Prison Populations and Social Priorities

scales_of_justice1by GENE HOWINGTON

A recent story by Kathleen Miles at Huffington Post about Federal prison populations is another in a long line of stark illustrations of what is wrong with not just our criminal justice system in the United States, but of what is wrong with our government as a whole. Nominally the story is pretty straight forward: an “infographic” breakdown of Federal prison population by type of offense.  To anyone following such social and legal stories, it comes as no surprise that the failed “War on Drugs” accounts for a substantial number of prisoners.  What is more interesting is the story between the lines.  It is a tale of sound and fury, told by a devil living in details, of class warfare, corruption, and the rise of fascism and fall of freedom.  Let’s look at those numbers and what they reveal . . .

Here are the graphics:

2014-03-06-Screenshot20140306at3.09.08PM 2014-03-06-Screenshot20140306at3.09.23PMThe big manifest story is in the numbers for non-violent drug offenses (50.1% of the Federal prisons population) and its next largest contender in immigration offenses (10.6% of the Federal prisons population). At a grand total of 60.7% of the prison population, it isn’t hard to see that convictions are skewed in favor of jailing people for charges in a “war” against our own citizens that even the so-called experts are finally being forced to accept the reality of as a failure to stem drug use and a group of crimes that are really just malum prohibitum statutory offenses in an area of law that has been decried as dysfunctional by immigration professionals and experts for years.  One class is jailed over what is at its core a public health problem and the other class is jailed because our immigration system is so broken it cannot address the realities of an ever mobile ever global population.  To say that is manifestly unfair, unjust and inequitable is not an outrageous claim and may indeed be a bit of an understatement.

But what do these numbers indicate about the priorities of the Department of Justice in pursuing prosecutions of crimes with actual victims – unlike drug and immigration charges?  Say . . . banking, insurance, counterfeiting and embezzlement charges like the kinds of crimes that ruined hundreds of thousands of lives and brought the world economy and the domestic economy to its knees?

Why only 0.4% of all Federal prisoners are being held for convictions related to banking, insurance, counterfeiting and embezzlement charges.

Criminal enterprise a.k.a. organized crime (of which, the CDL debacle that led to the near collapse of the world banking system arguably qualifies as well)?

That’d be a mere 0.2%.

Yes. The numbers show an outrageous injustice in the drug and immigration incarceration rates.  That is without question.  But it may even be more outrageous an injustice that the numbers seem to reflect that the DOJ isn’t interested in prosecution of financial crimes with both real victims and global systemic impacts we are still reeling from and may be for some time to come.

What do you think?

About Gene Howington

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This entry was posted in DOJ, Fraud, Hypocrisy, Jurisprudence, Law Enforcement, Organized Crime, Prison, United States, War on Drugs. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Prison Populations and Social Priorities

  1. They go after the low-hanging fruit. Kind of like the big raid in Chicken, Alaska (population 17) by a fully dressed out SWAT team in black body armor from the EPA all in a tizzy over a handful of gold miners with shovels panning for gold, putting too much mud into the mountain streams. Yet right in my back yard not a peep about removing mountain tops as they shove millions of cubic yards of dirt and rocks into the valleys below, obliterating mountain trout streams. The difference is going after a guy with a shovel and bucket who lives in a shack, versus a guy who lives in a 30,000 sq foot house with a ten car garage.

  2. Tony C. says:

    Charlton: I agree, with a different spin. I think part of that problem is modeling government and law enforcement after a business enterprise, interested in some sort of profit and efficiency. What is the cost of apprehending, investigating, and prosecuting somebody for selling drugs on a street corner? I don’t know, but I suspect that is nearly the lowest cost of a conviction. The same thing is true for the cost of convicting an illegal immigrant, or I presume for sex offenses, which are basically the top three.

    If a conviction is pretty much a conviction, a proof of doing one’s job, these seem like the most bang for the buck, the “highest return” prosecutions, the easiest case to make with the least resistance offered by defense, judges or juries.

    The tougher crimes are more expensive to pursue in time and money. They are less certain of conviction, with much more defense, less likelihood of straight up confession or eyewitnesses, a murkier set of facts. The rich and organized criminals are purposely trying to hide their tracks and know to shut up and say nothing except through their lawyer.

    Our law enforcement should be focused on doing the most good for society within the budget that they have, which would mean ignoring mostly victimless crimes and pursuing the criminals that are doing the most physical and financial harm. But they are not, they are focused on (a) revenue producing activity (traffic tickets, drug seizures) and (b) getting the most convictions and highest rate of convictions vs. prosecutions, and that ultimately means skipping investigations and prosecutions they aren’t sure will pan out or seem very difficult, and spending the budget on mostly uncontested tickets and fines, and high-percentage or highly publicized cases (including those involving celebrities) even if that means minimizing the net public good they deliver and net harm to society they prevent. Supplement that with some corruption and lies and collusion (or at least implicit understanding) with politicians on a mutual “blind eye” policy, and here we are.

  3. Mike Spindell says:

    Chuck and Tony,

    I think you both have it right. It comes down to the path of least resistance on the part of law enforcement and prosecution. Included in that path is the lower hanging fruit makes for the least trouble politically and picking on people of color and/or people who are ethnically different is the more popular way to go.

  4. Leon Whyte says:

    It’s possible that the bankers are invested in the privately owned prisons, so in looking out for their own stockholders they don’t imprison them.

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