Despite real efforts in 2003 and 2004, the US prison population has been mostly stagnant under Bushco, as compared to previous periods:


Is Bush soft on crime?

Of course, I am being snarky. The recent news (linked to above) about the renewed growth of the prison population in the past 2 years have not been mentioned on dKos as far as I have been able to ascertain, and I thought I would provide these numbers and a few others below.
The real scandal is the sheer size of the prison population in the US, and its becoming another chunk of the militaro-industrial complex – or another “complex” on its own right.


With an inflation of around 265% for the period, this means that police and justice budgets were flat or growing very slightly, the corrections budget doubled in real terms, and the prison population tripled. (of course, the Dow Jones was multiplied by 16 during the period)

It’s also interesting to note that this is a fairly recent trend:

Source: The Sentencing Project (pdf, 17 pages).

The result is that the US now have the highest incarceration rate

This graph comes again from The Sentencing Project, which thus analyses these numbers:

The high rate of imprisonment in the United States can be explained by several factors:

  • A higher rate of violent crime than other industrialized nations.
  • Harsher sentencing practices than in other nations, particularly for property and drug offenses.
  • Sentencing policy changes over a period of three decades, particularly the shift toward mandatory and determinate sentencing, restrictions on judicial discretion, and a greater emphasis on imprisonment as a preferred sanction.
  • Policy changes adopted as part of the “war on drugs,” leading to a vastly increased use of the criminal justice system as a means of responding to drug problems.

An even more terrifying statistic, provided in the first Yahoo link above, is that

An estimated 12.6 percent of all black men in their late 20s were in jails or prisons, as were 3.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.7 percent of white men in that age group

That’s one in 8 in prison, which means that, with those that have been and those that will fall at some other point in the future, one black man in 3 or so will know jail in his twenties. How is that not a major scandal bringing real action? One man in three?

(Note that I am not claiming that minorities are treated any better in other countries: the Sentencing Project notes that the relative ratio of incarceration for minorities is similar or worse in other countries; but, combined with the high absolute level of incarceration, only the US sees such a high proportion of its young men go to jail)

Note also that with 2.1 million people in jail (and another 5 million under the control of the penal system), most of them of working age, the US unemployment rate is artificially lowered by at least 1.5 points (if not 5 points, depending on how you evaluate the employment prospects of ex convicts or people on probation).

The other scandal of course, is the way these people are treated while in jail. Abu Ghraib was not news to US inmates.

Abu Ghraib …. Shocking? What Happened There Is Commonplace at U.S. Prisons

in the typical American prison, designed and run to maximize degradation, brutalization, and punishment, overt torture is the norm. Beatings, electric shock, prolonged exposure to heat and even immersion in scalding water, sodomy with riot batons, nightsticks, flashlights, and broom handles, shackled prisoners forced to lie in their own excrement for hours or even days, months of solitary confinement, rape and murder by guards or prisoners instructed by guards–all are everyday occurrences in the American prison system.

The use of sex and sexual humiliation as torture in Abu Ghraib and the other American prisons in Iraq is endemic to the American prison. Psychological and physical sexual torture is exacerbated by the underlying policy of denying prisoners any volitional sex, making the only two forms of sexual activity that are physically possible–homosexuality and masturbation–both offenses subject to punishment. Strip searches, including invasive and often intentionally painful examination of the mouth, anus, testicles or vagina, frequently accompanied by verbal or physical sexual abuse, are part of the daily routine in most prisons. A 1999 Amnesty International report documented the commonplace rape of prisoners by guards in women’s prisons.[2]

Each year, numerous prisoners are maimed, crippled, and even killed by guards. Photographs could be taken on any day in the American prison system that would match the photographs from Abu Ghraib that shocked the public

Some US Prisons as Bad as Abu Ghraib

Prisoner Abuse: How Different are U.S. Prisons? (Human Rights Watch)

Abu Ghraib, USA (Anne-Maris Cusac, The Progressive – many more links in that article)

When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

When I heard that dogs had been used to intimidate and bite at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib, I thought of the training video shown at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas.

When I learned that the male inmates at Abu Ghraib were forced to wear women’s underwear, I thought of the Maricopa County jails in Phoenix, Arizona.

And when I saw the photos of the naked bodies restrained in grotesque and clearly uncomfortable positions, I thought of the Utah prison system.

Donald Rumsfeld said of the abuse when he visited Abu Ghraib on May 13, “It doesn’t represent American values.”

But the images from Iraq looked all too American to me.

I’ve been reporting on abuse and mistreatment in our nation’s jails and prisons for the last eight years. What I have found is widespread disregard for human rights. Sadism, in some locations, is casual and almost routine.

Reporters and commentators keep asking, how could this happen? My question is, why are we surprised when many of these same practices are occurring at home?

A Visit to Valley State Prison for Women (Amnesty International, 1999)

Recommendations to address human rights violations in the USA (Amnesty, 2004)

But of course, inmates cannot vote.

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