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The Beguiling Myth of “Mass Incarceration”

It is not surprising that those at opposite poles of the ideological spectrum generally view public policy issues—and proposed solutions—differently. What is surprising is when conservatives adopt the rhetoric of the Left (along with the accompanying narratives, memes, and canards) regarding a subject as important as criminal justice.

Many “reform conservatives” have done just that, as evidenced by Prison Break, a new book by David Dagan and Steven M. Teles (the latter of whom authored The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement in 2008). The subtitle of Prison Break—“Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration”—gives away the punch line. The change of heart on the part of idealistic reformers is unsupported by data (which I’ll get to below), making it disappointing as well.

Admittedly, I come to this topic as someone whose views were strongly influenced by two disparate sources: exposure to former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark’s wretched screed, Crime in America (1970) as an undergraduate, followed by sociologist Ernest van den Haag’s Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and Painful Question (1975), a bracing antidote to Clark’s bleeding heart apologia for criminality. My takeaway (then and now): As stated in Federalist 3, public safety is the first priority of government, and a confident, disciplined polity (one not wracked with guilt or self-doubt) recognizes that predators are solely responsible for their actions, and that criminals deserve to be punished. The objectives of deterrence and rehabilitation are purely incidental.

The liberals’ approach to criminal justice and the conservatives’ used to boil down to a clear division between “It’s society’s fault” socio-babble and “Lock them up” toughness. Today, not so much. How and when was the political Rubicon crossed? When did formerly law-and-order conservatives begin channeling Ramsey Clark? That is the subject of Prison Break, a slim, workmanlike account of this public policy shift based on interviews with many of the relevant players.

The modern-day “Right on Crime” movement was formed in an unlikely alliance between conservative organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and liberal groups including the Soros-funded Open Society Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union. Right on Crime promotes a suite of reforms including de-incarceration of non-violent offenders, expanding alternatives to imprisonment (such as drug treatment and intensive probation), de-criminalizing certain offenses, and softening mandatory sentences. Finding common cause with the Left on criminal justice takes us quite a distance from the era when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush hammered then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis for being soft on crime, using a crime spree committed by a convicted murderer named Willie Horton while on a prison furlough to overcome a significant polling deficit in the presidential election of 1988.

That distance wasn’t covered overnight. The movement leading up to Right on Crime began with the late Charles Colson’s evangelical conversion after being indicted for crimes he committed as a “hatchet man” in the Nixon White House. In 1976, after he emerged from a stint in federal prison, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry for offenders, and for the rest of his life he tirelessly promoted rehabilitation and prison reform.

Colson was later joined in this crusade by former Assembly Republican leader Pat Nolan, a wunderkind and rising star in California Republican circles until he was ensnared in an FBI sting operation and spent 25 months in federal prison in the 1990s. Following his release, Nolan, too, devoted himself to prison reform.  Like Nixon going to China, Colson and Nolan had the conservative bona fides to make the issue of criminal justice reform respectable on the Right, and they eventually persuaded other conservative leaders (both within and outside the Beltway), especially evangelicals, to join in the cause.

Financed in large part by the centrist Pew Charitable Trusts, the nascent “trans-partisan” reform movement began to gather speed around the turn of the millennium, coinciding with a long, steady decline in national crime rates—and the resulting public complacency about criminal justice issues. The initial cadre of evangelicals grew to include anti-statist libertarians and conservatives, budget-conscious Governors (building and operating prisons is expensive), and reformers galvanized by perceived excesses in the “war on drugs” (especially harsh mandatory minimum sentences).

A public policy “band wagon” ultimately developed, and when it became fashionable to do so, all the usual suspects clamored to get aboard. In 2012, a group of prominent conservative leaders, including Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich, two former hawks on crime, issued a “Statement of Principles” declaring (among other things) that “an ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.” Kumbaya. In a separate Washington Post op-ed, Nolan and Gingrich announced that “The criminal justice system is broken.”

Prison Break provides the details of this decades-long shift, for the most part objectively, although sometimes with a patronizing tone. However, I must take issue with the authors’ contention that the rise of law-and-order conservatism in the 1960s was tainted by racism, or cynicism, or both. The authors claim that the Republican hard line against criminality was a covert racist appeal to white voters, a subtle re-formulation of “Southern segregationist language.” This is silly, as is the authors’ somewhat inconsistent contention—in an unfortunate lapse into academic jargon—that conservatives’ political rhetoric in the 1960s constituted “a powerful way of reconceptualizing the American class structure.”

In fact, national crime rates exploded in the 1960s (along with campus unrest, antiwar protests, and the emergence of the youth/drug culture), creating a legitimate popular concern about public safety and domestic security, which Republican politicians addressed in a responsible manner.  (The national homicide rate doubled between 1960 and 1980, for example.) The fact that crime control was an effective wedge issue for Republicans doesn’t mean that they were wrong or operating with corrupt motives.

While Right on Crime by no means advocates emptying the nation’s prisons, it embraces the rehabilitation of offenders as a goal and eschews punishment as an end in itself. The effects of this reorientation should not be underestimated. It gave impetus to the growing anti-incarceration movement, reflected in California’s passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, and the pending federal Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act—a 180 degree reversal of the stances of conservative politicians going back to Barry Goldwater.

Dagan and Teles report, with apparent approval, that “The notion that the United States unnecessarily incarcerates far too many people is becoming standard conservative fare.” And ironically, if not surprisingly, it was the passage of tough-on-crime measures in response to lawlessness in the 1960s that produced the current “calm” that has enabled the Right on Crime movement.

The sensitivity of crime as a political issue declined during the 1990s, as crime rates sharply fell, but as criminologist Barry Latzer of the City University of New York convincingly documents in his book The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America (2016), the change was in response to the adoption of tough criminal justice measures such as increased incarceration of offenders, longer prison sentences, tightened parole, and passage of anti-drug laws. We could easily see a return to the high crime rates of the 1960s and 1970s if those law-and-order measures were reversed or watered down (as some observers contend we are now witnessing with the “Ferguson Effect” in several major cities due to a reduced police presence).

Writing earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, Latzer noted that many prevailing views regarding “mass incarceration” (some of which are echoed by Right on Crime) are based on factual misperceptions. It is, says Latzer, important to note that imprisonment is driven largely by violent crime—making it no easy matter to simply reduce incarceration. He points out as well that the “mass” in “mass incarceration” is somewhat hyperbolic. Less than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population is serving time in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Also the proportion of black Americans who are incarcerated, that is, 1.2 percent of black Americans, is high compared with the proportion of white Americans (0.25 percent) but is not high in absolute terms.

In the years between 1960 and 1990, writes Latzer,

the rate of violent crime in the U.S. surged by over 350%, according to FBI data, the biggest sustained buildup in the country’s history. One major reason was that as crime rose the criminal-justice system caved. Prison commitments fell, as did time served per conviction. For every 1,000 arrests for serious crimes in 1970, 170 defendants went to prison, compared with 261 defendants five years earlier. Murderers released in 1960 had served a median 4.3 years, which wasn’t long to begin with. By 1970 that figure had dropped to 3.5 years.

Thus, he reports, when in the 1990s the crime rate began to go down, the rise in incarceration rates also decreased. And since the mid-2000s “they have been declining steadily, except for a slight uptick in 2013. The estimated 1.5 million prisoners at year-end 2014 is the smallest total prison population in the U.S. since 2005.”

As for America’s prisons being filled with people who committed minor drug offences, Latzer points out that as of the end of 2013, around 208,000 people were in prison for having committed a drug-related crime. He goes on:

Of those, less than a quarter were in for mere possession. The rest were in for trafficking and other crimes. Critics of “mass incarceration” often point to the federal prisons, where half of inmates, or about 96,000 people, are drug offenders. But 99.5% of them are traffickers. The notion that prisons are filled with young pot smokers, harmless victims of aggressive prosecution, is patently false.

The overall picture here is of the experts confirming what one would have concluded from common sense. The crime epidemic of the 1960s and 1970s was caused by leniency in the criminal justice system, and was brought under control by effective tough-on-crime measures adopted in the last two decades of the 20th century. The alternatives to incarceration now being advocated by reformers—such as addiction treatment and enhanced probation and parole—are extremely expensive and of unproven efficacy. Having solved the nation’s crime problem through incarceration, many reform-minded conservatives now propose to adopt the rhetoric and remedies formerly advocated by liberals such as LBJ’s Attorney General, Ramsey Clark. Quis putaret?

Reader Discussion

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on September 09, 2016 at 09:14:28 am

This, from the American Conservative: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/are-conservatives-reforming-criminal-justice/

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Mark Pulliam
on September 09, 2016 at 11:56:53 am

Do you think Tom Delay should be in jail today? Rick Perry? Bob McDonnell? Or the lesser known Eric O'Keefe? Each committed the "crime" of advancing limited government, and were attacked by a system that is untethered to Rule of Law. They were run through a criminal process without ever being accused of hurting or impairing a single citizen. Their alleged "crimes" were all against government policies, like campaign finance laws. (And in each case bogus re-interpretations of laws overturned after millions in legal fees.)

Are you glad the Duke Lacrosse team never served jail time, after it was discovered that the DA was misrepresenting evidence? Do you find it bothersome that the Williamson County DA withheld exculpatory evidence and sent a man to life in prison he knew was innocent, and paid little to no price for it? Are you concerned that grand juries can be told something is a crime that isn't, have evidence misrepresented to them, never hear the other side of the story, and be led to indict a political enemy of the Judge and DA? I am sure you are. So is Right on Crime. And they want to reform these processes. Why? Because government should serve citizens, not the other way around.

Notwithstanding what this book claims, Right on Crime emphasizes that the State's role is to protect and serve victims. And victims must be citizens - not the government. Police states are based on the idea that the government serves itself, rather than protecting citizens. Many, many crimes on the books today are crimes without a citizen victim - they are essentially crimes against the government. There is nothing conservative about this.

Many, many people in jail in Texas today are people who pose no viable threat to citizen safety. Do you advocate we spend huge chunks of taxpayer dollars to put citizens who are not violent in training centers to convert and train them to be violent? I am sure you don't because that is not effective government. Right on Crime desires people who make non-violent mistakes to make restitution to the victim. Why should they pay fines to the state instead of the people they injured? Perhaps they stole a lawn mower out of someone's garage. Apologize, then work to replace the lawn mower. This is rehabilitative, as studies show, but the principle of justice is the larger point. If you have your lawn mower stolen, the law should focus on getting your lawn mower returned. Put victims first, not the state. Today, people don't get their law mower returned, but do get to pay for incarceration and accompanying social services. They get mugged twice. This system isn't based on personal responsibility, it is the nanny state.

Prison is good for one thing: incapacitation. When someone is in jail, they can't hurt anyone outside the prison. That is who ought to be in prison, violent criminals. People who pose a threat to citizen safety. Not lawn mower thieves. And not Rick Perry.

You are a smart guy. Please don't get duped by any propaganda that seeks to maintain that Right Reform/ Colson et al have the same fundamental goal as the Left. The Left wants a police state that coddles criminals (to justify pervasive force) and punishes political enemies. To do that they need behavior criminalized and total discretion of who to prosecute left up to the state. Colson is for Rule of Law. Laws get applied to EVERYONE. And the goal is citizen safety and restoration of those victimized by crime.

When we say we are for "limited government" we often fail to include "limited to what?" The criminal justice system should be limited to serving community safety and serving victims of crime. It should not be in the business of targeting political enemies or seeking prosecutions based on their potential for publicity. "Liberty and Justice for All" should be a reality not just a slogan. Right on Crime is seeking to make that a reality.

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Tim Dunn
on September 09, 2016 at 11:57:20 am

Mark:

Nice piece!

Especially pleased to see that someone else has noticed that the so-called *racism* of the Republican's "law and order" strategy of the late 1960's was anything but and that it had more to do with campus unrest (rather violent in many instances), anti-war civil disorder, etc AND not as some commenters on this blog would like us to believe predicated upon an underlying racial animus. Of course, the narrative must continue as it serves to reinforce the Big Lie that the Right is racist to its core.
It also has the ancillary benefit of excusing the past racism, institutional and emotional, of the Democrat Party. As some have commented on these pages (a paraphrase here) "Well that was the past, the Republicans TURNED racist in 1968."

A sheer crock of a narrative deployed to counter the fact that it was GOP votes that passed all the civil rights Acts of that period and to depict any who would insist that government perform its FIRST duty of protecting its citizens as racist.

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gabe
on September 09, 2016 at 12:01:40 pm

Amen, Gabe!

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Mark Pulliam
on September 09, 2016 at 12:45:53 pm

1. I have no special insights into what the “right” amount of incarceration should be.

That said, I'm not impressed with the idea that "a confident, disciplined polity (one not wracked with guilt or self-doubt) recognizes that predators are solely responsible for their actions, and that criminals deserve to be punished." The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world--higher than it was in the past. Do we imagine that contemporary Americans are unique in world history in their deservingness of punishment? Seems myopic to me.

But we can say this about contemporary Americans: They're richer than anyone in history. And I suggest that this might offer a better explanatory variable. In short, the US incarcerates more people because we’re rich and can afford more of everything--including incarceration services.

Before we judge any given level as too high, we might consider our alternatives. There are many.

A. The most obvious one is to ignore certain antisocial behaviors. For one example, today we prosecute and incarcerate people for domestic and sexual assault more than in the past. Do we imagine that in the past domestic and sexual assaults were less common? Or do we imagine that we just didn’t prosecute them? I suspect our society has grown less tolerant of various things because we can afford to be.

B. Another alternative is to leave certain remedies to “the private sector.” Allegedly vigil ante justice was popular in the Wild West.

C. A third alternative is to implement remedies other than incarceration. Fines are common, but don’t necessarily work when dealing with impecunious defendants. Corporal punishment is traditional, but generally banned as cruel and unusual. Capital punishment remains an option in many states, but is poses its own set of problems.

And then there are programs of rehabilitation, restorative justice, etc. Pulliam notes that these options are expensive. But expensive as compared with what?

2. Even if the current levels of incarceration are justified, we should acknowledge that they are atypical, and realize how this new fact influences other data. The Washington Postdid a story about how the current levels of incarceration distort statistics on unemployment levels, labor force participation rates, median wages, relative wage growth between whites and blacks, etc. In short, the phenomenon of “mass incarceration” is not a myth; it has real consequences, and we should bear those consequences in mind, regardless of our opinions about the appropriate level of incarceration.

3. Pulliam cites Barry Latzer for the proposition that that black incarceration rates are 1.2 percent. That strikes me as low.

The Washington Post story states that, compared to white men, “a far higher fraction of black men — 7.7 percent, or 580,000 people — are institutionalized.” And that doesn’t even count people who are in local jails.

True, “institutionalized” does include people who are in mental health facilities and nursing homes as well as people who are in prisons. And true, this statistic refers solely to men. But even so, if we assume that there are roughly the same number of black women as black men, and if we made the conservative assumption that no black women are institutionalized, then the percentage of black people who are institutionalized would fall in half, to 3.85 percent. I find this hard to reconcile with the claim that black incarceration rates are 1.2 percent. Are we to believe that 2.65 percent of blacks are in mental health facilities and nursing homes?

4. Moreover, the problems of mass incarceration for blacks are larger than the figure of 1.2 percent, or even the 3.85 percent, suggests. The Washington Post story reports:

A. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes.

B. One in nine black children has had a parent behind bars.

C. One in thirteen black adults can't vote because of their criminal records.

D. And a record of being incarcerated makes future employment prospects bleak.

When we talk about the cost of incarceration, we almost certainly understate the problem.

5. Finally, Pulliam cites Latzer for the proposition that “federal prisons [are] where half of inmates, or about 96,000 people, are drug offenders. But 99.5% of them are traffickers. The notion that prisons are filled with young pot smokers, harmless victims of aggressive prosecution, is patently false.”

Perhaps 99.5 percent of these prisoners were convicted for trafficking. But what does trafficking mean? Often it means possessing. If I read this Drug Enforcement Agency site correctly, you can be convicted of trafficking if you are convicted of having a single gram of LSD, or five grams of meth, or 10 grams of PCP, or a single marijuana plant. Again, I don’t mean to say that this is good or bad policy; I merely want us to understand the policy before we judge it.

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nobody.really
on September 09, 2016 at 13:09:23 pm

Heather Mac Donald explains why Americans have more incarceration than other countries: We have more crime, especially violent crime. http://www.city-journal.org/html/decriminalization-delusion-14037.html

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Mark Pulliam
on September 09, 2016 at 13:30:41 pm

Tim, of course I don't believe that Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, Eric O'Keefe, the Duke lacrosse team, or anyone innocent of a crime, should be in jail. The legislature has over-criminalized many activities, and unscrupulous prosecutors can and do charge (and sometimes convict) innocent people. I was appalled at the Michael Morton case. I vocally objected to the attempted railroading of Rick Perry and Wallace Hall. Asset forfeiture is frequently abused. I agree with a good deal of the Right on Crime agenda. I believe in the rule of law. But criminals who have actually committed crimes--and unfortunately this is a large and dangerous population of offenders-- deserve to be punished, and society cannot flinch when it exercises its collective right to self-defense. Crime victims are best served by a criminal justice system that dispenses swift and certain punishment. I disagree with any strategy that blurs individual accountability for criminal behavior.

Thanks for all that you do through Empower Texans and TPPF.

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Mark Pulliam
on September 09, 2016 at 16:56:22 pm

Nobody:

Interesting point about meaning of trafficking. In the 70's, you would have been on more solid ground but it would appear that the days of prison time for a couple of joints are long over.

Also, one should recognize that so many of those prosecuted for trafficking were also prosecuted for an accompanying crime of violence, weapons charges, etc.

Like you, I do not know what constitutes trafficking; what I have *observed* is that the overwhelming preponderance of those caught with personal amounts of drugs (and that includes amounts greater than one could consume in a night) are sent scurrying off with a warning, small fine, etc.

Agreed that the 1.2% figure appears to be too low. DOJ figures in the past have been closer to the numbers you cite. Yet, let us recognize that much of the impetus for sentencing reform comes from a concern that too many minorities ARE being incarcerated. I have not read of any major effort having been launched that claims that too many white folks are being put in jail. Yet, the numbers would indicate that (just like with Police shootings) too many WHITES are being incarcerated (on a percentage basis). Of course, one can do what one wishes with statistics. And it is important to recognize that there are simply more LAWS to be violated than in previous generations - especially if we do not limit ourselves to illicit drugs. think corporate law, finance, EPA and other regulations. Heck, Doctors in various states have been put in jail and seen their medical careers ruined because of paperwork issue with opioid prescribing regimens.

So yep, we may have too many in jail - BUT which ones should NOT be in jail is a better question and one that I suspect underlies your insightful comments.
Me, I'll go for violent crimes being given priority; drugs takes on high precedence only when one considers that all too often there is an associated violent crime to be dealt with.

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gabe
on September 09, 2016 at 17:03:29 pm

Tim: Nicely said. Agreed that violence should be the primary determinant of prison time.

Mark: We disagree on Civil Asset Forfeiture - its very existence is an *abuse*

Tim and Mark: see book by H. Silvergate:

https://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1594035229

I think Mr Silvergate understates the case. What just THREE Felonies a day - the man must be a lollygagger!

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gabe
on September 09, 2016 at 18:07:39 pm

Yet, the numbers would indicate that (just like with Police shootings) too many WHITES are being incarcerated (on a percentage basis).

Ordinarily I’d decry this loopy bit of racist Republican paranoia—except that this time it seems to be entirely accurate.

(Ok, I can’t document that too many whites are being incarcerated, but I can document that the percentage grew from 2000-2014, while the percentage of blacks incarcerated decreased.)

What accounts for this change? Some theories:

1. Law enforcement in Mayfield (rural America) has become more professional, and is giving out stiffer penalties to the people they arrest. And rural America is disproportionately white.

2. We’re incarcerating more people for meth, prescription opioids, and heroin—drugs of choice for white people.

3. We’re no longer letting white guys who engage in sex crimes go with a slap on the wrist.

4. White people are really facing all kinds of stresses, as reflected in all kinds of statistics—and thus are driven to commit more crimes.

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nobody.really
on September 09, 2016 at 20:00:02 pm

"...loopy bit of racist Republican paranoia"

how can it be *loopy* if accurate?
why resort to this sort of "loopy" Democrat argument, i.e., that The Right is racist, if one states facts. Contained within the "loopy" assertion is that Repubs typically resort to racist arguments.

funny thing is: Of all my tailgating compatriots, the ones that are FAR more likely to harbor AND express racist sentiments, it is the Democrat voters that do so - not the right leaning folks. Perhaps, we on the right ought to start employing the same ad hominem arguments as the Left. We would, of course, at least have historical precedent on our side.

#1 - fair enough!

#2 - " heroin—drugs of choice for white people." - Really? And I suppose you wish to assert that blacks no longer use heroin and that they do not do so in substantial numbers. Perhaps, you should take a walk in my neighborhood and decide whether you should believe, as that great Marxian philosopher, Groucho argued, your "lyin' eyes" or statistics.

#3 -" We’re no longer letting [white] any guys who engage in sex crimes go with a slap on the wrist."
In fact, if the University is to be taken as the paragon of modern justice, we are accusing / incarcerating just about anyone who may have displeased a woman.

#4 - Ah, yes! Back to the old Progressive excuse making. "Please, Mom, STRESS made me do it."
EVERYONE experiences stress. it does not, in and of itself, lead to criminal behavior.
But at least in this age of "equality for all" white folks are now being offered the same excuses.

Then again, there is always the wisdom of the criminal class:

"if you can't do the time, DON'T do the crime." This would tend to indicate an awareness that individual *choice* may play a part. after all, aren't Progressives all about "CHOICE."?

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gabe
on September 09, 2016 at 20:19:05 pm

I dunno, I've seen various 'warmists' call for mass arrests and incarceration of 'deniers'. I'm guessing after appropriate show trials of course.

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TBlakely
on September 09, 2016 at 20:24:20 pm

"Show trials" - Hey maybe they will be available on amazon video. I understand all those millennials like that.

Could we get Al Gore to preside over the trials?

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gabe
on September 09, 2016 at 22:53:43 pm

As long as he has to wear one of those 'judicial' curly white wigs. :P

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TBlakely
on September 10, 2016 at 13:44:23 pm

The 1.2% is the total number of black people (male and female) in state and federal prison divided by the total (all ages) black population. If you look at black males only out of the population of 18+ black males the % would be higher, of course. And, no it doesn't include jail population, but jail population should really not be included as prison population since the majority of people counted are temporary detainees. Some of those are held because they have not made bail, but it includes everyone in lockup after being arrested (survey is done on 12/31). Most will be out on bail on 1/1 after the survey is taken, so they really should not be viewed as part of the 'prison population'.

As for the DEA trafficking numbers, well, they generally have to start at 0 for anything. You can look up the quantities involved for Federal Drug cases at US Sentencing Commission site. 1) Vast majority are for fairly large quantities, relative to the drug involved. Even a quarter ounce of meth is a lot of meth-not personal consumption amounts and 2) Do you really think the DEA, which is involved in the vast majority of Federal drug busts, is going to be spending its resources going after small time users? 3) 2/3 of Fed marijuana convictions are Hispanics and almost half are non-citizens. They're being busted trafficking large quantities. Almost half of all Fed drug convictions are Hispanics and about 1/3 non-citizens. BTW, blacks are only about 7-8% of Federal marijuana convictions. They don't control the trade.

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Landru
on September 10, 2016 at 14:15:35 pm

Incarceration

The “incarceration” being observed is only a segment of the visible portion from the calving of the great social glacier, which now floats on the sea of time over its latitudes of history and experience.

In that visible segment we can see the detritus from the flow of that social glacier over what *was* the human terrain during its passage.

There is much more, more difficult to perceive, that lies beneath those segments we more readily observe, including other detritus.

Efforts to alter the human terrain and divert the social glacier more and more over mala prohibita have caused the more recent calvings to display observably more and different detritus.

In trying to use (or create) a legal system as a means to attain particular social conditions or ends, without careful consideration of both the reasons for, and effects of, the “prohibita” that are to be designated as “mala,” we should not be surprised at the results, whether or not their extent and importance are “mythologized.”

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R Richard Schweitzer
on September 12, 2016 at 12:18:26 pm

…loopy bit of racist Republican paranoia

how can it be *loopy* if accurate?

I’m sorry, gabe; I was joking. I forget how touchy this racism thing is.

And I must acknowledge that my joke may have poisoned the well for what I have to say next: Please consider the idea that we could regard racism not merely as an epithet, but as an explanatory social theory.

EVERYONE experiences stress. it does not, in and of itself, lead to criminal behavior.
But at least in this age of “equality for all” white folks are now being offered the same excuses.

Then again, there is always the wisdom of the criminal class:

“if you can’t do the time, DON’T do the crime.” This would tend to indicate an awareness that individual *choice* may play a part. after all, aren’t Progressives all about “CHOICE”?

Clever!

That said, please reflect on the Milgram experiments. (There is at least one psyc experiment that has been verified through repeated demonstration!) The lesson of the experiment is that 1) populations differ in their willingness to inflict pain on innocent people, but 2) among every population, we can contrive circumstances that will induce most people to inflict pain on an innocent person. Yes, we could say that each of these people chose to behave this way—but much does choice really explain the behavior? Clearly the stronger explanatory variable is circumstance: People who do not normally walk down the street torturing their fellow man can be driven to do so if circumstances encourage that behavior. And the circumstances don’t even have to be that extreme (at least, as judged by an observer, but clearly not as judged by the participant).

So:

Let’s start by assuming that 1) we live in a perfectly functioning meritocracy and 2) merit does not correlate with race. With these two assumptions, we should expect to find that indicia of success and failure do not correlate with race. Yet this is not what the data show. How can we explain this?

One option is to relax the assumption of a perfectly functioning meritocracy—that is, to conclude that there is bias somewhere in the system that transcends the individual. This bias would not preclude the possibility that some individuals prevail against a biased system, but we would expect the percentage who prevail to be reduced relative to other groups that do not face this bias. In short, it may well be true that every individual who is convicted chose to break the law, but member of some groups are systemically put in a position to make such choices more often—or are deprived of better alternative choices more often—than members of other groups. Thus choice, while real, does not explain the disparities in outcomes.

Another option is to relax the assumption that merit does not correlate with race. True, some individuals within the inferior race would prevail, much like some individuals are taller than 6’4”, but we would expect the percentage who prevail to be lower than the percentage of other groups that are inherently more meritorious.

We might call that second hypothesis “racism.” I can’t deny that the racism hypothesis accounts for much of the data, so I can’t dismiss the hypothesis out of hand. But it is not yet the hypothesis I embrace.

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nobody.really
on September 12, 2016 at 16:46:39 pm

nobody:

No problem with the "loopy" matter. I half took it as a joke in much the same vein as my "Choice" comment.

Like you I do not believe, nor would i presume to assert, that we live a perfectly (or even well functioning) meritocracy. Humans are simply not so constituted and so long as we are living in The city of Man, this will always be so. (Read no more into that than what the text presents, BTW).

Yet for us to then accept the second thesis, i.e., racism, as the only other explanation dismisses a wide range of other intervening variables, one of which you allude to - "circumstance."

Let us allow that circumstance may include place, wealth / lack thereof, genetic (but not racial / ethnic for arguments sake) AND culture.

Can it not be argued that culture and it's affirmations (or negations) may play a significant role in life outcomes. One can argue that minority culture, for that matter "lower class" culture may be a contributing factor. I'll not bore one with details - but clearly there are some distinct cultural attitudes that both poor black and whites present that are different than middle to upper class preferences. You yourself, as well as many other writers, have commented on the marked difference in one parent families, teen births, parental involvement in education, etc etc etc.

Should one be surprised that different cultures produce different outcomes.

Let me give one example and i do so at the risk of being classified as some sort of "-ist"
As a young man, I was told by an older Jewish sheetmetal mechanic (a co-worker) that the reason Jews did well in school was because Jewish parents would place a drop of honey on the page of a book and let the young child become acquainted with literature by licking the honey.

Was this true? Don't know - but Morty was a pretty straightforward guy! However, it would (or could) indicate a distinct cultural preference for education. Do we see this love of the intellectual life in "lower class black and / or white culture.

Having been raised in a rather poor neighborhood, I can attest to the fact that such a cultural preference was clearly absent. Yet, it can be overcome and it is to a large extent a matter of choice BUTTRESSED by fortunate circumstances, i.e., perhaps parents who value education / learning. Still a choice is to be had - difficult though it may be - it MUST be had.

Regrettably for some, those adverse circumstance may also include overcoming racial (and with my friends and I, ethnic) prejudice. Clearly, some of this atavistic attitude toward the *other* still persists; but it is on the decline in both number and intensity.

Yet, some of us would prefer to create and maintain a separation of our fellow citizens into *diverse* and separate groups. to my mind, this only increases the lifespan of the old atavistic attitude by placing ALL in the category of *OTHER* I find this disheartening, don't you.

But no worry, we will, as always, "muddle" through even these *purposive* collisions.

take care and
Go Seahawks (even if the O-line looks like it came from a thrift store (or Hobby Lobby,Ha)).

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gabe
on September 12, 2016 at 20:30:21 pm

Like you I do not believe, nor would i presume to assert, that we live a perfectly (or even well functioning) meritocracy. Humans are simply not so constituted and so long as we are living in The city of Man, this will always be so. (Read no more into that than what the text presents, BTW).

Yet for us to then accept the second thesis, i.e., racism, as the only other explanation dismisses a wide range of other intervening variables, one of which you allude to – “circumstance.”

Let us allow that circumstance may include place, wealth / lack thereof, genetic (but not racial / ethnic for arguments sake) AND culture.

Great. So perhaps people raised in certain cultures and circumstances are more prone to engage in criminal behavior, and get caught, and get convicted, and get sentenced to prison, than people raised in other cultures and circumstances. (And who knows? Perhaps those same cultures make people especially prone to resist authority figures and engage in all manner of risk-taking innovations--but that's another topic.)

Here's the question: Do we get to choose the culture in which we are raised?

If you conclude that culture influences criminality, and that we don't choose our culture, then to blame criminality on choice misses the most explanatory variable. Alternatively, if you conclude that choice is the primary driver of criminality, then you are rejecting the thesis that culture influences criminality (and you then have to explain why members of certain groups seem predisposed to make criminal choices).

I'm just saying that if I you ask me why I'm broke, and I tell you that a mugger offered me a choice--"Your money or your life!"--the fact that I made a choice to part with my money, while completely accurate, may not be the strongest explanatory variable. That's all.

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nobody.really
on September 13, 2016 at 11:11:55 am

Nobody:
I'll be brief (perhaps one day we can go into this in some detail)

It would appear that you deny human "agency" as all things are preordained or determined by outside inputs. I ask again, "Are you an adherent of B.F. Skinner"?

Would you deny your own agency?

NO - we do not get to choose the culture into which we are born. However:

1) We may get to choose the culture in which we live (see millions upon millions of immigrants - my own grandparents included)

2) culture, in and of itself, can do no more than either facilitate or encumber *rational* choices. Ultimately, an active human *agent* decides that he or she WILL or WILL NOT do something.

3) It is this failure to recognize (willfully, perhaps?) that ultimately leads to the desire to reconstruct culture. If culture is the sole "operant conditioner" then, Voila, let us change the culture and all Humanity will live more happily and equitably than ever before. Thus the predicate for the ongoing assault upon WESTERN CIVILIZATION.
4) yet, does it not dawn on any of our SJW types that a) their very assessment / prescriptions are, according to the theory espoused ALSO shaped by the operant conditioners (culture, etc) and b) the very act (wish) of changing culture is an indication that the culture does not determine ALL.
5) there is in the final analysis, a solitary human being WHO MUST CHOOSE which path to take.
That decision may be affected by outside influences - but ONE must still choose - and ONE can choose to go against the grain of one's particular place.
If not, then all of YOUR accomplishments are no more than the response of a salivating dog responding to a bell associated with scraps of food (Skinner following Pavlov).

If you accept this Behaviorism, then Bow-Wow to you my canine brother, HA!

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gabe
on September 13, 2016 at 20:35:35 pm

culture, in and of itself, can do no more than either facilitate or encumber *rational* choices. Ultimately, an active human *agent* decides that he or she WILL or WILL NOT do something.

Ah, yes, those naughty, naughty agents; it's all their fault. At least that's what gabe says.

And the head of Wells Fargo Bank--which had created a scheme to reward employees for signing people up for additional banking services, and had policed how well each employee was doing at achieving sales goals, but had never bothered to investigate whether employees were responding to these obvious combination of carrots and sticks to open bogus accounts on customers' behalf. No, the CEO declares, I'm blameless; it's all the fault of those naughty, naughty agents.

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

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nobody.really
on September 14, 2016 at 17:21:07 pm

There you go again!

Yet - THE SCHEME is the culture.

One should therefore ask: "did all of these agents act naughtily or did only some of them so act?

Recall the statement that culture may facilitate or encumber rational (in this case, honest) actions.

Some agents CHOSE to act naughtily - some DID NOT. Oh those "haughty, haughty" and righteous agents.

Once again nobody believes that the actions of some agents INDICT ALL agents.

What are you some form of "agent-IST"

One writer lies - thus they all lie.
One black commits a crime - they all commit crimes.
One white lady is a racist - thus all white ladies (and for consistency, men also) are racists.

I must say that the level of discernment evidenced by this proposition is astounding - but following nobody's logic - all of nobody's propostitions MUST therefore be *astounding* in the literal sense.

The shame of it all!!!!!!

Now off for some golf - where I can be naughty with the scorecard SHOULD I so CHOOOOOOOOSE!

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gabe
on October 15, 2018 at 06:02:32 am

[…] bail system has come under fierce attack in recent years, and now faces an existential threat. A peculiar alliance of reform-minded conservatives aligned with the so-called Right on Crime movement and the “usual […]

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Bailing Out On Common Sense

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