Friday, August 20, 2010

Aug 15, 2010

Dear Sis~

I read that Kenya's highest court of appeals unanimously held that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional, meaning hundreds of prisoners must now receive a new sentencing hearing, this time where they can present mitigating evidence.  The old law required a mandatory death sentence as the only punishment for a person convicted of murder.  (Our US Supreme Court outlawed mandatory death sentences 34 years ago).  Kenya has not executed anyone in 23 years, by the way.  The same court of appeals spoke strongly about extended incarceration on death row, stating that holding a person on death row for more than 3 years would be unconstitutional...
Closer to home, The Economist, a really interesting magazine, reported that mass incarceration in America continues at record high levels despite the incredibly high costs (financial and other).  At 748 persons per 100,000 citizens America, by far, has the highest oncarceration rate in the world, locking up five times more people per capita than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan.  We have almost 2.5 million prisoners here, and many, many more on parole or probation.  The trend isa ever upwards.  In 1970, one in 400 Americans were incarcerated, compared with today's rate of one in 100.  Including those on parole or probation, one adult American in 31 is under correctional supervision.  The far majority of these are in for noviolent crimes.  The number of drug offenders in federal and state prisons has oncreased 13-fold since 1980.  This is a direct result of concrete policies to incarcerate as many Americans as possible (i.e., a deliberate choice to use incarceration as the primary tool, as poopsed to other solutions).  In America, we are all about locking folks up and throwing away the key.  It is completely accurate to describe America as a prison nation.  The annual costs of incarceration continue to skyrocket (but prisons provide jobs!); in California, the cost is around $50,000 per prisoner per year, which is seven times what California spends per student on education.  That speaks volumes about our priorities, and that statistic demonstrates our problems in a nutshell.  I see a direct correlation between our penchant for spending scarce public resources on increasing rates of incarceration and our school kids' ever-increasing decline in academic achievement.  America now ranks far below even some third-world nations when it comes to our childrens' scholastic knowledge and abikities.  We'd rather spend our money on prisons and teachers...
All other civilized nations, from the Netherlands to Sweden to Japan to Denmark, have long ago turned away from mass incarceration and now use innovative solutions which have markedly reduced crime rates.  Even New York has demonstrated this approach can work in the US; it reduced the violent crime rate by 40% between 1997 and 2007 while cutting its incarceration rate by 15%.  But the vast majority of politicians believe in one thing: building more prisons and filling them up as fast as possible.  It's all part of our oddly persistent puritanical heritage which is obsessed with guilt and punishment.  Nations, like people, reap what they sow, and in that sense, we deserve what we've got...
Give the doggies a tummy rub for me, Sis, and give yourself a big hug.
Love, Bill

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