Saturday, June 5, 2010
Crime news: Lock them up and throw away the key
"A Human Rights Nightmare is Occurring on Our Watch"
With 5% of the world's population, the United States today boasts 25% of its prison population. Despite declining crime rates in the last three decades (even in the midst of our current recession), rates of incarceration in the U.S. have been stunning. The Economist recently called this trend "a disgrace."
Even more staggering has been the racial dispararity in the people our nation incarcerates.
In her new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Ohio State University legal scholar Michelle Alexander cogently considers the tidal wave of incarceration that has swept America in the past 30 years. She says mass incarceration has created a "new racial undercaste" which, although race-neutral on its face, has sharply greater impacts on people of color. "A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch," Alexander asserts; if we avert our gaze, "history will judge us harshly."
Consider, for example, these facts:
* The U.S. presently incarcerates a greater percentage of its black population than South Africa did during the height of its apartheid regime.
* More black citizens are disenfranchised today than on the eve of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote in 1870.