Tag Archives: injustice

Crimes Against Criminals Don’t Count

Crime has fallen precipitously since the high of the early ’90s.   For example, from 1980 to 2005, the estimated incidence of rape fell by 85%.  In 1990, there were 2,245 homicides  in NYC.  In 2010, there were only 536.  Crime has continued to fall even during the recession.

But this is not actually true.  Crime has merely been transplanted and concentrated in our nation’s prisons and, incredibly, crime rate statistics do not include crimes which occur in prison.  This is totally understandable, right?  Crimes against criminals don’t count!  But, lately I have pretended that they do count, which has led to some basic research about the U.S. penal system, to a discovery of an obnoxiously worthy cause, and now I am less content in my ignorance and apathy–a rookie mistake.  (If somebody can explain all this away please let me know!)

In recent posts, I noted the media frenzy around Trayvon Martin’s death and that, while the incident was tragic, murder by strangers, especially neighborhood watch volunteers, is not a top societal problem.  In an effort to walk my talk I am taking the next few posts avoiding the latest stories (Obama’s for gay marriage!?) in order to highlight the critical situation in our burgeoning penal system.  These issues receive little attention, and, in my opinion, could easily be much improved.  For those in search of a crusade, you might consider it.

Thoughtful citizens take note: the U.S. prison population has boomed (this would make a good voting quiz question).  It rose 400% from 1980 to 2007, while the general population grew 33% in the same period, until U.S. prisons housed 2.3 million with about 5 million people on parole–a total population greater than the municipalities of Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco combined.  This makes the United States the most incarcarated country in the world and second most in known history (supposedly the USSR under Stalin just edges us out).  Today, the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated people.  We spend $70 billion of the $200 billion spent globally on keeping people locked up.

Many factors contribute to the rise in the U.S. prison population.  One is the war on drugs.  Another is 3 strike and other laws that demand stricter penalties which the public demanded after the rise in crime in the 80s and 90s.  Unfortunately, offenses that count towards 3 strike laws can be quite minor, such as stealing videos from wallmart, etc.  Life sentences are also given out more often than they used to be.  In 2003, 127,677 Americans were serving life sentences, an 83% jump in 11 years.  For these reasons and others, the prison population grew.

At first, the scale of this prison population spike just seemed strange.  After all, have we really had a 400% increase in depravity in the last 30 years?  Regardless, perhaps the rise is gravy if prison life means simply reading, watching TV, and exercising.  But the truth seems a bit more complicated. (Part 2 to come.)

(Unattributed quotes or stats are pulled from a fairly well-known article by Christopher Glazek.)

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Unjust Justice

At a news interview tonight, a reporter told me that police are charging Wes with public drunkenness, reckless endangerment, and something else I don’t remember.  The reporter asked me to respond and I want to share:

I think almost dying and getting badly injured is disincentive enough to provide behavioral change.  Assuming that he is not totally heartless, I am sure he also feels extremely embarrassed and ashamed to have endangered others.  I think our sense of justice in America can sometimes miss the mark.  My mother crashed her car last year, no other vehicles involved, in which her car was totaled, and she was almost killed.  She got a ticket and had to pay a considerable fine.  This sort of event or way of thinking is not uncommon.  It’s not the policeman’s fault.  It’s our way of thinking as a society that is to blame.  That is what I want to change.

The reporter also asked me:  Would you have done what you did if you knew that he was drunk?

My answer: Absolutely.  I make mistakes all the time.  Do you?  When I have fallen, physically and metaphorically, people have been there to help me up.  I had all the same problems with selfishness, greed, lust, pride, and bad-decision making before this event, and I still have them.  When I make my next mistake, when you do, we hope someone is there to pick us up.

I was sad to see in some of the comments on the youtube video that people were viciously ridiculing Wes for what has been said he did.  I try to stay away from biblical allusions, as I am rarely confident of God’s meaning, but it seems so appropriate here.  In John 8, Jesus was asked what to do about a criminal (there’s more to this story but irrelevant to the present purpose).  The law said that the criminal should be stoned.  Jesus said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.”   Of course we need laws and punishment, but maybe sometimes punishment is more unjust than no punishment.

Even if we did find someone who did not make mistakes, I imagine that person would also be wise enough to understand the beauty and importance of each individual.  When we make mistakes, we do not become suddenly worthless.  We are beautiful, maturing, and imperfect individuals.  Again, please do not judge a person based on one time events.  That also applies to me.  I am not defined by one act of heroism either.

Besides, what active and adventuresome person has not ridden MARTA and wondered if they were capable of clearing those tracks?  I certainly have.

2 housekeeping notes:

  1. I made a “Subway Incident” page (link above) as a receptacle for all links and things related to what happened on Sunday and the aftermath.  I’ll be posting about it less often, the worthy posts might wind up there, and I’ll try to keep that page current with the interviews and stuff that I am doing on-air and not.
  2. Alicia has decided that if several hundred people are going to be looking at my blog regularly or irregularly, it should be a bit more presentable.  She reads my stuff and edits at her leisure.  So, if you read something riddled with errors and idiocy, it means it is unadulterated Jer.