If you travel anywhere in the State of Connecticut, you are likely to find a considerable number of empty manufacturing plants. Recently, I was driving my daughter to her CREC School and passed a few in Hartford where construction workers were boarding up the windows of an empty factory.
I know many of these old facilities have been turned into retail outlets, restaurants and office buildings, or they have been changed into low income housing. But many stand empty, their windows shattered. They are tattered and hollow brick shells, giants of a former age when America actually created products, and had sufficient blue collar jobs to employ thousands and thousands of people in dignified work that allowed them to live a decent lifestyle.
Now, many of the kinds of people who would have worked in factories such as these are now in prison, victims of a policy of mass incarceration which has been carried out by the American government in the last thirty years.
Since then it has become easier to incarcerate African-American and Hispanic men as a consequence of Get tough on Crime laws which have eroded the protections of the fourth amendment. Further, stop and frisk policies have led to thousands and thousands of African-American and Hispanic men being stopped at random on the streets of cities and checked for contraband, and court rulings have made racial profiling increasingly acceptable.
In addition, mandatory minimum sentencing, such as three strikes you are out laws have given prosecutors increasing power to bully and intimidate defendants, many of whom could be innocent, to agree to plead guilty to crimes in order to obtain lower jail sentences. This means that 97% of Federal cases generally end with a plea bargain while 94% of State cases also end with a plea bargain. As one person put it, court room trials, the stuff of television dramas, almost never take place.
In 2009, approximately 92% of prisoners in American prisons were male.
In some ways, we could even, actually, call this a war on men.
In her book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" author Michelle Alexander discusses how the advances in civil rights which took place in the sixties and seventies were subsequently undermined by the mass incarceration, particularly of African-American and Hispanic men starting in the 1980s.
The last thirty years have been particularly striking in regard to the rapid increase in prison populations and the construction of both privately run and public jails. Thus, while in early 1980 there were 300,000 prison inmates throughout the entire United States, currently we have approximately 2,266,800.
The bottom line is that the United States has the highest documented rate of incarceration in the world--indeed, in all of history! Since the 1980s, the prison population has quadrupled, mostly as a consequence of nonviolent, victimless crimes such as drug possession. At least 60% percent of these prisoners are African-American or Hispanic.
As an aside, for us here in Connecticut, one of the interesting aspects of these statistics is that Connecticut arrests and incarcerates proportionally more Hispanic men than any other State in the Union. So if you are male and Hispanic and live in Connecticut you are seriously at risk of ending up in jail sooner or later because the odds are stacked against you.
Not only is there a problem with the number of prisoners that have been incarcerated, there is the problem of lengthy sentences which have arisen as a consequence of mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Human Rights Watch believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole. What you are talking about is a situation where the State removes marriageable African-American and Hispanic single men from their communities just at the time when they are most likely to meet their wives, settle down, have families and begin a future. Others who are already married and have families then leave their wives and children leaving these households fatherless with all the associated consequences to that situation. Growing families have no means of economic support and then end up in poverty and living off financial support from the government.
If by some chance, a former prison inmate is able to get a job they are often required to pay fines and fees associated with their crime, often including the costs of the proceedings that placed them in jail, in addition to back child support. In fact, their wages can be garnished up to 100%!
I certainly think it is interesting that we have replaced a manufacturing based economy with a prison based economy and all the associated industries that come along with them.
For example, there is the massive expenditure of fatherhood funding through the Department of Health and Human Services to compensate for the damage that has been done to men in the African-American and Hispanic communities. And, again, I have tracked how those funds have then been used to disenfranchise women through custody switching schemes.
If you are denying men their due process and human rights in the criminal courtrooms of this State, there is no doubt that you are also denying people the very same rights in family courtrooms as well. In fact, many of the judges that we see in family court are also cycling through the criminal courts at one time or another.
African-American and Hispanic citizens may be seeing one face of justice in one courthouse, and White citizens may be seeing another face in another courtroom, but all of them have no doubt been infiltrated by the underlying corruption that inevitably results when you are incarcerating people at unprecedented rates never before seen in human history.
Further, while you have 60% of these inmates people of color, and 40% white, that 40% is not inconsiderable. Ultimately, the manner in which our justice system operates sooner or later affects everyone, and we all need to be committed to holding it accountable for acting fairly and equitably.