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100th Anniversary!

This article is the 100th posting since last May of the American Tribune.   When I started this weblog, my idea was to write commentary on matters related to criminal justice thru the lens of a personal prison experience connection.  After 20+ years in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), I certainly have no shortage of those.

Moral Growth...

I can’t say I’ve made everyone happy.  If anyone has figured out a way to make a moral omelette without cracking a few shells, please let me know.  Even Mark Twain and Will Rogers with all their talent, skill and humor had their detractors (little of the former do I).

I definitely have some ideas and goals for where I want to go.  I hope you’ve found—and will continue to find—these stories interesting and helpful.  However, it is not my intention to simply entertain you. 

The problems with the American criminal justice and prison systems—the largest in the world—is systemic, not only phenomenal.  It is axiomatic that any system that is so massive and pervasive is bound to—sooner or later—create the objective conditions for its own demise.  The feudal lords and aristocrats learned that bitter lesson (although, given the accummulation of wealth and power at certain levels today, one might wonder if they just traded in their purple robes for gold ones…).

...vs. me-me growth.

If there’s ever going to be a significant progressive change in the system, I believe it will ultimately have to involve prisoner knowledge, social consciousness and active leadership.  Meanwhile, as those conditions inevitably evolve, there are definite signs of potential change occurring in other areas.

One interesting development is Senator Jim Webb’s (D-VA) pending Senate Bill #714, calling for the creation of a National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010.  This is easily the most significant legislation to have gotten this far since the creation of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA).

But I’ve bought tickets to this dance before.  The SRA was also initially billed as a progressive reform.  Sen. Ted Kennedy, an early sponsor, perceived one of the central features of the Act as equalizing gross sentencing disparities, that is, downward.  Well, so did the conservative reactionaries.  Only their idea was to break the kid’s other arm; their idea was to lift everyone to a maximum sentence.  With liberal collusion in Congress (who wants to appear pro-crime?), guess who prevailed?

What eventually tarnished the gild on that lily was a combination of racial “exceptions” (e.g., 100-to-1 black/white crack disparity), state-actor exceptions (can’t really bring themselves to sentence their own the same way as the great masses), and the creation of the largest prison gulag on the face of the earth.

Whatever the merits of a commission to create a “Presidential level blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of our nation’s criminal justice system”–with a view that Congress would then have specific recommendations to act upon–what are these future politicians going to do with this fresh opportunity?  Radically change it for the better, or increase the retribution & punishment conservative moral cycle of their madness that has so far got us to this point?

I guess we’ll see–mainly relegated to being an audience to this political drama.  Of course, one might look at the current crop of fanatics clamoring today for office to get a hint of what’s to come.

Since the legislation has bi-partisan support as well as 39 co-sponsors, and recently passed an identical bill in the House, it looks to be all-but-assured passage before Congress adjourns.

Sen. Webb included in a report to the Huffington Post a number of facts that this site has also reported in recent articles.  Nice to hear it corroborated.

They include facts that, while the US comprises only 5% of the world’s people, it holds 25% of the world’s prison population.

The Senator cites 2.38 million in the prison system.  However, when one adds the running count of immigrant workers being increasingly criminalized and otherwise held for longer and longer periods of time by increasingly privatized imprisonment contracts, that total easily reaches some 2.8 million.  Another 5+ million felons are on probation or parole.

In 1980, there were 41,000 drug offenders imprisoned.  Today, Webb cites, there are more than 500,000.   The BOP reports more than 52% of its federal prison population are drug offenders.

Senator Webb reports that 60% of offenders arrested are for non-violent offenses.  As he writes:  “America’s criminal justice system is broken.”

While I’m not exactly holding my breath, I’m also not so sanguine over a future wrought by much the same crowd…or worse.

               Dr. Publico

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