117 The Injustice of Mass Incarceration & Why Vegans Should Care (Part 1)
In the first of our two-part series, Nichole and Callie discuss what mass incarceration is, how we came to have the system we do today, how the system currently works (including topics like bail, pleading guilty vs not-guilty, and who is actually in prison), and then we end with a heartbreaking story from Kalief Browder about his tragic experience in our prison system.
In This Episode
Content Warning: discussion of unfair policies around incarceration including racial targeting, links to slavery, and economic discrimination; rape and suicide.
What is Mass Incarceration/The Prison Industrial Complex?
“Whether called mass incarceration, mass imprisonment, the prison boom, the carceral state, or hyperincarceration, this phenomenon refers to the current American experiment in incarceration, which is defined by comparatively and historically extreme rates of imprisonment and by the concentration of imprisonment among young, African American men living in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage”
Source: Mass Incarceration (Oxford Bibliographies)
- Obama said -”The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.”
- “An estimated 1.6 million individuals were held in state and federal prisons at the end of 2014, while roughly 1 out of every 36 adults fell under correctional supervision, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.”
Source: Ending Mass Incarceration (The Atlantic)
How did we get here?
Slavery and the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865
- “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”
- People celebrated but it *also* legalized slavery for convicted criminals
The Civil Rights Movement
Reagan & the War on Drugs
- Reagan “Total war”, “War on Crime”, “War on Drugs”, “Law and Order” all subtle signals
- Reagan was fighting back against protesters, backlash from Civil rights movement, black power/panther movement, anti-war, women’s liberation movement and gay liberation
- Reagan’s enemies list
- With the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 Congress enacted different mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including marijuana
- “Southern Strategy” – switched poor whites over to republican party
- “Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.”
- “Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”Source: Clinton Does Not Deserve Black Peoples’ Votes (The Nation)
Current Day/How the system works
- As mentioned in last week’s episode, The High Cost of Being Poor, bail is a system that favors the rich and oppresses the poor and already marginalized communities
- Of the nearly 750,000 inmates confined in jails around the U.S. at any time, between 60 and 70 percent haven’t been convicted, according to federal data. – not all are in jail because of issues paying bail but that is still and unbelievably high statistic
- Lives are ruined without even being found guilty we all see how much policing is out of control in this country, how marginalized communities, especially communities of color, are targeted by police. Mainstream media/society leads us to believe that people that are arrested or in jail are guilty, they are bad and violent people but that is just not the whole story
Who is Actually Incarcerated?
- Almost 50% of inmates are there for DRUG OFFENSES?
Why someone would plead guilty versus not-guilty
- System is set up to to move through people quickly, we don’t have a JUSTICE system
- “A public defender will have a caseload of over 100 clients at a time, Eighty percent of defendants cannot afford a lawyer. Tens of thousands of people go to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer or going to trial”
- Prosecutor has all of the resources, they bully people into accepting plea by threatening to throw the book at them (mandatory minimums)
- “Conservative estimates put innocent people who plead guilty between 2% and 5%, which translates to tens of thousands of innocent people behind bars today”
- “The few criminologists who have thus far investigated the phenomenon estimate that the overall rate for convicted felons as a whole is between 2 percent and 8 percent”
- “97% of federal convictions and 94% of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas”
- The system wants you to strike a plea deal – not like TV! But as we know, accepting a guilty plea ruins your life
Prison Punishes, Not Reforms
- There’s no assistance after incarceration: welfare, student loans, public housing, food stamps (unless states waive restrictions)
- Job applications ask about felony convictions, barred from some industries (banking/financial) and a lot of employers uncomfortable hiring convicted felons
John Doe 1’s Story
Rape in the American Prison (The Atlantic)
Kalief Browder’s Story
(content warning: violence, incarceration, suicide; an innocent life ruined by our system)
Links and Information