THE CAGING OF AMERICA, Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, January 2012
“…In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.
“…accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice…
“…The obsession with due process and the cult of brutal prisons, the argument goes, share an essential impersonality. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on real people…
“…And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime… [Franklin E.] Zimring [a criminologist at Berkeley Law] said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility.
“Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry…
“…One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave,”
“Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly M.B.A. profs; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the S.E.C. busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology…”
In reading the New Yorker article, Canadians should substitute “poor black men” with “poor First Nations men.”
Tories’ crime bill off the mark: Vancouver researchers, Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun, October 24, 2011
“…Back in Canada, studies suggest that prisons are already overcrowded, the number of times guards are using force against prisoners are on the rise and inmates have limited access to correctional programs, the researchers pointed out, adding that an increased prison population will only exacerbate these conditions.
“Particularly vulnerable are first nations and the mentally ill, who are both over-represented in the prison system already. First nations make up four per cent of Canada’s population, but 20 per cent of inmates. One study suggested that the proportion of Canadian inmates with mental illness is three times higher than in the general population. Mandatory minimum sentences will therefore disproportionately affect these groups, the researchers said…”