Archive for Monday, March 12, 2012


Everyday Life: The only thing we have to fear …

March 12, 2012


On Feb. 7, the political activist and philosopher Angela Davis spoke at Kansas University.

Toward the end of her speech she talked about abolishing prisons, and I thought: If we close the prisons, how will we protect ourselves from the bad people?

And then I read Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America” in the Jan. 30 New Yorker. Did you know that the current incarceration rate is three times that of the 1980s? That more than half of all African-American men without a high school diploma can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lives? That the rate of African-American incarceration is seven times the white rate, even though the rate at which people actually commit crimes is pretty much the same in both populations?

Did you know that our prison systems are run more and more by private contractors with financial interest in keeping their prisons full and even fuller, leading them to lobby against any legal reform that would send fewer people to jail? That, in partial consequence, we lock up increasing numbers of nonviolent people who are unlucky enough to get caught breaking laws that are, in fact, widely violated with no serious repercussions to society, instead of letting these folks do something useful with their lives?

Who goes to jail? According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, in 2010, 51 percent of federal prisoners were in for drug offenses and 35 percent for “public-order” offenses (e.g., weapons and immigration violations). Only 6 percent were jailed for property crimes, and only 8 percent were violent offenders.

You don’t have to be a prison abolitionist to realize that there is something very wrong with this picture. Prison isn’t the only effective deterrent to bad behavior. Other countries with far lower rates of incarceration are just as safe and even safer. One of the lowest rates of incarceration in the U.S. is in New York City, yet they have seen an 80 percent decrease in crime in the last 10 years.

Instead of keeping the rest of us safe, our current prison system increases the danger to those who come under its aegis, most of whom are not that different from the folks outside. In a heartbeat it could be you or someone you love, especially if your skin is more brown than pink.

How did we get to this point? Our prison system, as so much else that doesn’t work in our lives, is a result of irrational fear.

Fear is what puts us and everyone around us in danger. Gripped by fear, we can only lash out wildly, causing tremendous damage. But without fear, we can perceive what’s really dangerous and do something useful about it.

Is this possible? In Ohio, an Amish man, Monroe Beachy, is under arrest for a $16 million Ponzi scheme. While deeply condemning his acts, his community is asking to remove his case from the criminal justice system, in their own words, “based on Christian principles of love and care for the poor and needy.” The Amish can do it. Why not the rest of us?

— Judith Roitman can be reached at


Chris Condren 2 years, 1 month ago

I read this editorial and shed a tear for the way we in America treat our financial criminals. Long prison terms and heavy fines! Can't we all just get along? If we gave them a monthly check instead of incarceration they could cease their lives of crime and do good things for our communities. Given financial stability and enhanced self esteem these one time criminals and social outcasts could reengage in society to help build a better future for all.


FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 1 month ago

Why hasn't The Obama "fixed" this issure yet?

The Obama should consider the "Tlingit Indian Nation" solution to crime.

It comes down to a clash of cultures--the modern style of crime and punishment or the traditional Native American way. In the case of these two Alaska-native teens from Everett, Washington, convicted of beating and robbing another man, it was two to five years in prison or banishment of the two for one year to separate uninhabited Alaska islands with just the basic tools of survival.

My Native brothers in Skagit Valley agree with this program.

(from a source)


Pork_Ribs 2 years, 1 month ago

What's up with that? You can't answer the question and have fun dialog so you attack with nothing? My 11 year old daughter read my post this morning and got it completely. Clear as a bell. She understands the difference between discipline and punishment as I'm sure you do as well but for some reason you would rather antagonize than converse. I believe the misuse one of these ideas is at the heart of why our prison system is a mess. Are you going to attack and waste your time? Or are you going to have dialog on a subject that obviously interests you? Talking with people is much more fun than arguing with them. I'll pose the question a different way: Should sending a person to prison be to discipline them or punish them?


Pork_Ribs 2 years, 1 month ago

This has got to be the most ridiculous article I have read in a very long time. OK all you warm and fuzzy's who think they are smarter than everyone else...Please tell me the difference between Discipline and Punishment. The genius that answers that question will unlock the mystery of this article.

When warm and fuzzy's quit trying to use prisons for one and just stick with the other...the system will become very effective.


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