, and that tied in very well with a book I’d been reading too:
Our nation is currently incarcerating a record one in 99 adults, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. You can read The New York Times’ article on the U.S. government’s war on the American people here.
This horrifying statistic was calculated by adding the number of people in federal and state prisons (almost 1,600,000) to the number of people in local jails (723,000). With American adults numbering about 230,000,000, the report concluded that one in 99 adults is currently behind bars.
This is madness. As previous studies have found, our nation imposes harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses than for many violent crimes, creating a steady, unconscionable increase in the prison population. Visit www.mpp.org/victims to read stories of nonviolent marijuana prisoners. The Pew report points to the urgent need to tax and regulate marijuana, as fully 3% of our nation’s 2,323,000 prisoners are incarcerated because of marijuana offenses. Indeed, Pew’s recommendations included diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison.
The report also highlights how the U.S. criminal justice system inordinately penalizes people who are not white. Appallingly, one in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, as are one in 15 black adults, not to mention one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34. And these numbers don’t include people on parole or probation, which means even more than one in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is caught up in the criminal justice system.
Who are our nation’s drug laws helping by locking up so many young black men — or by forcing so many adults into jails and prisons? True drug addicts? Nonviolent drug offenders? Their families?
If you’re as outraged by these statistics as I am, please turn your anger into action by helping MPP restore some sense to our nation’s laws by ending marijuana prohibition: Become a monthly pledger today.
I am also reminded of certain passages in Mike Davis’s excellent book Ecology of Fear, in particular Chapter 7, Beyond Blade Runner has a section 9, subtitled The Gulag Rim about the California prison system:
Rand Corporation researcher Joan Petersilia found that “more than 1,000 bills changing felony and misdemeanor statutes” had been enacted by the legislature between 1984 and 1992. Taken together, they are utterly incoherent as criminal justice policy, but wonderful as a stimulus to a kind of carceral Keynesianism that has tripled both the membership and the average salary of the CCPOA [California Correctional Peace Officers Association] since 1980. While California colleges and universities were shedding 8,000 jobs, the Department of Corrections hired 26,000 new employees to guard 112,000 new inmates. As a result, California is now the proud owner of the third largest penal system in the world, (after China and the United States as a whole.)
Why aren’t more people upset about this?
BTW, I would highly recommend Mike Davis’s other books particularly Planet of Slums, and Buda’s Wagon, which I’ve also just finished. For those interested in LA, City of Quartz is also very good. Next I’ll be reading Prisoners of the American Dream and Late Victorian Holocausts.