Reffutation: They Had It Coming

This is a clip of Thom Hartmann debateing  Horace Cooper, Attorney/Conservative Commentator & Senior Fellow-National Center for Public Policy Research over restoring voting rights to felons. In the open of the debate Hartmann explains that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement support of restoring voting rights to felons. Holder pointed out in the statement that some states such as Kentucky and Virginia as many as one in five black adults have lost their right to vote as a result of a convection. The Attorney General also makes the point that the laws preventing not only suppresses the voice of minorities, it also does not serve any purpose except to perpetuate the stigma imposed on formerly incarcerated persons. Cooper who is African-American and conservative disagrees with Holder’s assessment and the move to restore voting rights to felons. Cooper says Holder’s assessment is “divisive” and “intended to create a false impression that the criminal justice system actually singles out minorities.” Cooper’s justification is that if “we put aside the so cold war on drug,” saying there is a race problem with felons not voting would be to say that the Police intentionally ignore other felony crimes such as robbery, breaking and entering, etc….that are committed by white Americans.                                         

The trouble with Cooper’s argument is in thinking that we can “put aside the so cold war on drugs.” How can we put aside the war on drugs when that is the main contributor of why American prisons and jails are over capacity and the U.S. is responsible for 25% of prisoners in the world. The war on drugs which was issued in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan resulted in a massive inmate population increase. This “war on drugs” mainly targeted poor and predominately African-American neighborhoods and resulted with a shockingly disproportionate number of African-American men behind bars…specially compared to white Americans. Drug charges are counted as felony and as a result a massive percentage of the American-American community lost its voice when those felony convictions led to the loss of the right to vote. So one must wonder how Cooper plans to just put aside the consequences of the war on drugs and the disproportionate amount of minorities in prison when discussing restoring voting rights and the role of race. How do we justify the fact that some states have 1 in 5 black adults who have lost the right to vote and have been relegated to second-class citizens even after serving their time? There is really not any way to put the correlation between incarceration rates, race, and basic civil rights aside.


The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander


jail 1I found the comments section of this article particularly  interesting. People bot black and white appear to be divided about the initiative to decreases mass incarceration. All of this in spite of all the economic and social evidence that shows the dysfunctional  system of mass incarceration.

The befits of proper mental illness treatment

If there are effective programs that will properly care for mentally ill people who may have violent tendencies, the U.S. would be cutting the cost of corrections spending. Also proper treatment would help people deal with their mental illness and will likely reduce or control their violent tendencies and any other criminal tendencies that result from mental illness.

Funding a Broken System

According to the Center for economic and policy research (cepr), the United States spends about $75 billion on corrections and most of that money is spent on incarceration. To put this in perspective, the money spent on corrections is more than DOUBLE the GDP of many countries such as  Albania, Nicaragua, and Jamaica. These costs are covered by covered by taxpayers who must constantly compensate for the increasing rate of incarceration. The average cost per inmate various largely from state to state, ranging from around $14,000 to over $60,000. State governments are responsible for running prison systems and can set up their on choice of corrections facilities. A 2008 cepr research states “reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and jails by half would lower this bill by $16.9 billion per year, with the largest share of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments.”

Figure 1

The U.S. is not only increasing incarceration rates compared to other countries, it is also increasing in comparison to historical standards in this country. From 1880 to 1970 incarceration rates ranged between 100 and 200 per 100,000. Then  around 1980, the prison and jail population experienced a huge spike than the overall population, climbing from about 220 (per 100,000) in 1980, to 458 in 1990, to 683 in 2000, and finally to 753 by 2008 (cepr). In a nation still in recovery from a historical economic crisis, it is hard to believe the billions of dollars being spend on an increasingly dysfunctional system. For the past three decades Federal, State and Local government have decided to just throw money at the problem (at a sever cost to taxpayers) and ignored the evidence that shows that imprisoning more people is not an effective solution to deal with criminals.

it is past time to come up with cost effective measures to deal with crime. The government (at all three levels) should explore cost-cutting improvements such as decreasing the number of non-violent offenders in prison. These offenders can experience alternative punishments such as probation or parole. The government can so spend more money on programs that are designed to make sure that offenders who have served their time can re-join society easily. These programs provide job training and opportunities, and educational training. This will help decrease the number of returning offenders to the prison system.

What suggestions do you have for how to reduce the cost of the U.S. prison system?