I came across this piece in Rolling Stone from the always au courant Matt Taibbi. It’s a well written and prodigiously researched piece that speaks volumes about the inequality and absurdity of the American law and prison systems.
It is a shameful practice of maltreatment when you receive 25 years for stealing a pair of socks, but you face no reprimand for cheating millions of people and depriving them of their well being on Wall Street.
I’ve included a few excerpts below. I invite you to open your eyes and read the full piece here: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/cruel-and-unusual-punishment-the-shame-of-three-strikes-laws-20130327
“Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose “third strike” is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.
Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children’s videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.”
“Where some saw Three Strikes as a moral outrage, others seized on the financial burdens. Conceived as a way to keep child molesters in jail for life, Three Strikes more often became the world’s most expensive and pointlessly repressive homeless-care program. It costs the state about $50,000 per year to care for every prisoner, even more when the inmate is physically or mentally disabled – and some 40 percent of three-strikers are either mentally retarded or mentally ill. “Homeless guys on drugs, that was your typical third-striker,” says Romano. “And not that the money is the issue, but you could send hundreds of deserving people to college for the amount of money we were spending.”
The typical third-striker wasn’t just likely to be homeless and/or mentally ill – he was also very likely to be black. In California, blacks make up seven percent of the population, 28 percent of the prison population and 45 percent of the three-strikers.”
“Why did all of this happen? Some of this has its roots in a complex political calculation, in which the Democratic Party in the Clinton years made a Faustian bargain, deciding to abandon its old role as a defender of unions and the underprivileged, embrace more Wall Street-friendly deregulatory policies, and compete for the political center by pushing for more street cops, tougher sentences and the end of welfare – the same thing the Republicans were already doing. By the mid-Nineties, neither party was really representing, for lack of a better term, the fucked, struggling poor.
The end result of this political shift was an unprecedented explosion of the American prison population, from just more than a million people behind bars in the early Nineties to 2.2 million today. Less than five percent of the world’s people live in the United States, but we are home to about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, a shocking number.
Another result was that instead of dealing with problems like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, we increasingly just removed them all from view by putting them in jail. It’s not an accident that so many of the most ridiculous Three Strikes cases are semicoherent homeless people or people with drug problems who came from broken homes. It wasn’t a cost-efficient way of dealing with these issues – in fact, in California at least, it was an insanely, almost criminally expensive burden on taxpayers – but it was effective enough as a way of keeping the uglier schisms of our society hidden from view.”