"U.S. HAS HIGHEST ADULT IMPRISONMENT RATE in the world,” screamed the headline of a story in Monday’s Chicago Sun-Times.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ new study, this newspaper reported, reveals that about one of every 37 U.S. adults either was imprisoned at the end of 2001 or at one time had done time in a state or federal prison. This adds up to about 5.6 million people, approximately 2.7 of every 100 American adults.
“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,” wrote 17th Century poet Richard Lovelace. A prison can be many things.
Entire Marxist nations such as Communist China, North Korea and Cuba are gigantic prisons whose millions of inmates are denied human rights, civil liberties, economic freedom, and above all the right to leave.
Why do Leftist journalists never mention that the 2.7 percent rate of incarceration in the United States is vastly lower than the 99+ percent enslavement of the populace common to Communist lands?
What instead stimulates the Pavlovian salivation of such journalists seems to be their eagerness to use this study as yet another stick with which to hit and harm the United States. Because we imprison a larger percentage of our population than any other nation, the reporting implies, we are somehow less free or more violent (or both) than any other nation.
The study predicts that our courts will soon be imprisoning a larger and larger share of Americans. Of those born in 2001, it speculates, one of every 15 will spend time behind bars.
Even worse, the reporting implies, is that, in America, Lady Justice may be blindfolded but seems not to be colorblind. Is racism the reason why so great a difference exists in the racial composition of the U.S. prison population?
In 2001, the study found, nearly one of every six African-American men are current or former prisoners, as were one of every 13 Hispanic males and one of every 38 whites.
In the highest risk 35-44 year age group, today 22 percent of black males are or have been prisoners, compared to 10 percent of Hispanic males and 3.5 percent of white males.
But for children born in 2001, the study projects that the rising rate of imprisonment will cause approximately one of every three black males, one of every six Hispanic males, and one of every 17 whites to spend part of their lives in state or federal prison.
(Asian-American and Jewish prison rates are too low to be a significant factor in this research. Women have recently doubled their proportion among prisoners, but their lifetime chance of going to prison is projected to be only 1.8 percent, compared to an overall male likelihood of 11.3 percent.)
Liberals tend to see racism as the cause of this disparity. The FBI long encouraged police to pay attention to higher-than-average black crime statistics, their argument goes, and this leads to more profiling of African-Americans as potential criminals to be watched. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with more surveillance of blacks and a dollop of cop racism producing more black arrests and convictions.
Inside the Leftist mind plays the 1938 movie “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Two juvenile delinquent kids are chased by the cops, and both try to escape by jumping a fence. One makes it, escapes punishment, and becomes a Roman Catholic priest played by Pat O’Brien. The other gets grabbed before he clears the fence, gets sent to learn crime from other delinquents in reform school, and becomes a gangster played by James Cagney.
The only difference between them, liberals believe, is that one got caught and was sent spiraling downward – as so many African-Americans are by prison experience and its blot on their job resume – while the other equally-criminal youngster outran police and became a veritable saint. The politically-correct subtext is that we are beneficiaries or victims of fate or luck or other forces beyond our control.
Some truth exists in the argument that the higher arrest and conviction rates for blacks prompts police to expect in future what such statistics show. Some truth is found in the idea that we are a mixed society bringing together many cultures and races that only partly understand each other, and this leads to more potential social conflict than would exist in nations that are racial-ethnic monocultures of conformity such as Sweden.
But honesty compels us to speak a far more Politically Incorrect truth. Although two of every three African-Americans is hard-working, honest, law-abiding, moral and Middle Class, the remaining third is part of an economic underclass.
This minority subclass for the most part lives in Inner City social environments. Its sons, nearly 70 percent of whom are born and raised by single mothers, have as their male role models the local pimp, drug dealer, and poverty pimp politician.
The politics of this environment are steeped in both racism and class-ism, with demagogues like the Rev. Jesse Jackson making themselves rich by preaching that these neighborhoods’ problems come not from their own irresponsibility but from those who are white and rich.
The voodoo politics Rev. Jackson and his ilk offer is to tell their followers to vote for Democrats, who will then use government power to confiscate what others have earned and redistribute this wealth in welfare checks, government jobs, and other goodies to those in the Inner City.
Such welfarist politics legitimize violence and theft. They tell Inner City residents that they are entitled to take the wealth others have earned. Should we be surprised that many of these people decide to eliminate the government middleman (and the 80 percent cut the government has taken for itself, its politicians and operatives, during schemes like the $7+ trillion “War on Poverty”)? If rich white folks are evil and deserve to have their wealth taken away, why not just take it yourself?
The politics of class hatred and wealth redistribution – the bread and butter of the Democratic Party and its slave masters like Rev. Jackson – might be the single biggest cause of minority crime in America. By legitimizing theft, it promotes theft. By legitimizing violence and hatred, it stimulates violence and hatred.
Rev. Jackson himself unwittingly confirmed this years ago, telling one interviewer that one dark night walking down a street in Washington, D.C., he was frightened to hear footsteps approaching. Then, said Rev. Jackson, he felt “relieved” when he saw that the walkers overtaking and passing him were white.
The Politically Incorrect truth is that African-Americans are a disproportionately large part of America’s prison population in part because – take a deep breath – they commit a disproportionate share of crime, violent as well as self-inflicted “victimless” crime.
The biggest cause of this is not only racism but welfarism – the concoction and perpetuation of a subculture that makes excuses for criminal behavior, condones theft, and practices a Leftist class hatred and envy as virulent as any racism ever preached by the Ku Klux Klan.
“Don’t you understand, Lowell,” a famous Leftist intellectual once told me over drinks, “that welfare is the price we pay for keeping the poor in their place.” Their place, the ruling Democratic Party elite believes, is in helplessness and government dependency down on the welfare plantation where their votes can be harvested every time elections come.
Yet by using minority votes to gain the political power to rob the rich, but then sharing only crumbs of that stolen swag with the poor, Democrats like Rev. Jackson have caused widespread minority despair, frustration, incipient violence and the drug use that also puts a disproportionate number of African-Americans into prison.
And now so many have been and will be sent to prison that, unless the Democratic Party’s crusade to change laws succeeds, four million prisoners and former prisoners will remain unable to vote. In 12 states a convicted felon loses the vote for the rest of his or her life. A disproportionate share of these will be African-Americans, the minority on which the Democratic Party depends now for nearly one out of five of its votes.
Why is the proportion of our population in prison increasing? The Federal Government has been moving to mandatory sentencing laws, taking the discretion to be lenient out of the hands of Leftist judges. States have also been adopting “three strikes and you’re out” laws that send repeat criminals to prison, even when the third crime demonstrating their criminal mentality is as trivial as stealing a piece of pizza or a bicycle.
“In my view, our resources are being misspent,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy last Saturday told the American Bar Association. “Our punishments are too severe and our sentences are too long…. In all too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unjust.”
But do not expect Congress to roll back its new policies. Since 1995 the federal prison population has grown by 41 percent and – surprise, surprise – with these criminals off the streets the crime rate in the last decade has gone down by about 50 percent.
A disproportionate share of crime victims have also been minorities, who are now safer in their own neighborhoods.
One potential path to reducing America’s prison population was signed into law Monday by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. It will require Chicago Public Schools, starting January 1, 2004, to identify (by techniques not yet defined) students considered at risk for committing future crimes. Yes, it sounds like the recent movie “Minority Report” about people arrested on the accusation of psychics that they will commit crimes in the future.
Under this new law, these potentially criminal students will then be taken on tours of a state prison in a kind of “scared straight” effort to show them where antisocial behavior might lead. (Too bad these kids have Bill and Hillary Clinton and their Leftist elite co-conspirators as counter-examples of how crime pays if you are powerful, crooked and brazen enough.)
We have come a long way from school kids taking field trips to fields or dairy farms. We have even left behind the film noir ugly images in black and white of crime and prison life.
At least in “Angels with Dirty Faces” the gangster Jimmy Cagney honors his attending priest friend Pat O’Brien by pretending to be a whimpering coward and weakling when he is taken to the prison execution chamber. In this way he makes a last redemptive gesture to show youngsters who hear reports of his death that a life of crime does not pay and should be avoided.
Prisons have much to teach us. Perhaps we should consider field trips behind bars not just for antisocial youngsters but for all students. We have made such places a cornerstone on which our social order rests, every bit as much as are our legislatures or newspapers or classrooms. Experiencing such a place, if only for a few hours as a visitor, should be part of everybody’s life education.