An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America
Two of the most valuable magazines I read are the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. They give me a breath of view that I’d never have otherwise, with analysis of books I’d love to read but never will find the time to do so.
Here’s an example, important information for all Americans.
Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?, David Cole, New York Review of Books, 19 November 2009
Race, Incarceration, and American Values
by Glenn C. Loury, with Pamela S. Karlan, Tommie Shelby, and Loïc Wacquant
Boston Review/MIT Press, 86 pp., $14.95
Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice
by Paul Butler
New Press, 214 pp., $25.95
Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics
by Anthony C. Thompson
New York University Press, 262 pp., $39.00; $21.00 (paper)
With approximately 2.3 million people in prison or jail, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world — by far. Our per capita rate is six times greater than Canada’s, eight times greater than France’s, and twelve times greater than Japan’s. Here, at least, we are an undisputed world leader; we have a 40% lead on our closest competitors — Russia and Belarus.
… For one group in particular, however, these figures have concrete and deep-rooted implications — African-Americans, especially young black men, and especially poor young black men. African-Americans are 13 percent of the general population, but over 50% of the prison population. Blacks are incarcerated at a rate eight times higher than that of whites — a disparity that dwarfs other racial disparities. (Black–white disparities in unemployment, for example, are 2–1; in nonmarital childbirth, 3–1; in infant mortality, 2–1; and in net worth, 1–5.
In the 1950s, when segregation was still legal, African-Americans comprised 30% of the prison population. Sixty years later, African-Americans and Latinos make up 70% of the incarcerated population, and that population has skyrocketed. The disparities are greatest where race and class intersect—nearly 60% of all young black men born between 1965 and 1969 who dropped out of high school went to prison at least once on a felony conviction before they turned thirty-five. And the incarceration rate for this group — black male high school dropouts — is nearly fifty times the national average.
These disparities in turn have extraordinary ripple effects. For an entire cohort of young black men in America’s inner cities, incarceration has become the more-likely-than-not norm, not the unthinkable exception. And in part because prisons today offer inmates little or nothing in the way of job training, education, or counseling regarding their return to society, ex-offenders’ prospects for employment, housing, and marriage upon release drop precipitously from their already low levels before incarceration.
That in turn makes it far more likely that these ex-offenders will return to criminal behavior — and then to prison. Meanwhile, the incarceration of so many young men means more single-parent households, and more children whose fathers are in prison. Children with parents in prison are in turn seven times more likely to be imprisoned at some point in their lives than other children. As Brown professor Glenn Loury puts it in Race, Incarceration, and American Values, we are “creating a racially defined pariah class in the middle of our great cities.” …
… At the same time, our addiction to punishment should be troubling not only because it is costly and often counterproductive, but because its race and class disparities are morally unacceptable. The most promising arguments for reform, therefore, must appeal simultaneously to considerations of pragmatism and principle. The very fact that the US record is so much worse than that of the rest of the world should tell us that we are doing something wrong, and the sheer waste of public dollars and human lives should impel us toward reform. But as the authors of these three books make clear, we will not understand the problem fully until we candidly confront the fact that our criminal justice system would not be tolerable to the majority if its impact were felt more broadly by the general population, and not concentrated on the most deprived among us.
Articles about income inequality
- “Have we fallen behind our parents?“, Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon, 14 May 2008 — “Author Nan Mooney argues that the middle class is slipping, and fixing it is going to take more than cutting out lattes.”
- “Income inequality and poverty rising in most OECD countries“, OECD, 21 October 2008
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the following:
Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.
Posts looking at inequality in America:
- A sad picture of America, but important for us to understand, 3 November 2008
- America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system, 5 November 2008
- Inequality in the USA, 7 January 2009
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