Over the past 30 years, the U.S. has put in place radical, unprecedented policies and practices that attempted to address crime through prioritizing harsh and disproportionate punishment, rather than prevention or rehabilitation. By 2010, 7.25 million Americans were under some form of correctional control ¹— either in prison or jail, or on probation or parole — up from 1.84 million in 1980.²
The term “mass incarceration” refers to the unique way the U.S. has locked up a vast population in federal and state prisons, as well as local jails.
But this academic sounding term doesn’t capture the insanity of the situation.
These prisoners are disproportionately black and Latino — against whom the system is biased at every level. Despite similar rates of drug use, black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana use,⁴ and black males are often given longer sentences for crimes than their white peers.⁵
Many of the people locked up should be receiving treatment in the community. A 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics Study found that more than half of all inmates have mental health problems.⁶
How did this happen?
The “tough on crime” punishment philosophy of the 1980’s and 90’s, combined with a heinous “War on Drugs,” led to legislation under Republican and Democratic administrations that used a jail cell as a first, rather than last, resort for people who broke the law.
This uncompromising posture, which often exploited racial fear, became an essential part of running a political campaign. For years, elected officials competed with one another on how brutally they would be willing to punish people who broke the law, especially regarding drug-code violations. Legislators enacted policies that led to more people being locked away for increasingly smaller offenses, and combined them with further policies that kept people locked up longer.
The prison population skyrocketed.
It somehow became understood as acceptable to put people in prison for non-violent crimes. But there is nothing normal about the way the U.S. locks away its citizens.
In fact, it’s unparalleled anywhere else in the world, even compared to the most repressive regimes.
Over the course of three decades, the U.S. built a gargantuan system of state punishment that destroys lives and communities, in a racially discriminatory way, at great financial cost.⁷ More ridiculous still, there is no solid evidence that tougher punishment even deters crime initially,⁸ and inmates in state prisons are likely to be arrested and locked up again after their release.⁹
What is being done?
Within the last few years, both Democrats and Republicans seem to be acknowledging the need for reform. It’s as if they’ve woken up from a decades-long stupor.
There are so many associated issues that need attention as well — the racial bias at every level of the criminal justice system, the use of solitary confinement, unemployment and recidivism, the way we deprive felons of their rights as citizens — the list goes on and on.
The good news is that for the first time in 33 years, the federal and state prison population declined in tandem in 2014.¹⁰ But 1 or 2 percent annual reductions will not solve this problem. We need radical reform to confront the massive damage that’s been done.
The first step is acknowledging the senselessness and inhumanity of mass incarceration, and understanding that millions of people are waiting every day for reform to come.
(1) “Correctional Population in the United States, 2010.” Retrieved from The Punishment Imperative, by Todd Clear and Natasha Frost, 2014.
(2) “Probation and Parole in the United States: 2007 Statistical Tables” 2009. (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from The Punishment Imperative, by Todd Clear and Natasha Frost, 2014.
(3) Correctional Population in the United States, [Image] 2014. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Danielle Kaeble, Lauren Glaze, Anastasios Tsoutis, and Todd Minton
(4) The War on Marijuana in Black and White. 2013.American Civil Liberties Union.
(5) Report on the Continuing Impact of United States v. Booker on Federal Sentencing. 2012. United States Sentencing Commission.
Incarceration over time [image]: Based on an analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data: 2000–2015 , 1990–97 1850–1984:
Incarceration rate by country[image]: World Prison Population List (11th Edition) 2015. Institute for Criminal Policy Research.
(6) Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates. 2006. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.
(7)SMART on CRIME: Reforming The Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century. 2013. U.S. Department of Justice.
(8) The Punishment Imperative, by Todd Clear and Natasha Frost, 2014. pages 120–121.
(9) The Misleading Math of ‘Recidivism’ 2014. Dana Goldstein.
(10) State, Federal Prison Populations Decline Simultaneously for First Time in 36 Years. 2015. The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The greatest threat to the freedom of the press and expression doesn’t come from extremists — it comes from government itself.
Leaders and dignitaries from across the world convened in Paris on Sunday in a show of unity following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Unfortunately, many of the governments represented have atrocious records dealing with the press and freedom of expression in their own countries. To mention a few:
Google is involved in a lot more than directing you to websites.
Click for a larger image and scroll down for notes.
Search is the feature that made Google famous, and the company now handles approximately 3.5 billion searches per day using a complex algorithm to deliver accurate results. To do this, Google “crawls” the Internet’s 60 trillion pages, and organizes it into the company’s 100 million gigabyte index of the Internet. Google has also indexed more than 20 million books for its searchable database, Google Books.
Advertising is where the bulk of Google’s money comes from, pulling in over $40 billion in revenue for the company each year. Google uses the information it learns about individuals from search and from mobile app data to deliver targeted ads.
Google Maps and Location Services
Google has created a digital map of the Earth, viewable in Google Maps and Google Earth. Using satellite imagery and on-the-ground data acquired by a fleet of cars fitted with panoramic cameras, Google has been amassing huge amounts of geo-data, including information like driving conditions, street signs and speed limits. That the cars were also able to capture Wi-Fi network information is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the company. Google also stores the personal location data it collects from mobile devices.
Google and the NSA
While all tech companies deny giving NSA direct access to their servers, nine of the largest tech companies, including Google, are legally required to turn over personal data to the government when ordered through a program called PRISM. The NSA has also been able to secretly access this data through back doors, using a program called MUSCULAR.
Self Driving Car
As part of Google’s semi-secret Google[x] lab, the company has been developing a self-driving car and the software to run it, called Google Chauffeur. The self-driving car, which still requires a human chaperone, has already logged more than half a million miles on the road without causing an accident, which is important given how bad at driving humans are. While it is unclear whether the technology will lead to fully automated cars or hybrid, computer-assisted cars, the advances in this field have the potential to change the way humans interact with automobiles.
Google acquired 8 robotics companies in January and February, including Boston Dynamics, a prominent robotics company with ties to the defense industry. While many of the acquired companies are hardware producers, some, like DeepMind Technologies, specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning. So far, Google has been quiet about what they will be used for.
Another Google[x] project, Google Glass is essentially an internet-connected wearable face computer. Equipped with a camera, its so-far limited roll-out has been contentious.
Google[x] Future Projects
In addition to the self-driving car, Google Glass and robotics, Google[x] is involved in a variety of other “moon-shot” projects that outsiders can only speculate about. One such project, a literal “space elevator,” is on hold while technology improves. Same goes for the hoverboard.
Calico, short for California Life Company, is a health company started by Google and tasked with unlocking the secrets of aging and longevity. While little is known about the company, Google CEO Larry Page commented, “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”
In January, Google paid a startling $3.2 billion for Nest, a company that manufactures high-end internet connected thermostats and smoke alarms. While the device is certainly cool, it is the home energy usage data that Nest generates which is particularly valuable to energy companies and makes the company a strategic investment.
Google developed and maintains its own mobile operating system called Android, now the most common mobile operating system in the world. They also produce their own smart phones and tablets called Nexus. In 2012, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, primarily for the original cell phone company’s extensive patent portfolio. Google sold most of the company to Lenovo earlier this year, but is keeping it’s “Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, headed by former DARPA director Regina Dugan. The team is currently working on a modular phone concept that has the potential to seriously alter the structure of the smartphone market.
Like Apple and Samsung, Google is perpetually involved in high stakes legal disputes over patents and copyright infringement, as well as anti-trust concerns. They have also become one of the top spenders in Washington, coming in at #2 in lobbying expenditures in 2012.
Google’s data centers require a lot of electricity, and Google has been making investments in wind farms and solar energy to power its operations. Google Energy has a US government license to buy and sell energy, allowing it to potentially act as a utility company. In 2013, Google purchased Makani, a company that aims to make tethered airborne wind turbines that can reach heights (and wind speeds) impractical for heavy, ground-based turbines.
Project Loon and Titan
Using a combination of high-altitude blimps and drones, courtesy of Googles recent acquisition of drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, Google is hoping to provide “balloon-powered internet for everyone.”
Google Fiber is a high-speed internet and TV project, currently operational in Kansas City and Provo, Utah. The project seems to be more about shaming big TV and Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T into providing better service than actually competing with them. Google Fiber is looking to set up similar infrastructure in 34 more cities.
Check out this cartoon and more at The Gabbler!
Over the past three decades, local police forces have seen a tremendous influx of military weaponry and technology. Investigative reporter Radley Balko writes that starting in 1997, the “1033 Program” has allowed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military-grade weaponry to be transferred to local civic police stations. This inventory includes tanks, grenade launchers, and .50 caliber machine guns that are largely impractical for police work. The tactics have also become militarized. Criminologist Peter Kraska estimates that annual deployments of SWAT and paramilitary police have surged from 3,000 in 1980 to around 45,000 in present times. This increase appears to be a result of mission creep — while originally conceived to be used in the most extreme scenarios such as hostage situations and bank robberies, Kraska points out that the majority of SWAT raids are now centered on drug-related crimes, with authorities often breaking down doors during pre-dawn hours to serve warrants. While these forces have an important role in dealing with the most volatile situations, the huge surge in the use of SWAT teams and military-grade weapons for regular police work should raise concerns about the impact of militarization on the relationship between law enforcement and civilians.
Illustration for Pioneer Magazine, Northampton, MA.
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