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Packed Prisons And The Call For Sentencing Reform

The big new push to bring down America’s world-leading prison population. It’s got traction.

Inmates flash hand signals at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP)

Inmates flash hand signals at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP)

One category in which the United States leads the world is in its prison population.  Highest rate of incarceration in the world?  American.  Highest absolute prison population – numbers?  American.  For years now, it’s been too much too handle financially — those millions behind bars.  And, many say, morally – particularly as long “war on drugs” mandatory sentences devastated lives and whole communities.  Now, there’s a bi-partisan push on to reform sentencing laws and draw down incarceration rates. This hour On Point:  the push to bring down America’s world-leading prison population.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Brian Mann, Adirondack Bureau Chief for North Country Public Radio, creator of the Prison Time Media Project. (@BrianMannADK)

Mark Osler,  professor of law at the University of St. Thomas. Former Federal prosecutor. (@Oslerguy)

Kemba Smith, criminal justice reform advocate. Served six years in a 24.5 year prison sentence.  Author of “Poster Child.” (@KembaSmith)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: Some prosecutors fighting effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences — “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s broad effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and reduce sentences for defendants in most drug cases is facing resistance from some federal prosecutors and district attorneys nationwide . Opponents of the proposal argue that tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command.”

Huffington Post: Obama’s Opening to Mercy — “There is one pure, unadulterated Judeo-Christian virtue in the Constitution, though: The mercy afforded through the pardon power. It is unique among the powers of the executive because neither of the other branches can exercise a check on it. Congress cannot limit the president’s abilities to grant clemency, and courts cannot review them. There is no doubt that the framers intended clemency to involve mercy — Alexander Hamilton described it exactly that way in Federalist 74.”

The Wall Street Journal: Obama to Commute More Drug Sentences — “The new Justice Department initiative suggests the president could end up granting clemency to a much larger group of offenders than he did in December. Mr. Cole said the department is looking for ‘nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who weren’t leaders of—nor had any significant ties to—large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels.’ He said first-time offenders and those without long rap sheets also would be considered.”

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  • Fiscally_Responsible

    A few years ago, there were two guys who broke into the home of a physician in Connecticut and raped and murder the mother and her two daughters. Totally unprovoked, totally brutal. If you want to free up some prison space, a good solution would be to take these two guys and hang them or put them before a firing squad. Oh I forgot, that would be cruel and unusual punishment. And this type of justice should be swift, not dragged out for decades, which has resulted in the death penalty being a totally meaningless joke. Another one worthy of this punishment is the Boston Marathon bomber.

    • Human2013

      Thanks for pointing out the most egregious violations of the law. This conversation will not be about them. For once, just try to stay on task, on the relevant discussion. As for the death penalty, no one or group of people have the right to take a human life — under any circumstances.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        Tell that to the monsters that butchered the family in Connecticut.

    • Ray in VT

      And because you are never in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you never have to worry about being the person wrongly arrested, convicted and sentenced to a quick death sentence.

      • jefe68

        I guess FR has never seen the Ox-Bow Incident.

        His simple minded idea based on nothing more than using fear mongering as a basis leaves out the how and why we incarcerate more people in this country than in any other. But then he’s not looking for answers or solutions.

        There are plenty of people who wrongly convicted of crimes.
        http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/08/justice/new-york-convicted-men-released/

        http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/04/justice/exonerated-prisoner-update-michael-morton/

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        Right. The monsters that raped and butchered the family in Connecticut were boy scouts who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

        • Ray in VT

          Indeed That is exactly what I said.

        • Ray in VT

          If only they had merely raped the daughters and we let the Bible tell us how to run our society, then we could have just forced the girls to marry the perpetrators, as Deuteronomy calls for.

        • StilllHere

          Maybe they could be Democrat legislators.

        • jefe68

          Your comments seem to generate out of a certain part of a horses anatomy… here’s a clue, it’s not where the orbicularis oris is.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        You liberals really crack me up. You are all for pandering to brutal killers, while being ok with the murder of the unborn.

        • Ray in VT

          Yup, I’m totally on the side of murderers. Also, abortion isn’t murder.

          • tbphkm33

            Heretic :) Ed75 is either going to be praying for you or condemning you to the christian hot afterlife.

          • Ray in VT

            In my experience Ed75 prefers the former course of action. I don’t recall him ever telling me that I was going to burn in ETERNAL FIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • tbphkm33

            Cross your fingers… just in case he’s been right all along and has some pull with the powers to be in the afterlife.

          • Ray in VT

            I’m putting my money on Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

        • jefe68

          And the inanity continues.
          By the way, both of the defendants in that case have been tired and convicted. They both received the death sentence.

        • northeaster17

          Pandering? How can life sentencing be seen as pandering?

    • Acnestes

      For every complex problem there’s a simple solution and it’s wrong. For simple minds there doesn’t seem to be any solution at all.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        I would be curious as to how all of you bleeding hearts would feel if it was your family that was raped and murdered like the family in CT. People that have done this have forfeited their right to live. Swift justice would communicate a clear message that this behavior is unacceptable and will be met with comparable punishment. Liberals would rather blame society than hold people responsible for their behavior, which is why we have the problems that we have.

        • Ray in VT

          Except that the death penalty doesn’t really discourage crime. So, because this crime happened in liberal Connecticut I can rightfully conclude that these individuals were given a hug, told not to do it again and are currently out on the street, correct?

          • jimino

            They were sentenced to death, so I don’t understand the point this fool is making other than to act as a typical self-proclaimed American conservative: bitching and moaning while getting their way.

          • Ray in VT

            But jimino, this happened in a liberal state, so surely they received only token punishment, because that is part of how liberals coddle criminals.

          • jefe68

            They should have had a neck tie party right at the scene of the crime.

          • Ray in VT

            Trials? We don’t need no stinkin’ trials!

        • jimino

          You seem to so well informed on this so I’m sure you can point us to all the “liberals” who held society responsible for this crime.

          Or you can just admit you have nothing of intelligence to say on the topic.

      • StilllHere

        Don’t let that stop you from trying to improve your mind.

        • jefe68

          Troll alert.

    • jimino

      So much for the principled pro-life position you claim so often in your comments.

      If we really want to use the death penalty in circumstances in which it would do the most good and be applied without doubt, we should execute coldly-calculated financial criminals whose actions harm infinitely more people than the worst murder ever prosecuted in a US courtroom.

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        I wonder if you would feel the same if it was your family that was raped and butchered by the monsters that did it to the family in Connecticut.

    • hennorama

      Fiscally_Responsible — how do you square your position with the 18 people (and others) whose convictions and death sentences have been overturned by DNA (and other) evidence?

      Source:
      http://www.innocenceproject.org/know/

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Blackstones-ratio.jpg

      • Ray in VT

        Acceptable losses?

        • hennorama

          Ray in VT — sardonic humor will get you nowhere, sir.

  • esubound

    If there is one point I really hope is discussed, it is Florida’s private prison debacle. Florida’s private prisons are turning out to be more expensive to run than public prisons, even though by law they are supposed to be cheaper.

    I grew up in Brian Mann’s home turf, and as horrible as the prison situation is there, they compensated the employees well. Now with private prisons they are taking away the tiny bit of good that came out of prisons, as private prison employees get paid poorly.

    I would also like to point out that as a former prison employee myself, the smarter employees in prison knew something was wrong at NYS’s ‘peak prison’ market. A guy would murder another guy and plead to manslaughter, and be out in 7-10 with good behavior. Another guy would get caught with drugs one time an get a guaranteed 15 to life. You were better off murdering somebody in New York than selling them drugs.

  • John Cedar

    I wonder if Hamilton was correct when he said courts cannot review clemency? The courts have a long history of having the last say over powers the constitution gave to others. If they look between the sentence that says you have a right to an abortion, and the one that says you can’t discriminate but you can “reverse discriminate”, they are liable to find a sentence that limits the POTUS in granting clemency.

  • John Cedar

    In my state, they only lock you up, after you did whatever you did, a bunch of times and have extenuating circumstances. The idea that young men are being locked up for minor drug offenses is simply wrong. The “small time dealer” is collecting the spoils from crimes committed by his customers.

    Its a simple indisputable proven settled science fact, that when you raise a child from birth, using the principles of librulsims, you get a lot of undesirable citizens…many more than your fair share that need to be locked up.

    • jefe68

      I guess Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Florida did not get your memo.

      If you’re looking to win the inane comment of the day award, well you are definitely in the running.

      • John Cedar

        Winning the award vicariously through you, is not as rewarding as it would have been to win it myself.

    • TFRX

      “Its a simple indisputable proven settled science fact, that when you
      raise a child from birth, using the principles of librulsims”

      I don’t know what kind of Chuckle Bucket your act goes over in, but that ain’t here.

      • jefe68

        I don’t know what’s the more disturbing.
        This chuckleheads comment or the three people who agree with this kind of nonsense.

        • John Cedar

          Its good that you are talking about your feelings. Its not my comment you find disturbing, You are disturbed when any comment that you dont’ agree with,is not censored. And you are disturbed that people who don’t agree with you are allowed to live.

      • John Cedar

        I’m generally well recieved by 10% to 20% of folks….also-known-as the “makers”. While not the majority here, there are no doubt more than a few of them here

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      … and gays are causing autism, dementia and tornadoes! Abortion is causing global warming!

      • Ray in VT

        Are you listening to Susanne Atanus today?

        • hennorama

          Ray in VT — I still can’t believe she won the GOP primary in the IL 9th. Has the “We need to stop being the Stupid Party” idea been completely abandoned?

          • Ray in VT

            If I recall correctly the party wasn’t backing her, but it does make one wonder about those who turned out in the primary. Is it an open primary? If so, then maybe some people decided to jump ship from one party to another for this one. I really don’t know, but I don’t think that she, or candidates who voice concerns about the President’s legal ability to hold that office, is likely to reflect well on the party. Perhaps her comments will be this year’s “I am not a witch”.

          • hennorama

            Ray in VT — Illinois has a semi-closed primary. Voters who’ve registered with a party can only vote in that party’s primary, but unaffiliated voters can choose the primary in which they wish to vote.

            Indeed, the Republican Party does not support Ms. Atanus, but she is in fact the Republican nominee.

            Per a salon.com article this morning:

            The Chicago Republican Party has distanced itself from Atanus in the past, claiming that she is not “in any way affiliated with any of our efforts in the Chicago GOP” and that the organization has never “supported, endorsed, or assisted her in any way at any time.” But now she is their nominee for the 9th district, so she’s in the political mix with them whether they like it or not.

            Democratic Rep. Janice Schakowsky has been representing the district since 1999, winning each election with an average of 70 percent of the votes. Given that history, it’s likely that the GOP doesn’t invest time or resources in finding a challenger, but the fact that Atanus’ particular brand of wingnut could still win over primary voters is still really something.

            See:
            http://www.salon.com/2014/03/20/the_illinois_republican_who_called_dementia_and_severe_weather_punishments_for_marriage_equality_just_won_her_primary/

      • John Cedar

        I disagree.
        BTW…its called climate change these days.

  • LianeSperoni

    Please mention the death of Jerome Murdough. A homeless man who was incarcerated at Rikers Island for trespassing who suffered from schizophrenia. The AP reported yesterday that the temperature in his cell was 100 degrees and he was found dead in his cell. The NYT reported that he complained of overheating to one of the guards on the mental health unit, and she did nothing. They were supposed to be checking on him every 15 minutes.

  • LianeSperoni

    The prisons are being filled with people who have mental illness.

    • Matt MC

      One of the many problems with our current prison system, but I doubt it can compare to the percentage in prison for non-violent drug offenses.

      • LianeSperoni

        At Rikers Island, people with mental illness comprise 40% of the prison population.
        There is probably overlap between these two categories.- dual diagnosis.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          This is probably a chicken and egg thing? Injustice and stress = mental problems.

        • TFRX

          I literally only know of Rikers Island as the place where suspects go after Jerry Orbach collars them.

          Is it a holding cell only, or is it a long-term jail only?

          • LianeSperoni

            At Rikers a lot of people have not been convicted. If you have mental illness and you are put in jail or prison it can make the symptoms worse.

          • TFRX

            Thanks for the details.

      • Matt MC

        Sounds compelling, but I’d need to see the actual figures. For instance, I don’t think I would categorize depression on the same level as someone with schizophrenia, but they are both mental illnesses.

  • Cory

    im excited to tune in!

  • Matt MC

    Blacks comprise roughly 40% of the prison population and roughly 14% of the general population. Convicted felons (many from non-violent drug offenses) are often prevented from voting in many states. I feel like there is some connection here. I suppose it’s just a coincidence.

  • TFRX

    Hey, I hope I got here in time to type the buzzwords “monsters” “butcher” “Connecticut”.

    Somehow Disqus acts up if those terms aren’t typed in every three minutes.

  • JasonB

    It has always surprised me that we Americans claim to live in a “free” country while we have the largest prison population in the world. You cannot be considered a free country when you incarcerate more of your population than anyone else in the world. You can, however, call your country a police state.

  • creaker

    This is what happens when private entities can increase their profits by increasing incarceration rates. Ideally, you’d want an easily manageable, low cost to incarcerate prison population – which is most easily built by sending a lot of people to prison that really should not be there in the first place.

    • StilllHere

      You just need to close the loop on this and you’re good to go.

  • Scott B

    Until we get business out of corrections, and the idea that some parties hold, that everything is better when privatized, little will change. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) offers to buy out prisons, and “take it off their hands” and free up budget money, but only if given a guarantee that the prison will be kept at 90% occupancy. Who does anyone think they are going to fill those prisons with, and for what reasons?

    We’ve already seen that Wall St and big banks get to walk scot-free. So they go after the most vulnerable (poor and minorities) and least likely to have representation. not only on a personal level, with a good lawyer, but encouraging and proposing laws that effect those populations, with stiffer penalties, wider scope, and pressing for plea deals on cases that will guarantee serving time vs risking a trial and acquittal.

  • Joe KomaGawa

    New York is presenting over and over its reduction in violent crime. What will happen to those stats with the bills under discussion?

  • LianeSperoni

    From the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics:
    “At midyear 2005 more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental
    health problem, including 705,600 inmates in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons, and 479,900 in local jails.These estimates represented 56% of State prisoners, 45% of Federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates. The findings in this report were based on data from personal interviews with State and Federal prisoners in 2004 and local jail inmates in 2002. Mental health problems were defined by two measures: a recent history or symptoms of a mental health problem. They must have occurred in the 12 months prior to the interview. A recent history of mental health problems included a clinical diagnosis or treatment by a mental health professional. Symptoms of a mental disorder were based on criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).”

  • nlpnt

    Maybe it won’t work for Texas’ private prisons, but ask your NCPR reporter about the possibility of Vermont moving its’ excess prison population from private prisons in the south and west to upstate New York ones. It seems that would be a win-win.

  • Jim

    I don’t understand why we give huge sentence for 1st time offenders but little or no sentence for white collar criminals from Wall Street who nearly brought down civilization.

    Hey, you greedy politicians and federal criminal prosecutors.. you are barking the wrong tree. besides.. let’s not be hypocrites.. you are legalizing marijuana, right?…….. GET YOUR CRONIES AND BRING THEM TO PRISON NOW! THEY SHOULD GO TO MAXIMUM PRISON!

    Besides… i believe drug addicts and low-income criminals have a better chance to be fully reformed and become worthy citizens compare with white collar criminals… remember, the white collar criminal had an education and knew what was right and what was wrong… many of those low income criminals do not.

    • myblusky

      This country considers it a crime to be poor.

    • StilllHere

      You mean like Madoff?

  • MatthewNashville

    Wouldn’t it be better to create an industry in Marijuana production to replace the lost prison jobs? Just because it reduces a certain job market, does it really justify it’s existence? The world progresses constantly.

    • hennorama

      MatthewNashville — an interesting idea.

      One assumes that correctional employees are used to keeping track of inmates. Perhaps they would be amenable to the Colorado way of regulated marijuana production, which is supposed to track every plant “from seed to sale.”

      • MatthewNashville

        Hadn’t thought about it that way, but excellent point.

  • Steve_in_Vermont

    I was a state probation/parole officer for over 20 years. In my state we do not have mandatory sentencing but the Federal government does, as do other states. In my opinion mandatory sentencing is a travesty of justice. It fails to take into consideration any mitigating circumstances and incarcerates people for whom there are better alternatives. The only reason MS can exist is the fact that it affects a segment of our society that has virtually no political influence. If it affected a more affluent segment of our population it would never have been implemented. No sentencing is perfect but we should all ask ourselves this question. Would I want my spouse, or child, or relative, or myself, to be subject to mandatory sentencing?

    • StilllHere

      The whole reason there was mandatory sentencing is because there was outrage at what was considered a mitigating circumstance in some areas or who had connections with the judges or prosecutors.

      • Steve_in_Vermont

        That is true, to a point, but it was no reason to screw up the entire system and make a mockery of justice.

        • StilllHere

          It was meant to address the fact the system was screwed up and was making a mockery of justice. It’s not perfect, but better than it was.

  • Ray in VT

    My brother lives near Chateaugay, and prisons are indeed a major employer in that area. Almost everyone whom I meet over there is either a CO or has a close friend or relative who is.

  • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

    I worry about the fears of prison guards losing their jobs not one whit- this is a corollary obscenity of a system designed to grind victimless innocent “criminals” into mush…. that the system feeds off of them like the raw material in the “Matrix” movies. The (im)”moral” crusade against drugs is America’s original sin of the 20th century, a monstrous lie which has perverted American values, decency, and sanity.

  • skelly74

    Ever since the international momentum to outlaw slavery, bad elements within industry have looked for cheap indentured workers. Maybe the U.S. has had a “favorable” policy in bringing cheap workers via our stuffed overcrowded prisons. Let’s call ot the war on drugs.

  • Emily4HL

    We need more jobs, substance abuse treatment, and to give people a chance to turn their lives around. Especially when young blacks are so disproportionately affected.

  • northeaster17

    I am in the southern ad’s. I just did a quick count. Ten percent of the homes in my neighborhood have prison guards as bread winners. That’s only the ones I know about.

  • creaker

    It would be nice if the public had better knowledge of jury nullification – juries don’t need to return a guilty verdict if they disagree with the law the defendant is being tried for breaking.

  • Arkuy The Great

    The decriminalization of drug offenses will go a long way toward reducing the numbers. ‘Bout d@mned time, too!

  • Sam Diener

    I’m glad you’re focusing on this, but the US has the third highest prison incarceration rate in the world, not the highest. North Korea and China both have higher rates. China’s rate is twice that of the US, because one has to consider the “reeducation through labor system” (see http://laogai.org/). North Korea’s rate, though difficult to determine precisely is higher still (see http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/17/us-korea-north-un-excerpts-idUSBREA1G0OF20140217).

    • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

      Conceded, but shouldn’t the land of the “free” be in slightly better company???

    • jefe68

      I’m not sure where you are getting these figures from.
      The US incarcerates more people per 100,000 than China in every source I’ve looked at. From what I can see China is not even in the top 10 in this statistic.

      By the none of those links work.

    • skelly74

      Yes, you are correct. Most of these “prisoners” are forced labor for profit. Even North Korea would have to submit to international outrage if they practiced outright slavery.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      That means that China would have about 54,040,000 million people in prison. They actually have ~1,500,000.

      The USA has ~7,000,000 people in prison.

      • Sam Diener

        Neil, I think we’re both off in our numbers here. First, for China I was working from a claim by the Laogai Foundation from a number of years ago, that China’s incarceration rate was twice that of the US, and it appears to be outdated. I don’t know know if it was accurate then or not. It does seem that most calculations of China’s prison population don’t include the reeducation through labor system, but even so, the US rate today would be higher than China’s. I apologize for my error. Neil, your claim that the US has 7 million in prison also seems high. The BBC here reports 2 million for the US (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm). Then again, I’m questioning BBC’s number for China, so perhaps their number for the US is also wrong?

        As for North Korea, accurate numbers are difficult to come by, but if there are 150,000-200,000 explicitly political prisoners in North Korea (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisons_in_North_Korea), and that doesn’t include “ordinary” prisoners, then North Korea’s imprisonment rate would be higher than the US, at something north of 1000 prisoners per 100,000, as compared to what the BBC said was 724 prisoners per 100,000 in the US.

        So, I should have said that the US appears to have the second highest imprisonment rate in the world, not the third highest.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          The US has approximately 2% of our people in prison. We have about 350 million people – do the math.

          • Sam Diener

            Hi Neil,
            the 2% figure includes people on probation and parole (and if you include people with this status I now understand where your 7 million figure came from). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States. The fact that there are about 5 million people on probation and parole is shocking enough in and of itself (and probably deserves an On Point show regarding best and worst practices), but these folks are NOT currently incarcerated, and so shouldn’t be and aren’t counted when computing incarceration rates.

  • Josh Beardsley

    Please note that Massachusetts is behind the curve on several important issues: higher racial disparity than national average; prison population still growing while nationally it has peaked; smaller budget for rehabilitation; most released prisoners without any supervision. There is going to be a rally on the Boston Common on April 26th – 10,000 people from all over the state (communities of faith joining with long-term activists) with 50,000 signatures on a petition demanding legislative reforms, halting construction of prisons until reforms take effect and diversion of $2 billion plus to infrastructure and investment in jobs for the most vulnerable. See http://www.jobsnotjails.org

  • Scott B

    Listening to James, he seems to have the issue that Norm Ornstein says the Republican Party has – denying fact, history, science, and experience. We KNOW that it’s cheaper to send a user to rehab several times than it is to put them in jail for even one year. We also know that there’s a difference between using a drug, and selling it, and from being a dealer and being the dealer’s girlfriend (in Kemba’s case). We also know that there’s no real difference between cocaine and crack, yet those involved with crack get harsher sentences.

  • Shag_Wevera

    We hate the poor and undereducated in America. Mass incarceration is part of the deal.

    • creaker

      Someone stealing a smartphone is more likely to do jail time than someone who stole a billion dollars.

  • TFRX

    Missed a bit–audio issues on my end (I think).

    Any mention of how incarcerated folks count towards the census of counties the prisons are in, thereby distorting electoral maps within states?

  • creaker

    One thing that doesn’t get brought up enough is how many more serious crimes are not vigorously pursued because all the resources to prosecute and imprison have been all committed and used up on easy, high prison term crimes (drug offenses)?

    “Tough on crime” could be allowing a lot of big deal crime to walk. And actually making overall crime worse.

    • tbphkm33

      Well, and the fact that studies have shown that community policing is the cheapest and most effective. Get the police out of their para-military uniforms and equipment, and send them to walk a beat on the street. Visibility and interacting with the community has great impacts in reducing crime. Of course, many in law enforcement are enthralled by dressing up like a SS soldier of WWII, its less sexy to be a flatfoot hitting the pavement.

  • M S

    I love how Liberals fall in love with Libertarians when it suits their needs…that’s pretty funny.

    • Ray in VT

      I see nothing wrong, or funny, with finding common ground where one can.

      • M S

        Yes, but it’s not true common ground…Liberals want to legalize drugs because they care about people, Libertarians want to do so because they don’t.

        • Ray in VT

          I don’t know as I would agree with your last statement in this case, but I would still be willing to work towards a common goal with someone even if it was for very different reasons, at least generally speaking.

          • M S

            Well, do you know any actual Libertarian party members? I know one, who is very active, and he wouldn’t touch marijuana or any other drug because he knows how destructive they are, yet at the same time he proposes for them to be easily accessible. Other than the motivation for individual liberty, the only other reason I see for advocating such a policy is not what I would call, “love for your fellow man.”

          • Ray in VT

            But I wonder if some have concluded that marijuana isn’t that destructive, at least not as much as something like heroin, and therefore conclude that something like that shouldn’t be harshly penalized. Some do favor the “go to hell any way you choose” point of view, and I do favor that in some regards.

          • Alchemical Reaction

            Binary and Ecological Economics, Flesh and Blood Sovereign Citizen’s Rights, and Left Libertarianism, together comprise the most enlightened policy direction currently possible on Earth.

            Property rights and corporate personhood, as corporate realpolitik, applied to Libertarianism, would essentially give ultimate power to corporations. I don’t think most libertarians desire this, but don’t realize how it would come out in the wash. This is why binary economics and emphasis on the flesh and blood “sovereign citizen” is such an important, yet under-emphasized aspect of any successful Libertarian movement.

      • hennorama

        Ray in VT — but you miss the point of labeling people — division, not (comm)unity.

        • tbphkm33

          Its an element of warfare – label the opposition as sub-human or inferior in some way.

          • hennorama

            tbphkm33 — right.

            Divide, then Conquer.

          • M S

            Labeling is only an element of warfare? It’s going to be pretty difficult ridding ourselves of all of the descriptors we have.

    • creaker

      I find the current love affair between conservatives and libertarians funny – even though they have areas they will never, ever agree on.

      • M S

        Very true, but Libertarians, or at least the current incarnation, are only in the Republican party for the votes and not the ideology.

      • tbphkm33

        It is funny that a large percentage of people who call themselves libertarian actually have no clue what it means – they are simply “lost” Nopublicans and TeaBaggers. Most true libertarian’s will have nothing to do with these clowns.

    • StilllHere

      I love how people who hate labels rise up when someone uses a label that obviously applies to them, but not when it doesn’t. You know who you are!

    • Alchemical Reaction

      Umm, what about Left Libertarianism? I think you need to go back to school and study so you know what you are talking about. Or at least read wikipedia.

  • Mary Bell Lockhart

    Not mentioned about Texas is that the state has been also gutting funding for public education while it was building prisons. As it stands right now young folk can’t aspire to be teachers and settle for prison work. The purpose of making public education fail is to push the next privatization scheme – for-profit schools. A better educational system would have done more to reduce crime in the first place. But Texas is run by the profiteers.

    • creaker

      It sounds like economic planning – it sounds like an effective – and cheaper – plan to grow up future prison inmates.

      • Mary Bell Lockhart

        You got that right! But it’s also a strategy to perpetuate Republican rule. Cut education and give the money to the corporations so the kids grow up to either vote for Republicans or land in prison so the corporations will get more money no matter what.

  • JP_Finn

    One thing that people don’t seem to often mention about this issue is how easy it is to bandy around whole years of people’s lives, which doesn’t just unjustly harm the convicted offender, but also is detrimental to the effectiveness of the penitentiary system. Just try to imagine being confined to a cell and a strict, institutional regimen for just a single year. Imagine how difficult that would be, and what kind of a punishment it would represent to you; as well as the strong disincentive you would feel toward repeating whatever offense you’re being punished for committing. Now try to imagine the same thing over five years, ten years, and so on.

    However, at a certain point, the increase in effectiveness diminishes as the time of sentence continues to be increased in steady increments (i.e., the law of diminishing returns), until at a certain point you’re no longer effectively disincentivizing the offender to repeat his or her actions, but rather likely only causing severe psychological issues from prolonged confinement and restriction that will likely just make the individual in question more likely to get in trouble again whenever they are released.

    Correcting all but the most extreme and irreversable criminal acts (murder, etc.) should not about some abstract concept of punishment or justice, but rather about the real, empirical effectiveness of the system and how well it improves public and societal HEALTH (not just the feeling of “safety”). Of course, politicians and elected judges are more likely to appeal to voters’ desire to feel safe and throw people away for unduly long sentences, rather than try to explain to people how shorter sentences might actually be more beneficial long-term.

    • Sean Aylward

      let’s not forget, they knew what they were doing(whatever it was) was wrong, they knew there would consequences. This knowledge is what keeps me from incarceration. Respect for the law would minimize this issue on it’s own.

      • JP_Finn

        If wishes were wings, man. People are always going to find themselves in desperate circumstances in which right/wrong isn’t as clear cut as we sometimes pretend it is. It is better to practically shape the outcomes created by our criminal ‘justice’ system (a term that implies the system is inherently just–which plainly isn’t always the case); rather than resort to self-righteous judgments about those who end up inside. Undoubtedly, some are reaping what they sowed. Equally undoubtedly, many more are being harmed disproportionately to the crime they have committed.

  • tbphkm33

    Anyone who does not see the US prison situation as a major social crisis has their heads up where the sun won’t shine. The negative social repercussions of this failed institution of governance ripples through the entire society.

    The solutions are vastly more complex than the old Nopublican mantra of handing out harsher penalties and build more prisons.

    • hennorama

      tbphkm33 — indeed.

      And since the solutions don’t fit neatly on political bumper stickers or into 15-second sound bites, there’s little incentive to pursue them.

      [PS] and any politician who does pursue them will be labeled “Weak On Crime,” which does fit neatly on political bumper stickers and into 15-second sound bites.

    • Alchemical Reaction

      Corruption is endemic. Why be concerned with this manifestation of it and not corruption as a whole?

  • SeaKoral

    HELLO! “UNIONS” Vital Topic. Did a search on this site and couldn’t find the word “Union” being used even once! Anyone that is involved with incarceration on any level understands that prisoners are client’s that equal money and job’s. Tom’s guests have sidle’d up to the topic barely… Republicans want reform because they see large government unions keeping the status quo.. More client’s, (prisoners) equals more job’s. Look at the most dysfunctional state in the union, California. Guess what the most powerful union by a magnitude is??

    • StilllHere

      Of course. Follow the money. Bringing up private prisons is a distraction from the real issues.

  • wrongfulconviction

    16 y/o Torey is serving LWOP for a wrong conviction, you should Read The Guilty Innocent by Shannon Adamcik http://goo.gl/TG5cn Apple http://goo.gl/YFOsZ Amazon 16 year old Torey should have NEVER been placed in an adult jail and locked in isolation over a year! He was a CHILD.

    • mozartman

      In that respect we are just a step ahead Syria and such countries. Shameful.

    • Sean Aylward

      I am, as we speak fighting the parole of a juvenile that killed my sister. He was arrested, a judge tried him as an adult via transfer hearing, found guilty and lost his appeal. This is an example of the justice system doing its due diligence. Now, thanks to Miller v Alabama juvenile killers may be granted parole. Absolutely disgusting in my opinion. Victims do NOT choose to be victims, but killers choose to kill. If Torey went through the same process I described, then the justice system functioned as its designed to. If Torey’s conviction is still wrong, then defense attorneys have failed him by not creating a shadow of a doubt to the judge and jury.

      • wrongfulconviction

        Torey used DNA testing and was excluded as a potential contributor in everything that was tested, he did not take part in murder and he said that he did not know what the other boy was planning until it was too late. Torey does not have any chance at seeing a parole hearing due to the sentence set. Torey’s trial attorneys did little to explain who the other boy(who did confess to killing and planning) was and to explain the evidence to the jury.

  • Alchemical Reaction

    No one said “Unions” ! I am beginning to think Tom is being censored by the Feds.

  • Daniel Roth

    Hi Tom.

    As a nonviolent drug offender I word like to bring up another issue. We talk about length of sentencing but what about the length that a nonviolent drug convict has to live with this stigma? As an example after being convicted and serving my sentence, I finished college and got my bachelor’s degree. But being a felon it is nearly impossible to find a job. Should someone be punished their whole life for one wrong choice?

    • Alchemical Reaction

      You could easily get a job as a rehabilitation counselor.

  • Ken Odiorne

    The choice to imprison masses of african-american and poor people was not a popular choice. It was done at the hands of corporate interests who extorted democratic institutions to tip public policy in it’s favor.

    • Alchemical Reaction

      Yes, but that’s all of modern society. 80% of the economy and government operates as you have described. Why be outraged over one aspect and not the rest? Corruption is corruption.

      • Ken Odiorne

        Yes, quite right; the corruption is endemic, but it is imperative to point to it in each and all of its manifestations. The “prison industrial complex” is well entrenched in the security state, but it is not invulnerable. It may be said to be low-hanging fruit in it’s glaring conflicts with constitutional rights.

        • Alchemical Reaction

          I have always thought it was more effective to point out the big picture; but I must admit I have lost hope this nation will free itself from corruption. So I sincerely ask you – why bother?

          • StilllHere

            Start at home.

          • Ken Odiorne

            So we can say we tried? …What parent whose child had “terminal” cancer, would concede? I love this corrupted country, and believe in the possibility of it’s redemption. Like spiritual redemption, moral and ethical redemption is never finished nor absolute.

  • Dee Dee B

    I was utterly taken aback listening to the broadcast with the total OMISSION of the “elephant in the room” – racism.. instead the buzzword used was ” “morality”.. The warehousing of Black people was not even mentioned until the woman who had been incarcerated mentioned it..at which point the former prosecutor sheepishly admitted that ” yes whites do the same amt of crack as black people do but all the defendants were Black”..
    the fact is that which whites are committing drug crimes at the same rate..police target black and Hispanics for arrests.. and when they do arrest whites.. whites are 4 times as likely to be
    -PROBATION
    -REHAB

    The staggering fact is that Black people are being warehoused in the criminal justice system because it achieves 4 major goals
    - much like slavery.. its an evil that is an integral part of the us economy and keeps prison systems profitable..
    - once you label a person a ” felon” he is unable to vote
    - once you label a person a felon he is unable to be a juror
    - it seriously reduces employment thusly perpetuating poverty
    The aforementioned thereby ensures that people of color are kept locked in a position of cultural JIM CROW Powerlessness..
    The show also did not even mention that the usa also has the HIGHEST NUMBER OF MINORITIES incarcerated than any other nation…
    .We all must wonder just how far we actually have come when it comes to racism in America and its insidious infestation in the culture /

    • StilllHere

      I bet you think that’s in every room.

      • Dee Dee B

        Can you articulate in English please?

        • StilllHere

          “”Elephant in the room””

    • aimeelynn21

      It makes me so mad that people think that only the blacks get charged. I could only wish, since my WHITE fiancé is serving a 10 yr sentence for a first time offence while his WHITE friend was given a LIFE sentence for a drug offence. Just a little fyi for the people out there that think only the blacks get the book thrown at them;)

  • WJ Drumwright

    While driving I heard just a few minutes of this program, but enough to become infuriated and exasperated. It is shocking and shameful to hear that these little prison towns, in order to maintain their jobs and lifestyles that they felt were guaranteed, are willing to sacrifice the lives of people who are unjustly saddled with long prison sentences just to maintain their status quo. We live in a “gotcha” society where some will not be fulfilled until everyone else is incarcerated.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    There is no clearer sign of the social corruption caused by the State than the direct subjugation of freedom and justice to *jobs*.

    I mean… some people are seriously putting concerns about their employment ahead of reform of the prison system and the elimination of over-incarceration? I can think of nothing more bankrupt morally than such a selfish sentiment.

  • MattCA12

    The problem with American prisons is that they aren’t tough enough. We still have far too many people willing to commit crime who aren’t sufficiently deterred by the prospect of time in prison. Hard labor. Starvation rations. More people coming out feet-first. Build the walls higher.

    • Dee Dee B

      well that’s mighty white of you.. Lets flip it and see what tune you’d sing if WHITES were being warehoused getting 20-50 yrs for first time non violent drugs crimes.. while Black skated doing probation or rehab instead… YOU would be the first one in line to overthrow gov tyranny!!

    • WJ Drumwright

      You ought to think this through a little more. Our prison populations favor minorities and the mentally and emotionally ill. Do you really think they are going to be deterred by tougher routines. And the higher walls? I am not aware of a lot of prison escapees.

    • Sean Aylward

      AMEN !

  • ce373

    One could surmise that in some cases this is “Legalized Human Trafficking,” which throughout History was rationalized, justified, etc. because slavery, etc. helped to fulfill economic needs

  • Dee Dee B

    An eye opening new bestseller examines this subject, called: The New Jim crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness –

    Thirty years ago, fewer than 350,000 people were held in prisons and jails in the United States. Today, the number of inmates in the United States exceeds 2,000,000. In this book, Alexander argues that this system of mass incarceration “operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.” The War on Drugs, is actually a war on Black men.. the so called ” war on drugs” has created “a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society.” Mass incarceration, and the disabilities that come with the label “felon,” serve, metaphorically, as the new Jim Crow.

  • lobstahbisque

    I would say, low hanging fruit is the natural result of kicking the can down the slippery slope.

  • OnPointComments

    Don’t do drugs.

    Personally, I’m OK with changing the sentencing for first time offenders convicted of nonviolent, personal use, drug offenses that don’t constitute dealing or distributing and are not paired with any other crime.

    But the simplest solution for anyone to avoid the problem is don’t do drugs.

    • lobstahbisque

      Thank you Nancy Reagan.
      Alcohol is a legal drug, and if you get deeply enough into it, you HAVE to get help to get it out of your system, or you die of a seizure. If you don’t know this, you have no business just saying no.
      It’s like putting up a parasol for protection against a nucular (sic) bomb.

      • OnPointComments

        I don’t believe that many of the people in prison for first time drug offenses are in there for an alcohol crime.

        • lobstahbisque

          Alcohol is a drug. Driving under the influence can make your car a deadly weapon. Don’t drink and drive. Or live and learn. Or not….. tant pis.

    • mozartman

      Alcohol is a drug. Nicotine is a drug, one of the most addictive. Cigarettes kill 300,00+ a year in this country alone, yet it’s legal. Prescription drugs kill tens of thousands, many form abuse. Alcohol wrecks havoc in many families and kills lots of people. Illegal drugs that land you in prison kill an estimated $20,000 people a year in this country. less than are killed by DUI drivers who kill with a legal drug. yet almost all the efforts go towards the drugs that kill the least people and the rest is OK. Somehow I fail to see the logic on the war on drugs if other drugs kill so many more Americans. If the goal is to save lives, lets lock up cigarette smokers.

      Sure, don’t do drugs. But some people like to smoke pot for example. Some people jump out of airplanes which is very dangerous too. Who are you to tell others what they can do in the privacy of their own home? if somebody does drugs and hurts others, they should get punished, just like DUIs. Otherwise, mind your own business. I am sick of paying for prisons that are full of drug users.

      • OnPointComments

        Alcohol is legal, nicotine is legal, cigarettes are legal, prescription drugs prescribed by a physician are legal, jumping out of an airplane is legal.

        Possession and use of some drugs is illegal. The law tells others that there are some things that they can’t do in the privacy of their own homes, not me.

        • mozartman

          I know that. What I want to point out that it’s totally stupid and costly to declare one set of drugs legal and another one illegal. Where is the rational if the drugs that kill hundreds of thousands each year are legal and others which kill a fraction of those are illegal. The law needs to change. The war on drug failed 100% and costs billions each year.

  • L Martinez

    As I type this, the discussion is still going on on WNYC radio and I have not heard it entirely. I guess it was broadcast at a previous time in other states.

    Anyway, the discussion was presented in a way so as to say that the United States has more people in prison than any other country (“World Leading Prison Population”) and therefore the indication is that America is ineffective in dealing with the problem and is “failing to help it’s vulnerable populations.”
    The thing is that in certain other countries, the culture is such that people are brought up to obey the law. Also in certain other countries, there are fewer people in prison because there is a death penalty .
    It is just too much to believe that other countries have better programs to reform criminals and have them go back into society as productive , tax-paying and law abiding individuals.

    What is all this nonsense that not enough is done for prisoners? There are drug rehabilitation programs. There are job training programs. It is just that certain people are trying to downplay the fact that certain people are incorrigible.

    • OnPointComments

      I think you’ll find that some of the commenters on here aren’t big on personal responsibility.

    • lobstahbisque

      The blindness caused by Murican Exceptionalism. If you don’t want to believe that other countries have better programs, then don’t. Ignorance as they say, is bliss. (Try all of Old Europe, for example.)
      Of course certain people are incorrigible, but those are not the individuals being addressed, but they make attractive straw men to collect or share with your friends…

      • Human2013

        A country that invests nothing in its people, gets nothing in return. The denial in this country is nothing more than their countries lack of commitment to develop intelligent, critical thinking, humane citizens. They deny that social spending leads to better outcomes in health, education, crime and happiness. Their preoccupation with food stamps and feeding our hungry children shows their lack of discernment. They say nothing of building a billion dollar dormant submarine or fighter jet, but complain that someone could possibly be living the “good life” on government assistance.

  • L Martinez

    Invest in education? Sure it is a good idea, but those classrooms will turn into places where there are loud, disruptive people who don’t care to learn and make the taxpayer’s money go to waste.

  • Vampyre

    The problem isn’t actually the incarceration, yes, that needs reform too…the problem is that AFTER the sentence has been served, AFTER the ‘debt’ has been paid, the offender is released to a society that won’t give them a job! Once you have a felony, your chances of getting a decent job, no matter what your qualifications are, are slim. Pew Research tells us that the unemployment rate of felons is about 85%! If a felon cannot get a job, what , tell me is that person to do? Starve? If you cannot support yourself, much less a family, someone please tell me what is this person to do? What would you do? Whatever you can to make your way… The new Scarlet Letter is an F.

    • Bluejay2fly

      You are absolutely correct and what is worse is the fact that there are so few jobs even that even non felons find themselves unemployable. Many employers will preference a college graduate because in their mind it proves that the applicant has some decent language and communications skills and that the applicant has applied his/herself to a somewhat arduous task. I was told at many job interviews that college is superior to the military because in the armed forces your performance is compulsory where in college it is optional. So if an employer can choose from a large list of candidates felons rank dead last.

  • OnPointComments

    “Is the government putting people in prison for marijuana use?

    “Simply stated, there are very few people in state or Federal prison for marijuana-related crimes. It is useful to look at all drug offenses for context. Among sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction in 2008, 18% were sentenced for drug offenses. We know from the most recent survey of inmates in state prison that only six percent (6%) of prisoners were for drug possession offenders, and just over four percent (4.4%) were drug offenders with no prior sentences.

    “In total, one tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of state prisoners were marijuana possession offenders with no prior sentences.”
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/frequently-asked-questions-and-facts-about-marijuana

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