Oakton Community College Cruel and Unusual Essay

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ruel and Unusual ;'heTrue Costs of Our Prison System ROBERT DEFINA AND LANCE HANNON «P- I in a series of policy changes aimed at winning political favor by "getting tough on crime." These included mandatory sentencing, "three strikes and you're out" laws, and harsher rules for probation and parole. And so the same amount of crime yielded substantially more incarceration. Nor did the strategy of mass imprisonment contribute much toward keeping crime down. Even the most generous estimates suggested a relatively minor role in crime prevention; many studies showed that rates of violent crime were unaffected. Indeed, as we shall see, some evidence suggests that certain crimes might actually have increased as a result. For the bishops a decade ago, the existing approaches to criminal justice were severely at odds with the church's scriptural, theological, and sacramental heritage. "A Catholic approach begins with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender," they wrote. "As bishops, we believe that the current trend of more prisons and more executions, with too little education and drug treatment, does not truly reflect Christian values and will not really leave our communities safer." The overriding emphasis on punishment, the harsh and dehumanizing conditions of prisons, the lack of help to prisoners attempting reentry into society: these and other failures of the system led the bishops to call for a new direction, one that emphasized restorative justice and reintegration while insisting on the well-being and fair treatment of both prisoners and their victims. The system envisioned by the bishops offered prisoners reintegration into the community, including the opportunity for reconciliation with those harmed, even as it supported victim restitution. It rejected crudely punitive strategies, such as mandatory sentencing, that neglect the complex sources of crime and the particularities of an individual criminal's makeup. The bishops also called for better treatment within the prison walls, including expanded counseling, health care, education, and training decade ago, in November 2000, the U.S. Confer_-_ ence of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral state" ment titled Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and . _'Restoration:A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Crimi'Inal Justice. Unapologetically critiquing a criminal-justice system focused primarily on punishment, the bishops { called the American response to crime "a moral test for --ournation and a challenge for our church." Their statement chastised the United States for its "astounding" rate of incarceration, "six to twelve times ,: higher than the rate of other Western countries," and went , .onto suggest changes that would make the system more humane and socially beneficial. "Putting more people in prison and, sadly, more people to death has not given , Americans the security we seek," the bishops declared. ~ "It is time for a new national dialogue on crime and corrections, justice and mercy, responsibility and treatment." The backdrop to the bishops' pastoral was a dramatic rise in the incarceration rate. In the twenty years preceding their report, that rate rose steeply and steadily, more than tripling to 683 prisoners per 100,000 of the population-which meant 2 million people behind bars and a total bill to federal, state, and local governments of about $64 billion. Closer inspection of the ranks of the imprisoned raised even more concerns. Prisons were increasingly admitting nonviolent criminals, especially those guilty of drug-related infractions. The prison population was increasingly made up of minorities: by 2000 about 60 percent of those imprisoned were either black or Hispanic. And Harvard sociologist Bruce Western noted that more than half of all African-American men who lack high-school diplomas were imprisoned by age thirty-four. Scholars who studied the issue concluded that the prison buildup was not simply a response to rising crime: violent-crime rates in 2000, in fact, roughly equaled those of 1980, while property-crime rates were actually lower. The trend toward mass incarceration was rooted rather *'A-- 59 _nicle 14 Cruel and Unusual '.he True Costs of Our Prison System ROBERT DEFINA AND LANCE HANNON "A in a series of policy changes aimed at winning political favor by "getting tough on crime." These included mandatory sentencing, "three strikes and you're out" laws, and harsher rules for probation and parole. And so the same amount of crime yielded substantially more incarceration. Nor did the strategy of mass imprisonment contribute much toward keeping crime down. Even the most generous estimates suggested a relatively minor role in crime prevention; many studies showed that rates of violent crime were unaffected. Indeed, as we shall see, some evidence suggests that certain crimes might actually have increased as a result. For the bishops a decade ago, the existing approaches to criminal justice were severely at odds with the church's scriptural, theological, and sacramental heritage. "A Catholic approach begins with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender," they wrote. "As bishops, we believe that the current trend of more prisons and more executions, with too little education and drug treatment, does not truly reflect Christian values and will not really leave our communities safer." The overriding emphasis on punishment, the harsh and dehumanizing conditions of prisons, the lack of help to prisoners attempting reentry into society: these and other failures of the system led the bishops to call for a new direction, one that emphasized restorative justice and reintegration while insisting on the well-being and fair treatment of both prisoners and their victims. The system envisioned by the bishops offered prisoners reintegration into the community, including the opportunity for reconciliation with those harmed, even as it supported victim restitution. It rejected crudely punitive strategies, such as mandatory sentencing, that neglect the complex sources of crime and the particularities of an individual criminal's makeup. The bishops also called for better treatment within the prison walls, including expanded counseling, health care, education, and training decade ago, in November 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral state. ment titled Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and , Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and CriminalJustice. Unapologetically critiquing a criminal-justice ;..;system focused primarily on punishment, the bishops called the American response to crime "a moral test for i our nation and a challenge for our church." j Their statement chastised the United States for its .~."astounding" rate of incarceration, "six to twelve times : higher than the rate of other Western countries," and went' .onto suggest changes that would make the system more ~ humane and socially beneficial. "Putting more people in prison and, sadly, more people to death has not given Americans the security we seek," the bishops declared. " "It is time for a new national dialogue on crime and corrections, justice and mercy, responsibility and treatment." The backdrop to the bishops' pastoral was a dramatic rise in the incarceration rate. In the twenty years preceding their report, that rate rose steeply and steadily, more than tripling to 683 prisoners per 100,000 of the population-which meant 2 million people behind bars and a total bill to federal, state, and local governments of about $64 billion. Closer inspection of the ranks of the imprisoned raised even more concerns. Prisons were increasingly admitting nonviolent criminals, especially those guilty of drug-related infractions. The prison population was increasingly made up of minorities: by 2000 about 60 percent of those imprisoned were either black or Hispanic. And Harvard sociologist Bruce Western noted that more than half of all African-American men who lack high-school diplomas were imprisoned by age thirty-four. Scholars who studied the issue concluded that the prison buildup was not simply a response to rising crime: violent-crime rates in 2000, in fact, roughly equaled those of 1980, while property-crime rates were actually lower. The trend toward mass incarceration was rooted rather . 59 ANNUAL EDITIONS and, perhaps most important, the scarlet letter of a prison record. Ex-prisoners are barred from a large array of occupations in this country, ranging from emergency medicine to cosmetology; in thirty-seven states, employers are allowed to consider arrests without conviction when making hiring decisions. And loss of income is not limited to the incarcerated parent, but also afflicts the remaining parent, since childcare needs can signifi- of cantly decrease the time available to find and keep a job .. Research has consistently shown, moreover, that children with an incarcerated parent frequently suffer high levels of anxiety, shame, and depression; and attending to these needs forms a further obstacle to the remaining parent's participation in the labor force. Such considerations reveal just how complex and multidimensional the impact of mass incarceration can be] At the community level, it disrupts social networks thai bolster the chance for quality employment. The loss 0 an adult family member, especially one with years 0 experience in the legitimate labor market, reduces th "friend-of-a-friend" connections that aid employment. Pi. sociologists Robert Sampson and Stephen Raudenbus point out, whole communities with high incarceratioj rates can become stigmatized, decreasing the likelihoo . that members will be hired, even those with no priso] -record. Other studies have suggested that mass incarcera tion disrupts a neighborhood's informal mechanisms 0' social support, as the constant churn of people in all' out weakens bonds and diminishes collective identic This in turn strains individual resources-as when P"ents who cannot rely on neighbors to look after childres must spend money or forgo wages to do it themselvq The removal of adult breadwinners, meanwhile, eli,; nates role models important for young people. And t. blatantly unequal and racialized use of incarceration C; , delegitimize governmental authority among youth aft fuel an oppositional subculture in which mainstreas activities such as work are devalued. These detrimeri] i effects of concentrated incarceration on a communit norms and sense of collective efficacy may ultimate prevent residents from escaping what might otherwise" merely episodic poverty. to help emerging prisoners integrate successfully into society. They recommended that prisons be easily accessible to family, friends, and religious communities able to support the development and growth of prisoners. Finally, they reminded us of the community's responsibility to work toward reducing crime and helping those at risk of engaging in criminal activities. These proposals added up to a progressive analysis 'of crime, punishment, and prevention, and it would be hard to argue against the bishops' prescriptions or the moral basis that underpinned them. A decade later, however, both the pastoral's criticisms and its suggestions seem all too limited. The criticism focused mainly on shortcomings in the condition and treatment of individual prisoners and victims. While these remain important concerns, recent research has highlighted serious detrimental effects that the justice system has on the broad.er communities from which prisoners come and to which they ultimately return. These community-level effects have added substantially to the individual-level problems the nation's prison policy has created. Recognizing these consequences will help lead to a broader and deeper critique than the one articulated in the pastoral-a critique, moreover, that points the way to a criminal-justice system more in line with the principles of Catholic social thought. he bishops analyzed the effects of prisons using what ~u~ger~ sociologist To?~ Cle.ar has called an . "atomistic VIew." An atomistic VIew focuses on the individual prisoner-why he commits a crime, how he is treated within the criminal-justice system, and what happens to him once he is released. While such a view addresses the important issue of personal dignity, it mostly ignores the larger social fact that the individual prisoner is but one of over 2 million, and that those imprisoned come from geographically concentrated neighborhoods. A broader view discloses other problems. Imprisoning a large fraction of individuals from a particular community, it turns out, can cause that community substantial harmespecially when that community was disadvantaged to begin with. Recent studies have illuminated the many ways this harm can occur. To begin with, mass imprisonment removes spending power from a community, as most ·of those incarcerated are working at the time of their arrest and contributing significantly to their families' income. Furthermore, as sociologists Bruce Western and Devah Pager have demonstrated, incarceration significantly limits the earning capacity of ex-inmates through the erosion of their marketable skills, the loss of social networks, prison socialization into destructive behaviors, T nother direct link to poverty is the increas prevalence of single-parent families. Not o . does mass imprisonment shrink the pool" young men available for marriage, but the prison exp'@ ence itself can make men less suitable for marriage.A single parenthood is a significant contributor to pov and related social ills. As for released inmates, they, restricted access to the social-safety net. Several st such as Texas and Missouri, deny them food sta A 60 Article 14. Cruel and Unusual 1ie~.housing,and TANF, federal assistance for needy es. And the overhaul of the federal welfare system ..:6-the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportu-conciliation Act-included a lifetime ban on cash , ce and food stamps for anyone convicted of a drug le, These rules not only impede the re-integration of '~oners, but put the community as a whole at risk, ially children. Mass incarceration has also been iated with growing and serious community-health ems. Economists Steven Raphael and Michael Stoll, ample, have linked the prevalence of AIDS in poor unities to the transmission of the disease through l violence in prison. This in turn renders communiess able to deal with other crucial concerns. yond all this lies a political dimension. Mass incarion can exacerbate a community's long-term eco'.c deprivation by politically disenfranchising those ~ t4 the greatest stake in policies that might help lift p~~pleout of poverty. In forty-eight states, prisoners can[0 .vote. Many states disallow voting while on probati@"'orparole, and a few states, like Florida, permanently di~enfranchise those convicted of a felony. According t€(~study by the Sentencing Project and Human Rights .\~tch, as of 1998 3.9 million Americans-about one ilil,::fiftyadults-had either temporarily or permanently I~?ttheir right to vote. A clear racial imbalance chara;~terizesthis loss; the study revealed that about one in seven black men had either temporarily or permaneritly 10s~, the right to vote, and in several states, nearly one in fo~r black men of voting age were permanently disenfranchised. To make matters worse, census procedures dictate that prisoners be counted not in their home communities, but in the jurisdiction where they are imprison,~d.Since the areas where prisoners come from tend to benuban, diverse, and Democratic, while prisons are frequently located in rural, white, and Republican districts, high-incarceration communities suffer a sort of electoral double-whammy, with political power drained away from them and transferred to politically antithetical communities that receive greater representation because· of their sizable, nonvoting inmate population. The end result is less legislative support for-and greater opposition to-a variety of progressive initiatives that could aid disadvantaged communities, including, for example, a boost in the statewide minimum wage. Finally, as if all this weren't bad enough, it is clear that the harms done to a community's economy by mass incarceration are likely to be multiplied. In a vicious feedback loop, decreased spending caused by lost income due to incarceration results in fewer businesses being able to remain solvent. When businesses go under, additional residents lose their jobs and fall below the poverty line, depressing spending further. Crucial nonprofit institutions, such as community churches, can be negatively affected as well by the economic contraction . Because such institutions frequently provide goods and services that alleviate poverty, crime, and other social ills, their weakening can intensify the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. Some observers have suggested that increased incarceration can benefit disadvantaged communities by removing socially disruptive young men. This idea has intuitive appeal, yet it loses force in the context of mass incarceration. While the removal of just a few "bad apples" might well have positive implications, in some communities more than a third of the population of young males is in prison; this is less like removing a few apples than like uprooting the whole tree. In such situations the negative effects will likely outweigh whatever positive effects might exist. Our own research indicates that mass incarceration in recent decades has plunged millions of Americans into poverty. Other studies suggest potentially criminogenic consequences of mass imprisonment, arising from the release into the community of large numbers of prisoners exposed to an isolating and sometimes violent prison environment. According to criminologists Lynn Vieraitis, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Thomas Marvell, imprisonment trends in the past few decades actually increase the incidence of various types of crime. And our own research suggests that any such crime-inducing effects of imprisonment can persist for many years. r, nlight of these manifest problems, we believe that Catholic Social Teaching (CST) should broaden its engagement with the criminal-justice system to include what we term "community justice." By community justice we mean the consideration of the community as an organic whole whose treatment should be subject to the demands of justice. Understanding communities this way is common for sociological analysis, but not perhaps for the kind of analysis typically used in CST. Yet with mass incarceration, it is simply not the case that the total damage equals the sum of individual harms. Rather, entire communities have been damaged, suffering perilous losses to their collective social, cultural, and physical capital. This perspective opens up new questions and suggests new applications of CST to the criminal-justice system. Diminution of the common good, for instance, is much graver when entire communities are destroyed. The urgency of a preferential option for the poor is heightened when policies push millions more people into poverty. The social nature of the person and solidarity are violated more seriously when entire social networks and sets of norms are damaged. Barriers to participation are I 61 i: ANNUAL EDITIONS much greater when whole communities are stigmatized because of high levels of incarceration. Such perspectives both require and inform a broader, deeper critique of our penal system. A community-justice lens can also help highlight the racial imbalance in mass imprisonment. Bruce Western and Loic Wacquant have argued that policy initiatives, like the "War on Drugs," that have led to mass incarceration and the disproportionate incarceration of minorities constitute a reaction against the civil-rights movement. They represent, in other words, a new means of social control, in the tradition of such outlawed forms as blatant job discrimination, Jim Crow laws, and housing segregation, which effectively isolates members of a devalued social group and limits their access to valued resources. To the extent that this is accurate, criminal-justice policy directly violates several principles of CST, including the dignity of the person, the social nature of the person, participation, solidarity, and the universal destination of goods. Seen this way, mass incarceration isn't merely an ineffective system needing improvement. Rather, it is a sinful, repugnant, and disordered structure worthy of wholesale replacement. 2008 suggests a heightened recognition of the problems of prisoner reentry and a new political willingness to do something about them. Signed by President George W. Bush and supported by President Barack Obama, the law authorizes federal grants for employment and, housing assistance, drug and alcohol abuse treatment., and other services to reentering offenders. In addition, all restrictions on work should be scrutinized, and those not demonstrably necessary to community safety should be removed. States can also reconsider allowing arrests! without convictions to be factored into employment decisions. The voting rights of ex-prisoners and those on probation and parole should be guaranteed, not only to assure, individual rights (as the bishops stressed), but to give reentering prisoners a tangible stake in their communities. They should also be given full access to the safety net; including the basic programs (such as food stamps and TANF) that are essential for low-income communities especially children. Public programs should treat POQ' ex-prisoners as well as they treat nonpoor ex-prisoners, Today, while public housing is denied to ex-inmates, the mortgage-interest deduction, essentially a housing pro' gram for middle- and upper-class families, is not. Th{ surely runs counter to the call for a preferential option fo the poor. The principles of Catholic Social Teaching have pro vided a useful framework for reflection and guidanc in addressing countless social problems over the pa~ century. The arena of criminal justice is no exceptio' For a decade, the bishops' pastoral has served as a po ' erful reminder that justice involves not only punis ment but also the hard work of supporting, the commot good. As the bishops have pointed out, supporting t, common good means helping the individual rejoin tM community. And as we have stressed here, there rmf be a strong and vibrant community available to reint grate with. Sadly, in the ten years since the bishops' pastoral w; published, the disturbing trends it addressed have 0:, continued, with the latest data showing the 2008 incarce ation rate reaching 753 per 100,000 of the U.S. popuJ' tion, at a total direct cost of about $75 billion. The tren· in racial composition and the decreased severity of crim meriting incarceration have continued as well. Me while, the evidence for incarceration's crime-reduci effect has weakened considerably. These failures dema our renewed attention and effort. I~ We have tried here to broaden the view presented the bishops' pastoral to recognize that incarceration' the scale seen in this country affects not only the iiI' vidual but also the community at large, significai[ hat practical steps might be taken to bring this disordered system into line With, Catholic principles? First and foremost, we need to incarcerate fewer people. One recent proposal by economists John Schmitt, Kris Warner, and Sarika Gupta argues that half of all nonviolent criminals could be removed from prison and put on probation or parole with no appreciable effect on public safety, at a savings of close to $17 billion-considerable resources for the common good, an especially attractive benefit for struggling state governments. Meaningful reductions in incarceration can also be achieved via judicious changes to parole and probation rules. Minor violations (such as lying about previous prison time on job applications) that can now land parolees back in jail, could be handled less punitively, keeping ex-inmates in the community. All in all, sociologist Todd Clear has suggested, the prison population could be cut in half by eliminating imprisonment for technical parole violations, trimming the length of parole supervision, and reducing prison sentences to those used twenty years ago. Policies should be enacted to strengthen the efficacy of communities and their ability to exercise social control and offer social support. Foremost here are access to decent legitimate employment opportunities as well as to the childcare and transportation that facilitate working. Along these lines, the bipartisan Second Chance Act of W 62 amplifyin Analyses effects wi by the cu The prine hand, can system. R ways con a path to' ment of tl us reverse communit From Common\< ., Article 14. Cruel and Unusual ,f the problems willingness to :sident George:, arack Obama,< lploymen.t and:; use treatment, s. In addition, zed, and those . safety should lowing arrests , employment < ose on probaonly to assure ), but to give communities, he safety net, d stamps and communities, Id treat poor ex-prisoners. -inmates, the housing pro,is not. This ial option for Critical Thinking lifying poverty, crime, and other social pathologies. lyses that fail to incorporate these community-level \;ts will continue to underestimate the harms caused the current American approach to criminal justice. principles of Catholic Social Teaching, on the other d, can markedly improve what is clearly a broken em. Reconstructing the criminal-justice system in s consistent with those principles will put us on iath toward respecting both the authentic developt of the individual and the common good, and help -reverse an all-out assault on our most vulnerable mmunities. 1. Why are so many Americans incarcerated? I Commonweal, January 28, 2011, pp. 11-14. Copyright © 2011 by Commonweal 2. Discuss the extent that the incarceration rate lowers the crime rate. 3. Why do all other countries have lower incarceration rates? ROBERT DEFINA is professor of sociology at Villanova University and co-editor of the Journal of Catholic Social Thought. LANCE HANNON is associate professor of sociology at Villanova University. The authors' work was supported in part by a Veritas grant from Villanova University Foundation. ng have prond guidance ver the past o exception. ed as a pow'nly punishhe common iporting the 11 rejoin the there must Ie to reinte)astoral was I have only D8 incarceris. populaThe trends :y of crimes 'ell. Meanie-reducing :es demand 'esented in :eration on y the indi~nificantly 63 Reprinted by permission. For subscriptions, www.commonwealmagazine.org
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Article Review- Cruel and Unusual


The review has provided solution to the question on why are so many American
incarcerated.



The paper has also answered the question on how incarceration rate affects the crime
rate.



The review has also helped in explaining why the rest of the countries have lower
incarceration rates compared to United States.


Running head: CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

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Cruel and Unusual
Name
Institution
Date

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL


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Why are so many Americans incarcerated?

The United States has a huge prison population—not because there are too many harmless
people in prison, but because several individuals commit serious crimes. With a few
exceptions, this is why the majority of peopl...


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