Lyrics from Native American folksinger Buffy Sainte Marie's "My Country Tis of Thy People You're Dying" echo in my mind as I see the stars and bars waving in the wind. "[…]hands on our hearts we salute you your victory-choke on your blue white and scarlet hypocrisy." To sing "my country tis of thee sweet land of liberty" is to speak with a twisted tongue.
Justice is not only blind—she is gagged. Freedom is denied to many of our citizens who remain shackled, bound, and who suffer cruel and inhumane treatment. There are dogs in animal shelters who receive better treatment and have more space than some inmates who are locked away in solitary.
Too many of us stood idly by as we allowed our nation to be crowned "Number One in the World" in prisoners.
Criminal InJustice Kos, a weekly series here on Daily Kos, each Wednesday covers the statistics and information about our "Incarceration Nation" in depth.
The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25% of its prisoners. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Over 2.4 million persons are in state or federal prisons and jails - a rate of 751 out of every 100,000. Another 5 million are under some sort of correctional supervision such as probation or parole.
The US remains the last of the post-industrial so-called First World nations that still retains the death penalty, and we use it often. Nearly 3300 inmates await execution in 35 states and at the federal level, and it was not until the early 21st century that the US abolished capital punishment for juveniles and those with IQs below 70.
Add to these numbers the spouses, children and other family members impacted by incarceration, and the effect this has on the communities from whence the inmates came, and we begin to see how widespread the devastation is to our body politic.
All of the symbols and slogans we cherish here in the United States have little meaning as long as Justice—not blindfolded with impartiality—is simply cloaked in malice.
The battlecry of the French which was inspired by our revolution, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," was never applied to me or my black ancestors. When black Haitians fought in our revolution, and threw off the very same French, our nation failed to support them. Our nation kept black people enslaved over 30 years after the British had abolished it, and it took a Civil War to effect emancipation.
The French sent us "Libertas," the Statue of Liberty, to symbolize freedom, but the broken chain that lies at her feet has been forged anew into bars and barbed wire.
Reconstruction after the Civil War was replaced by the domestic terrorism of the Klan and Jim Crow. Voter disenfranchisement was effected with poll taxes, literacy tests and laws.
Forty-six years after the end of legal segregation we are subject to what law professor and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander has dubbed "The New Jim Crow" in her seminal text The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness.
An interesting title; but though I agree with Alexander's premise, and suggest that her book should be required reading for all progressives, I take issue with her title. The status of our Criminal InJustice system goes far beyond Jim Crow.
I lived under Jim Crow—separate and unequal—but I was not shackled nor chained, nor locked in years upon endless years of solitary confinement. What we have now is far worse than Jim Crow.
We now have two USAs. One free, and the other either locked up, headed back into lockup, or destined to be locked up—do not pass Go and forget about 200 dollars.
In 2007, Pew issued this report: Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America’s Prison Population 2007-2011
After a 700-percent increase in the U.S. prison population between 1970 and 2005, you’d think the nation would finally have run out of lawbreakers to put behind bars.
But according to Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America’s Prison Population 2007- 2011, a first-of-its-kind projection, state and federal prisons will swell by more than 192,000 inmates over the next five years.
This 13-percent jump triples the projected growth of the general U.S. population, and will raise the prison census to a total of more than 1.7 million people. Imprisonment levels are expected to keep rising in all but four states, reaching a national rate of 562 per 100,000, or one of every 178 Americans.
As states struggle with budgetary problems the lure of privatizing prisons grows stronger. The ACLU of Ohio has taken an in-depth look at prison privatization, while states like California attempt to cope with serious overcrowding due in part to a "3 strikes ballot initiative."
SAN DIEGO– California prisons are paying the price after U.S. Supreme court ruled that the prisons must release 36,000 prisoners within five year; forcing them to either build more facilities, or outright release the prisoners.
Larry Gerston Ph.d., a political science professor at San Jose State University says that the three-strikes law may contribute to overcrowding.
In fact, more than anything else, the problem was caused by the “three strikes” initiative passed by the voters in 1994, which allows judges to sentence twice-convicted felons to a minimum of 25 years in prison, regardless of the crime they are convicted of on the third occasion. Tens of thousands of prisoners are incarcerated because of that law, and the state has failed to build enough facilities to house them.
Inmates are fighting back and activists around the country are rallying support.
The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike continues and has spread to other facilities.
Please sign this petition: Support Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Now is the time for all liberals, leftists, progressives and humanists to take a stand.
Let us rip the blindfold off injustice and make a commitment to redress the wrongs that have gone on for far too long.
Each one of us can take some simple steps to educate, organize and begin to make a difference.
Examine your own blogrolls, browser bookmarks, RSS feeds and Facebook links.
Add a site or organization that is actively organizing or disseminating information on changing the injustice system.
Pass the information on.
Some suggested links to get you started (please post other links you may have in comments):
Black and Pink (LGBTQ)
We will not be able to change this system without an outcry. We need to pressure local, state and federal officials and agencies.
But most important—we need to be better informed.
Do you know how many jails and prisons there are in your state and how many people are incarcerated? What elected or appointed officials are in charge?
If the answer is no—take the time to find out. The Sentencing Project has a map that can help get you started.
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest"