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The Caging of America

A long piece by Adam Gopnik on the mass incarceration of America, theories about Northern (rehabilitation 'science') and Southern (control the darkies) causes, and why NYC's crime rate plummeted. Well worth reading.

Most wealthy societies imprison at about 100 per 100,000; the US does at 700 per 100,000.

Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally.

This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice.

The other argument—the Southern argument—is that this story puts too bright a face on the truth.


For-profit prisons:

the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

He then talks about the wave of urban crime, especially in NYC, from the 1960s to 1980s. Real stuff, not conservative bogeymen.

And then, a decade later, crime started falling: across the country by a standard measure of about forty per cent; in New York City by as much as eighty per cent. By 2010, the crime rate in New York had seen its greatest decline since the Second World War; in 2002, there were fewer murders in Manhattan than there had been in any year since 1900.

One thing he teaches us is how little we know. The forty per cent drop across the continent—indeed, there was a decline throughout the Western world— took place for reasons that are as mysterious in suburban Ottawa as they are in the South Bronx.

But the additional forty per cent drop in crime that seems peculiar to New York finally succumbs to Zimring’s analysis

Zimring says the extra decline came raising the cost of entry into crime. Hot spot policing, and stop and frisk policies of youth, which hit poor neighborhoods more, but the decline in crime also benefited them more. Long prison sentences aren't it -- NYC is actually locking up a lot fewer people than at the height of the crime wave, and has gone lax on drugs and prostitution.

“In 1961, twenty six percent of New York City’s population was minority African American or Hispanic. Now, half of New York’s population is—and what that does in an enormously hopeful way is to destroy the rude assumptions of supply side criminology -- more minorities, less crime. Oops.

Tangentially, an interesting idea:

the coming of cheap credit cards and state lotteries probably did as much to weaken the Mafia’s Five Families in New York, who had depended on loan sharking and numbers running, as the F.B.I. could.


Wow, I had a crime tag in use already.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/312415.html#comments


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
Glad that we agree on something. A couple of points:
1) privatization of jails (before its evil spectre was raised from the grave by British Thatcherites recently) was first tried in apartheid South Africa in 1966. I trust we will agree that apartheid South Africa did not treat offenders softly or bend over backward to accommodate them. Nonetheless the experiment was abandoned, because it was found that it created unacceptable and corrupting pressure on judges to keep producing raw labour for the jails' workhouses.
2) the regularity is that the early generations of immigrants are heavily criminal, and then the rate goes down. The Irish were thugs and gang members before they colonized the police, and the same may be said of the Italians. I have my doubts as to whether Muslim immigrants as a whole are adaptable, but that is a matter of culture, not social condition or ethnicity.
Mar. 19th, 2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
1) Hadn't heard of that, but heh.

2) Not sure how regular that is. Jewish and Japanese immigrants didn't make a big name for themselves in crime, or if they did it didn't make my history books. Chinese had something, though not sure it rises to Italian stereotype levels. Hmong and Vietnamese gangs don't make the news I read about. For that matter, I hardly ever hear of Muslims in ordinary crime in the US. Not that Muslims have any one culture...

I grew up in a long-standing immigrant neighborhood in Chicago, dominated at the time by Koreans and Palestinians (with the Jews having moneyed up to retreat to Skokie, leaving a Korean church with stars of David across the street) and it was pretty safe.
Mar. 19th, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC)
It's not an absolute. But there certainly were plenty of Jewish gangsters in the old days - ever heard of Bugsy Siegel? and Capone's gang was full of Jews - and the Jews had an international reputation for what is now called people trafficking and was then described as the white slave trade.
Mar. 19th, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC)

Poor urban entrepreneurs. :)
Mar. 19th, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
Pay attention to the names.
Mar. 19th, 2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
As for Muslims, the Muslim jail population in various European countries is 30% of the total. Muslims specialize in low-level violence, grooming and pimping. In Britain, predatory pimping by second- or third-generation Pakistanis on white girls has become a national scandal.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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