Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prisoners are bad people.

Or that's what mainstream U.S. culture encourages us to believe.

The vast majority of incarcerated people aren't there because they committed a horrible
crime -- like rape, or rape or murder of a child. The overwhelming majority of
imprisoned people are in carcerated for:

1) Possession of an illegal substance/drugs (inc. drug use -- or drug addiction. Drug addiction should not be criminalized but treated -- with compassion, therapy, support, and a access to resources that would prevent addiction, or help a person recover. Deprivation of (institutional) resources -- for ex, access to any kind of health care, access to quality health care, access to quality education and jobs) would help A LOT of people avoid addiction, or overcome it.

2) Possession of an illegal substance/drugs for sale (drug dealing)

3) Robbery (which is, historically, a crime that poor people commit, because they are trying to access the cash/goods to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves. I'm not *justifying* robbery -- I know that people who are robbed are hurt in these scenarios. I also know that, based on a close examination of historical patterns, and institutionalized oppression -- which robs people of choices, or constrains/limits them, thereby practically forcing them to break the law -- that far fewer people would steal, sell drugs, or use drugs, or commit most of the crimes for which people are arrested (because I wholeheartedly agree with those who point out that most people who break the law are NEVER arrested or convicted -- and most of those people are middle and upper class people (an overwhelmingly white income group) who already have so much power and privilege that they A) don't need to commit the crimes that poor people do to survive, or B) won't ever get caught because the police aren't patrolling their neighborhoods, the police and public don't hold them under great suspicion and racially profile them under the *assumption* that they are innately criminal, or tend to commit crimes, or C) when they are caught, they can hire the best of lawyers to ensure they won't be incarcerted, and/or D) the government and courts will simply "pardon" them for their "high crimes," their "white collar crimes," that rob BILLIONS of ordinary working people of BILLIONS -- but, hey, that's a "just a mistake" worthy of forgiveness, a slap on the wrist, and a fine).

**Most drug users (73%) and most drug dealers are white yet the overwhelming majority of those incarcerated for those crimes are black (70 to 90% depending on the state) and Latino/a -- WOMEN and MEN (not just black or Latino men). Poor women are funnelled into prison in droves for "crimes"in which poor people disproportionately engage, like sex work (prostitution), drug use and drug dealing.

**The real crime is poverty, unequal access to resources, and the government's war on poor people ( = "War on Drugs").

Individual decisions (can't call them "choices" -- people choose when they are free to choose, when ALL choices are EQUAL) made in the context of poverty explain the crimes most people in prison committed, and explain why it is so difficult not to "re-offend" upon release -- why recidivism (re-incarceration) rates are so high.
(White ex-convicts are FOUR TIMES more likely to be hired than black ex-convicts, AND even often more likely to be hired than black people who HAVE NEVER BEEN
IMPRISONED. That's wild, right?)

***My sources: Tim Wise's short essays...

1) "A Quite Deliberate Failure: Reflections on The Politics of Crime"

2) "Excuses, Excuses: How the Right Rationalizes Racial Inequity, Part Two (Criminal Justice)"

3) "The Mother of All Racial Preferences: Reflections on Affirmative Action for White Folks"

4) "Racial Profling and Its Apologists"

5) "Of Danger and Double Standards: Police, Prison and Preferential Treatment"

6) "Fear and Loathing in Suburbia: Crime and the Irrationality of White Racism"

Find Tim Wise on Facebook (he's awesome!) www.timwise.org

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