Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NAACP Incarceration Statistics Relevant to Canadian Election

Often the debate over "getting tough on crime" generates more heat than light and, as has often been the case in the US, those in favor of longer sentences have prevailed. Now, as Canada's federal politicians fight election battles, the ruling Conservative party is making the case for longer sentences, and the building of new prisons. Opponents say there's no reason to think these measures will lead to less crime, any more than they have in the US.

In both the US and Canada the problem is that those advocating longer sentences and more prisons seem unswayed by the evidence that suggests these approaches add to costs, and don't necessarily make our streets safer. Meanwhile, it's clear our respective justice systems need to do something differently, and that for those who wish to look at the data, more prisons and longer sentences don't provide the promised benefits. Citizens seeking alternatives need to do a better job than they have to date when it comes to gathering their data and communicating it in terms that cut through the supposed "common sense" of the tough on crime advocates.

Enter the NAACP and a report to be released tomorrow (April 7, 2010) on incarceration in the US, which is relevant to Canadian election debates. Called Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate and Over Incarcerate, the report "uncovers a disturbing connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools," says an NAACP news release.


The report documents how funds which could be used for education are diverted to the prison system, and notes that some of the worst performing schools are in areas with the highest incarceration rates. Taking aim at the drug problem, the report also documents how inappropriate it is to send people with recurring addiction to prison, rather than to recovery programs.

“We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Failing schools, college tuition hikes and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, allocations for our incarceration system continue to increase, sending our youth the wrong message about their future.”

Not only is Jealous taking clear aim at the prison and tough on crime lobbies, he will be joined at the news conference releasing the report by law enforcement officials and Republicans, who recognize the American justice and prison systems are not working.
The Canadian election campaign for the federal House of Commons (Parliament) is still in its early stages, and there's no reason candidates of all parties can't incorporate some of the wisdom from the NAACP report in their electioneering long before the May 2 election.

For those who'd say the US and Canada are different, and therefore the findings of a US report are not relevant, there are some similarities worth noting.

The first is that the Harper government's commitment to building more prisons and having lengthier sentences is very much the American model, as his critics have said, and which hasn't been denied.

Also, the report's concerns to a large extent focus on the Afro-American population, who are over-represented on a per capita basis in American prisons. In Canada, that's an unenviable distinction conferred on Aboriginal people.

And in both the US and Canada, drug addiction and related offences drive much of the crime.

Not surprisingly, in both countries, there's a shortage of services for those who are addicted, and/or have been traumatized the most by drug related crimes, which often are violent. It may sound pleasingly righteous to speak of protecting the victims of crime when, in reality, very little focus is placed by governments on ways survivors of crime can over come the negative impact of crime, including PTSD, so they can again enjoy normal lives.

It seems clear that the Liberal and New Democratic parties need to do a more effective job of presenting facts and figures that will sway both small-c and large-C conservatives to consider something other than prisons as a means to reform the justice system. 

The NAACP report, along with an effort to get corresponding figures for Canada, could go a long way to doing just that.

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NAACP CRIMINAL JUSTICE FACT SHEET

This fact sheet may be found on the NAACP site, and is copied here in full to help generate greater discussion and awareness among both Americans and Canadians.
Incarceration Trends in America
  • From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people
  • Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
  • Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in ever y 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control
Racial Disparities in Incarceration
  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).
Drug Sentencing Disparities
  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)
Contributing Factors
  • Inner city crime prompted by social and economic isolation
  • Crime/drug arrest rates: African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession
  • "Get tough on crime" and "war on drugs" policies
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing, especially disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine possession
  • In 2002, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic
  • "Three Strikes"/habitual offender policies
  • Zero Tolerance policies as a result of perceived problems of school violence; adverse affect on black children.
  • 35% of black children grades 7-12 have been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers compared to 20% of Hispanics and 15% of whites
Effects of Incarceration
  • Jail reduces work time of young people over the next decade by 25-30 percent when compared with arrested youths who were not incarcerated
  • Jails and prisons are recognized as settings where society's infectious diseases are highly concentrated
  • Prison has not been proven as a rehabilitation for behavior, as two-thirds of prisoners will reoffend
Exorbitant Cost of Incarceration: Is it Worth It?
  • About $70 billion dollars are spent on corrections yearly
  • Prisons and jails consume a growing portion of the nearly $200 billion we spend annually on public safety


1 comment:

  1. "We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” That's a smart thing to say, but the solutions, especially decriminalizing it could snowball and lead to worse consequences.

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