Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yet Another Appalling Accomplishment

Anybody who's paid the least bit of attention to commentary and just general news over the past 20 years or so, knows that the United States besides leading the globe in national debt, trade deficit, and consumption of a vast number of commodities, including illegal drugs, also leads the world in numbers of its citizens in prison. And it is not even close. Just in terms of raw numbers, the U.S. is far and away the world leader. More than 600,000 ahead of the next highest in the world, Communist China, our valued trading partner and financial sugar daddy who is keeping this country afloat. The figures below spell this out. These statistics are startling. Virtually 9 percent of all people imprisoned in the U.S. are women. No other country is even close. 1 in 5 people in U.S. lockups are not serving a sentence, presumably because they have not yet been brought to trial, or are awaiting sentencing. Finally, with 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world's imprisoned people.

CountryPrison populationPopulation per 100,000Jail occupancy level %Un-sentenced prisoners %Women prisoners %
SOUTH AFRICA158,501334138.627.52.1
N IRELAND1,3757991.537.42.2
SOURCE: International Centre for Prison Studies

All of this ties in directly with the ongoing furor over the so-called "torture debate." (Just an observation, but "torture debate" is something the media has laid on us. There's no "debate"--not among people with a shred of conscience, I should say. Count me among those who think it will take at least a generation for this country to establish itself as a moral leader again because the U.S. government authorized torture as a legitimate and legal tool of interrogation, the latter by torturing logic, morality, and reason into a barely breathing, bloody hulk. We really need to prosecute those responsible for this blot on our national character, but that is another whole blog entry.) It ties in because its yet another illustration of the callous meanness that skeins through our national character. And our willingness to accept cruelty and degradation to people we define as "dangerous" to our way of life: criminals (by our curious standards that treat pot smokers as dangerous and cheating, thieving CEOs as mistaken), enemy combatants, and people on the lower end of the economic totem pole who cannot afford legal defense.

All these thoughts have been spurred by review on Truthdig I just recently read of a book by by Anne-Marie called Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America. The thrust of the argument is that our punishment has gotten worse over the past 35 years. "Should offenders have their wills broken by pain and suffering, or do they retain some capacity for rehabilitation? As Cusac shows, we lean far more toward the former." This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. The torture policy we "debate" today is simply a logical outgrowth of this mentality.
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