Monday, June 27, 2005

The War on Freedom and Liberty: an alarming movement by America's right wing to incarcerate Liberal and Libertarian political opponents

We respectfully ask that you read the entire post before commenting the first time, but for your convenience we have put a jump to the comments section right here, so that you can easily find them.

Wait; what am I talking about here, a "conspiracy theory", or wacky opinion? No, I'm talking about the alarming incarceration rate of American Citizens; rivaled by no other nation on this entire planet. By FAR, America has THE highest incarceration rate of any civilized nation; 60-100% times higher, in fact.

But to make such an argument that this is particularly, an attack upon the Citizens of America by its right wing, we must first identify just who the targets of incarceration are. Let's just do that, shall we?

The majority of prisoners in our country come from poor neighborhoods. Over 70% are locked up for non-violent, low-level property crimes and drug crimes. 70% of all people who are incarcerated for drug crimes are black, even though they only represent 13% of all drug abusers in America. On top of that, one out of every three black males between the ages of 20 and 29 years of age are either incarcerated, or being pursued by the "justice system".

Folks, this CLEARLY identifies who these people are: they are a significant portion of the Democrat and Libertarian voting blocks! And it should also be pointed out that many of these people, once released from the prison system can NEVER vote again. Of course, they are also unable to vote while they are locked up, but that goes without saying.

To further my argument, it is necessary to identify the perpetrators of freedom and liberty as being the Conservative block of America. This is the easiest part. Ask yourselves which party is it who fights the hardest to make laws to incarcerate those who engage in prostitution, pornography, and drug use? After all, these people make up a HUGE portion of both the prison population as well as the people who are fighting for their freedom against the justice system. Answer: the Republicans, that's who. And again, who is it that most opposes the incarceration of American Citizens over such minor "offenses"? Liberals and Libertarians, of COURSE.

So, knowing all of this, it would be hard to dispute we have a movement underway by the right-wing of America to lock up its free thinking, accomodating Liberals and its free wheeling Libertarians. The incarceration rates of these largely, anti-Republican voting blocks is rapidly growing, and has been since it's sharp increase directly after the Vietnam War. Just a coincidence? I think NOT.

Drug laws, prostitution laws, and pornography laws have traditionally been sold, drafted, and passed, by conservative lawmakers. Who is it who most blatantly opposes the regaining of voting rights by these so-called, "felons"? No question, it is the right-wing of our country. I must wonder if the Democrats would be winning more elections if more of their constituents were suddenly released back into society as a result of the wiping out of criminal convictions for drug abusers, sex workers, and other non-violent, petty, one-time criminals were able to vote against the system that helped contribute to their "lives of crime"?

Let's just take a look at some cold, hard facts to back up my statements. Last August, during the heat of the Presidential race of '04, The Justice Policy Institute conducted a study. Prison spending in the 17 key battleground States increased FIVE TIMES as fast as higher education spending. It also found that 2 million otherwise, free people in the swing states were unable to vote due to felony convictions in their backgrounds. Also, just as alarming, prison growth in Republican leaning States DOUBLED that of the Democrat leaning States. Get THIS: the report found the number of disenfranchized voters in 11 of the 17 swing States would have been enough voters to overturn the election results!

But here is perhaps, the most interesting result of the study: while incarceration rates are rising, the nation's crime rates are falling. I will not buy the argument that this is because the prisons are so great at deterring criminals and rehabilitating criminals, or that this just means all the "bad guys" and "bad girls" are being locked up and punished. What is going on here is obvious. Our justice system is targeting minorities, the poor, and the unemployed at rapidly-increasing rates.

Instead of allowing the left, and libertarian voters to gain enough "voting voice" to help repeal such draconian laws and unfitting criminal sentences, the right-wing continues to simply rob them of their liberties, freedom, and VOTES, and it's making a clear difference in our elections these days, more than ever before. It's a ploy that is working tremendously well. Who's in jail? Mostly Liberals and Libertarians, that is who.

It's also obvious that the right-wing doesn't want anything to do with prevention of petty crime at the grass roots and community levels. Prison "reform" is a VERY big business that generates many huge paychecks around this country, and biz is REAL good right now. There are valid arguments that increased education would go a lot further toward reducing crime than incarceration does. Besides, that wouldn't help win elections in our swing States either, would it?
Last but not least; let's look at a snapshot of the costs of doing business this way. Privatization of the prison system is quickly on the grow. Obviously, it is the right who pushes for privatization more than any other group. It is my belief that more crime would be prevented much CHEAPER with an emphasis on community programs and education in our poorer communities than moving forward with an emphasis on incarceration. Lawyers are the winners above all, and lawyers aren't cheap. Plus, who pays the house notes, car notes, and all other notes for those we suddenly yank out of their jobs and toss into prisons? WE DO, that is who.

It is not only a tragedy, it is dead wrong, and must be stopped in the name of liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness in America.

Carl -
The Gun-Toting Liberal

When speaking of incarceration.. I always try to go back to the roots of things. Where did we first learn to incarcerate persons for crimes--as in for prolonged amounts of time or even for life? It really is an idea that was unknown to our ancestors, who were victims of crime. When someone offended another person, broke the "tribal law" there were stiff penalties. It is interesting however, that none of these answered to it with locking the person up. So where did the "locking up" come from?

In ancient Celt society, the Brithion law was the law of the land. It imposed penalties that were deemed fitting to the crime. The tribal elders enforced payment of the penalties. For example.. killing or our equivalent of 1st degree murder, the price was levied and offenders were banished or sentenced to death. This seems "reasonable" to the average person. Let the price fit the crime. The bible too, had its ancient legal edicts, which were spelled out in the Pentateuch.

I think that much of crime/law came from the moral code of the tribes of humanity and to most of it there was a common sense that had its base as: “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

Now the question that I see as most systemic, is not “Are we incarcerating and thereby effecting politics?” I think that is an incidental thing. The question is: Is incarceration WORKING?

Today, we are seeing larger incarceration percentages and yet we are not seeing an equivalent percentage of the downfall of crime. It would seem that for every criminal locked up, three new springs up in his or her place, waiting to be caught. The problem, as I see it--is that we have become, as a Society, quite audacious in thinking that we will "not be caught". We also have allowed, IMHO, for crimes to not be punished fittingly. Who fears jail now? When in some cases, the jail life is better then the life that was left behind?? When you are offered clothing, food, recreation, access to medical service, folks--it is EASIER to even obtain and traffic drugs in jail then it is in society! When is this then a deterrent to committing a crime?

According to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

The largest rise in criminal incarceration has been in the area of Violent Crime (murder, rape, manslaughter, sexual crimes, assault, etc.)
The only crime that was showing the signs of a leveling off or decline was that of Property Crimes (burglary, vandalism, trespassing, etc.)

The numbers would seem to show that criminals that are being caught are not those that want to steal your van--they are the ones that want to kill your family. If these numbers be true, it would say that we ARE in fact, incarcerating those that need to be.

Those that are guilty of crimes against society, like white-collar crime.. is there not some better way to make the punishment FIT? Is there a rehabilitation that would be more optimum? There are many that commit crime that do so for reasons that are just almost nearly 'justifiable'. When a person is driven to a ledge, will he not turn and fight or jump? It’s our nature to fight as long as we can. So it is then a Society rehabilitation we need to look at, as well as an individual rehabilitation. In short, a "changing of the mind" of the individual and the larger society.

For those that are incarcerated for violent crimes against a human being--now there, well I think we have two divisions of people:
1. Those that are acting out: made criminals
2. Those that born mean (as my grandma used to say)

For those that are "made criminals" I believe in my heart, for many of them incarceration if done WELL, can be a method of rehabilitation, when coupled with some intense therapy, skill learning, etc. Yes, it’s a long shot.. but it says of us as a Society that we still believe in the triumph of the human spirit and his ability to overcome what plights have been laid upon him.

For those that are simply "born mean" these are the ones that feel no remorse for what they've done and admit it. These are the sociopaths, without a conscience. For these, that have been adjudicated as non rehabilitatable I firmly believe that they need to be put out of their misery, just the same as we would do to any animal that was in pain and couldn't fix it.

I believe in the death penalty.. and I believe that when there are witnesses that saw you do it you should get the fast lane to the chair. (*grin* to Ron White)

Incarceration if it affects politics in anyway, I believe is incidental. The fact of the matter is--if they did the crime, they should do the time. Doesn't matter who you are, where you grew up--we all make choices. If those choices bring us to a bad end, they were still OUR CHOICES. That is what taking RESPONSIBILITY is all about: realizing that we have choice, making those choices and realizing they were our doing.

I do not believe that criminals who are incarcerated should be allowed the privilege of voting. I do however believe that when their time has been served, and they have been returned to American Society, their right should be restored. Else wise, we are continuing to punish them beyond what even the court deemed a fitting term of punishment. If they are returned to Society, then to be afforded a full ability of return is in order.
There are those that do not agree--however as it is in my way of being to believe, I believe that if the price has been paid--then let it be paid in full. How long shall they reside under a scarlet letter?

Patricia - Ancient Eyes for Current Times

My answer to your post Carl is simple, maybe too simple, and maybe that means I missed something, but I sincerely think I did not. I will be full of generalizations here, but they are just that generalizations, and not implications to any one person.

More people who commit crimes tend to be of the liberal persuasion because they share a common thread with the far left. They don't want to either take responsibility for themselves or they want someone else to take care of them. Criminals tend to have the attitude of "I deserve it", or "You owe it to me." and thus are swayed by the arguments that support government sponsored healthcare, and welfare. The very fact that the converse is true, that criminals tend to be liberal, is not surprising. Liberalism attracts Criminals, thus more Criminals are Liberal.

The problem here is not tough laws, nor is it tough punishments for these infractions of the law. The problem is the continued disregard of the criminal element for society. This is not solved by more lenient laws, this is solved when people stand up and say, "No More" and don't accept crime as a part of life, it is solved when people take responsibility for themselves, and pull themselves out of their "Terrible" situations. I personally know plenty of ex-cons who have determined in their lives not to go back, not because of the oppression of "The Man", but because they know that what they did, violent or not, was wrong, and not good for society.

So I say to you, it is not the liberal voting block being targeted for incarceration, but those who are prone to committing crimes that are being targeted by liberals, appealing to their "what have you done for me lately" nature, rather than the newly conservative "What can I do for my Country/Community".

Zaphriel - Birth of a Neocon

Prison Reform: Not a Left-Right Issue

I've learned over the years that when I have a strong reaction to someone's post, and I feel I just absolutely HAVE to start typing a response, then is the time to go to the pool, the workout center, play with the kids, watch the Cubs, take a nap. or grab a good Clive Cussler novel. In other words, do anything other than reply until I've had time to really think about the message behind a writer's words. I did every single thing on the above list, and then some before sitting down to write my response to GT's post.

I completely agree with GT's statistics about prisons. Completely. The tragedy of victimization, begun with slavery, and perpetuated through the continued victimization of the welfare system has devastated the Black family structure in this country. That system of victimization finds its most evil fruit in our prisons. In fact, GT's statistics very likely underestimate the problem. Prisons today are more crowded than ever, as non-violent offenders become mixed with the most anti-social personalities in our society. This only leads to more problems.

For those that do end up in prison, the statistics are frightening. 21% of people in prison report at least one episode of unwanted sexual contact. Prison rape is a very real issue, and is most assuredly no joke to those who have been victimized by it. I know. I've treated those who have been violently raped in prison. The scars last a life time, for men and women.

The stories are heartbreaking. Many of them can be read here, and also at Stop Prisoner Rape. The Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons has done great work in bringing the topic to the attention of the media, and in working for real change to make prisons safer. There is some hope, as the commentary Bearing Fruit in Angola makes clear. Angola Prison, in Louisiana, was known as The Farm, one of the most dangerous hell holes in the nation. What turned it around makes for an interesting story. Worth scrolling down the link to the story.

There are solutions, and folks out there working to see those solutions implemented. Here is just a partial list, using the approach known as Restorative Justice. Here's a definition of this approach:

Note the following programs tend to fall within what is described as restorative responses to crime. Many of the programs focus on identifying and working to repair the harm caused by crime. They also actively engage the victim, offender, and community in the justice process. It is when victim, offender, and community representatives encounter one another, learn more about each other and their situation that relationships are established or restored. It is in this relational context that people are held accountable and take responsibility for their acts and begin to repair the harm and broken relationships. Additionally, some of the responses below focus on community building that may create the atmosphere for restorative justice to be put into action. Some restorative justice advocates believe that restorative justice processes themselves create the catalyst for community building. Since both beliefs have merit, we have included programs that are designed to build community and are generally restorative in their response to victims, the offenders, and the communities in which they reside.

Restorative Justice works. It provided healing for the victim, the perpetrator, the families, and the community.

The links I've provided above are either directly from Prison Fellowship's website, or a group associated with Prison Fellowship. Prison Fellowship was founded by Chuck Colson, Nixon's "hatchetman." He took his experience in prison for the crimes of Watergate and turned them in to a ministry to convicts and their loved ones. I know of no organization in the world doing so much for prisoners and their families. From resources for volunteers visiting prisoners, to survival guides for prisoners themselves, to vast resources for the families of prisoners through Angel Tree, Prison Fellowship's goal is to visit the those in prison, and to be there for them and their families. I've been a proud participant in this ministry for years.

It is out of that participation that my sadness at GT's outrageous accusations has grown since reading his post. I'm not angry, just sad that the issues of crime and justice would be turned in to a political stick with which to somehow gain voting rights for ex-convicts. That seems to be an issue the left would love to bring up, not out of a sense of compassion for the prisoner or ex-prisoner, but out of a selfish grab for power. I find that shameful, and frankly offensive.

Prison reform, and working to change this society to prevent crime in the first place is not an issue for the left or the right. Engaging in conspiracy theories about who is locking up who doesn't help the 13 year old trapped in a life of prostitution, or the poor Oklahoma kid hooked on meth. It doesn't help the woman raped brutally by a couple of teenagers looking for a thrill, and it doesn't help the teenagers so warped by their culture that they would commit such an awful crime.

I'm hoping we can get beyond such silly accusations as were made in GT's post. Those trapped in crime, and those paying the consequences for those crimes demand we get beyond it. People like Chuck Colson, and Prison Fellowship are helping to ensure we do get beyond accusations to making real changes. I'm proud to be a part of that solution.

Mark - Liberty Just In Case

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