Tag Archives: legislation

Since 1990 the Crime Rate in the U.S. Has Fallen By 45%. The Incarceration Rate? Up 222%

The Hamilton Project is an economic initiative put together by the Brookings Institution, an American non-profit think tank that is, “devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions”.

Earlier this month, the Hamilton Project published a memo highlighting the economic costs crime and imprisonment have on our country. The memo found that while the crime rate has dropped by 45% since 1990, incarceration rates have more than doubled, rising by 222%.

U.S. crime rate (click to enlarge)

The memo also found that for an African-American man who dropped out of high school, the chances of ending up in prison are a whopping 70%, compared to just 15% for similarly educated white men.

The memo also pointed out that per-capita, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and,

“imprisons at a rate six times greater than most peer nations, including those of the European Union, Japan, Israel, and Mexico.”

U.S. incarceration rate (click to enlarge)
The increasing economic cost of incarceration (click to enlarge)

The Harvard Gazette recently discussed the Hamilton Project’s findings with Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., Harvard Law professor and director of Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute.

One of the questions they asked was how the crime rate and incarceration rate in the U.S. could be moving in such drastically different directions. His answers were not only knowledgeable but powerful and revealing.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview (I’ve bold-faced a few sections that I feel are particularly important):

GAZETTE: According to the memo, while the overall crime rate fell 45 percent between 1990 and 2012, the rate of imprisonment has spiked 222 percent between 1980 and 2012. What’s behind this disparity? Is that strictly the result of policy decisions like mandatory minimum sentencing, repeat-offender laws, and the growth in for-profit prisons? Or are other factors at work?

SULLIVAN: That’s certainly a big piece of it. … policy decisions in respect of mandatory minimums drive the huge incarceration rate. But there are other factors as well. What those factors are is the subject of a lot of academic debate nowadays. And to be honest, we’re not exactly sure what it is. We do know that on a per-capita basis the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including Rwanda, Russia, Cuba, all of the places one does not associate with a robust tradition of liberty. And that’s in many ways shocking.

The theory would be … with the high rates of incarceration that the crime rate would go down and then that would be followed by less incarceration because there just wouldn’t be as many crimes committed. But those numbers have gone in opposite directions. Mandatory minimums simply don’t explain all of it. Part of it, at least I think, has to do with selective law enforcement — the over-policing of certain neighborhoods, particularly minority neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. That is to say, if police are there and looking for crimes, and over-police certain neighborhoods, you’re going to produce more defendants in particular areas. And if the populations are drawn from poor populations, they’re unable to afford to be released on bail, they’re unable to afford good lawyers, and studies show that if you’re not released on bail you tend to stay in jail after sentencing. An unfortunate reality of the United States is that far too often the justice you receive is a function of how much money you have.

The prison-industrial complex is also an important factor. It doesn’t take an economist to know that if … you make your money by people going into prison, then there’s going to be higher incarceration rates. So I think that certainly plays a role as well.

GAZETTE: What are the areas of debate among scholars?

SULLIVAN: One explanation has to do with the United States’ articulated goals of punishment. Back in the ’70s and before, rehabilitation was an articulated goal of the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court has said clearly now rehabilitation is no longer a penological goal. We look at incapacitation, we look at deterrence, and we look at retribution as goals that the penal system serves. When you take rehabilitation out of the mix, then that de-incentivizes the system from having shorter sentences because there’s no longer an affirmative goal of reintegrating people meaningfully back into the community. That’s one of the things that scholars argue drive up the incarceration rate.

The other has to do with our system of elected judges in most states. Judges who are elected, the argument runs, respond to democratic pressures. We live in a political economy where people think that more and harsher punishment is better, even though most competent data suggests that longer sentences, after a certain point … make people worse as opposed to making them better. But you have democratically elected judges who respond to the will of the people, and if that will is for longer sentences, no matter how misinformed, then judges oftentimes acquiesce to those pressures.

The other issue has to do with legislators. It, again, has to do with the political economy in which we live. With this mantra of being “tough on crime,” legislators essentially race to see who can draft legislation with the harshest, longest penalties. I think that legislators don’t believe that prosecutors will attempt to enforce the most harsh provisions of particular laws, and in that sense, from the vantage point of the legislator, it’s sort of a win-win situation: They can get the political credit for drafting an incredibly harsh law, but not really have to deal with the effects because the notion is the prosecutor will sort it out and will recommend a fair sentence. That assumption, though, just hasn’t really been borne out in reality.

You can read a full transcript of the interview in the full story from the Harvard Gazette here.

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Revolutionary Step? Bolivia Gives the Earth Comprehensive Legal Rights

The Law of Mother Earth is a bold move by the Bolivian government. At its source is the ancient “Pachamama” traditions of the native Andean people. This worldview is based on the belief that the earth is actually a living being (“Pachamama” translates to Mother Earth).

The Bolivian government says the law is a culmination of efforts to combat climate change, to live in harmony with the Earth and to prioritize “the greater good”.

The legislation gives the Earth the rights to,

“Life and regeneration; biodiversity and freedom from genetic modification; pure water; clean air; naturally balanced systems; restoration from the effects of human activity; and freedom from contamination.”

Bolivians rallying in support of the legislation (Source: http://www.cipamericas.org)

Furthermore, the law decrees that the Bolivian government is now legally bound to,

“Prioritize the well-being of its citizens and the natural world by developing policies that promote sustainability and control industry.”

The economy must operate within the natural limits of the environment, and the government must pursue renewable energy technologies as well as total energy and food sovereignty.

Indigenous Bolivians celebrate the winter solstice (Photo: David Mercado/Reuters)

It also gives citizens the right to sue individuals or groups (including the government and businesses) on behalf of the Earth if they belief Earth’s rights have been violated.

Here’s the full list of rights stated in the law:

  • The right to maintain the integrity of life and natural processes.
  • The right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
  • The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration.
  • The right to pure water.
  • The right to clean air.
  • The right to balance, to be at equilibrium.
  • The right to be free of toxic and radioactive pollution.
  • The right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities

Read more from CS GLobe here.

New Saudi Law Declares That Atheism (and Pretty Much Everything Else) is Terrorism

It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia is pretty socially conservative, especially when it comes to religion. But their recent recent legislation equating atheism with terrorism is extreme even for them.

In fact, the legislation targets not only atheism, but pretty much all dissident thought and expression. Here’s Joe Stark, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for North Africa and the Middle East:

“Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism … These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.”

Saudi King Abdullah (Photo: AFP)

The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, widely referred to as the “terrorism law”, defines terrorism within the country as any action intended to, “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the security of society,”. None of these terms are specifically defined.

The legislation also includes a number of articles which virtually criminalize any expression critical of the Saudi government or its interpretation of Islamic law, including Article 1:

“Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based,”

Article 4:

“Anyone who aids [“terrorist”] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them,”

and Article 6:

“Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”

One of the activists interviewed by Human Rights Watch commented on this particular provision, saying,

“Just talking to you now is considered terrorism – I could be prosecuted as a terrorist for this conversation.”

Read the full story from Human Rights Watch here.

Feature image courtesy of Borgen Magazine.

Mob Rounds Up and Brutally Beats 14 Men to “Cleanse” Neighborhood of Gays

Homophobia in Africa has been growing at an alarming pace in recent years.

In January, The Higher Learning reported on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni refusing to approve a law passed by the Ugandan parliament that would have made homosexuality punishable by life in prison.

Abuja, Nigeria (Photo: Nigerian Association of Utah)

Earlier today (1/15/2014), human rights’ activists from the International Center on Advocacy for the Right to Health (CARH) reported the savage beating of 14 men in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

On Thursday (1/13/2014), Ifeanyi Orazulike, who works for the CARH, received a panicked e-mail from a colleague.

In the e-mail, the colleague (who’s name was not released) said he was hiding from a mob of about 40 men armed with wooden clubs and iron bars.

He sad that the mob started going door-to-door around 1 a.m., pulling suspected homosexual men from their homes, beating them and threatening death if they were to return to the neighborhood.

Demostrators in NYC protest against Nigerian homophobia (Photo: Sahara Reporters)
Demostrators in NYC protest against Nigerian homophobia (Photo: Sahara Reporters)

In May of last year, Nigeria passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, first proposed in 2006.

This law doesn’t seem very severe compared to the proposed Ugandan legislation. Critics, however, say it only serves to encourage and embolden attacks like the one on Thursday, citing Nigeria’s long history of mob justice.

Read the full story from the AP here.

Feature image courtesy of Huffington Post.

The Most Homophobic Countries Are Also the Top Searchers of Gay Porn on Google

Early on Friday (1/17/2014), Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni announced that he would not approve legislation recently passed by the country’s parliament that would not only make homosexuality punishable by life in prison, but would also imprison people for not reporting homosexuality within 24 hours.

Museveni basically said that legislating against “abnormality” would just make homosexuals go underground, and that the best way to deal with homosexuality was to improve the economy.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

The magazine Mother Jones published a piece last year analyzing which countries used Google the most to search for gay porn. Kenya, Pakistan and Uganda, all of which have laws making homosexuality illegal, were at the top of the list.

To understand the extreme homophobia in Africa, it is crucial to note that talking publicly about sexuality is a huge cultural faux-pas not just in Uganda but across the continent, so very few Africans were even aware that there were homosexual communities within their countries until very recently.

David Bahati- Ugandan MP who co-sponsored the anti-gay lesgislation
David Bahati- Ugandan MP who co-sponsored the anti-gay lesgislation

A number of social psychologists are theorizing that the seemingly odd correlation between homophobia and homosexual curiosity (ie. Google searches) can be explained by Sigmund Freud’s “reaction-formation” theory.

The theory basically says that when people feel anxiety about something, they respond by overreacting in the opposite direction to try and compensate for their own internal battles.

Clearly, not everyone who is anti-gay is overcompensating for sexual-confusion, but in a country like Uganda where education levels are relatively low and most people are totally unfamiliar with homosexuality, it’s easy for a few fear-mongers to create mass paranoia, especially when they can also use God (through extreme Christian evangelism) to justify the witch-hunts.

For more check out these articles:

Government Adds $75 Million to NSA Budget to Avoid Future Snowdens

The House Intelligence Committee approved a new spending bill for the National Security Agency (NSA) on Thursday. Included in the new spending bill was an additional $75 million dollars to,

improve its internal security and mitigate insider threats to classified material.”

That’s pretty much as close as you can get to saying, “make sure there’s no more Ed Snowdens” without saying it outright.

Interestingly enough, the NSA had already deployed security software (purchased from the massive defense contracting corporation Raytheon) to prevent insider leaks before Edward Snowden made his revelations. However, the system had yet to be installed at the station in Hawaii that Snowden worked at due to,

the limitations of the station’s network connection back to the continental US.”

Apparently there weren’t many limitations on the station’s network connection to Wikileaks!

Read the full story here.

Fair or Foul? New Australian Law: Muslim Women Can Be Forced To Remove Face Covering

Fair or Foul? New Australian Law: Muslim Women Can Be Forced To Remove Face Covering

(click link above for full story)

New legislation in Australia gives law enforcement the authority to ask a Muslim woman to uncover her face for the sake of identification. The original legislation used the wording “headwear” implying women would have to remove their entire traditional Muslim head-covering, but after consultation with Muslim leaders in the country the legislation was revised to only require uncovering of the face.

To most westerners, this seems like a silly debate. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require someone to show their face for the sake of identification, but this raises an interesting question: who gets to decide what is reasonable when the issue at hand is tied to the closest, most sacred aspect of a person’s life, their religion?

If you’re interested, here is the excerpt from the Qu’ran (the Muslim holy book), which, in my eyes, most clearly addresses the issue of the headwear  (keep in mind though that, just like any other text, some of the original true meaning can be lost or slightly changed when translated into English).

And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments.” — Qur’an, Surah 24 (An-Nur), Verse 31

Cultural note: there are three types of head covering with various levels of facial coverage.