Racist incarcerations on the rise

By Gloria Rubac, Workers World, 4 May 2005, 5:23 PM

Newly-released numbers by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics confirm what those living in poor and oppressed communities already knew: way too many people are going to prison and the war on drugs is nothing but a war on the oppressed.

For the Justice Department's latest statistical period, mid-2003 to mid-2004, the jail population grew by 3.3 percent, the state prison population by 1.3 percent and the federal prison population by 6.3 percent. The number of women in prison increased during this time by 2.9 percent. There are now over 100,000 women incarcerated.

Nearly 1,000 new individuals are locked up each week, bringing the U.S. rate of incar ceration to a startling 726 per 100,000 people and maintaining this country's status as the world's leading jailer. Rates in other countries per 100,000 are: England, 142; France, 91; Japan, 58; and Nigeria, 31.

It took the U.S. 200 years to imprison the first million people but only another 10 years to lock up the second million. In 1970, fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. were behind bars. By contrast, during the 1990s alone, 840,000 were sent to prison. By 2002 the U.S. hit the 2 million mark. Now there are 2.1 million locked up.

Over the past two decades, on average one new jail or prison has been built in the U.S. every week.

The cost of keeping 2 million prisoners behind bars is $40 billion a year or about $20,000 for every man, woman and teenager serving time.

The U.S. comprises 5 percent of the world's population, yet has fully 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

The human costs of imprisoning over 2 million people\u2014amounting to wasted lives, wrecked families and troubled children\u2014are incalculable. There are adverse social, economic and political consequences of weakened communities and extensive disenfranchisement.

Just as shocking is the racist disparity of incarceration. Although African Amer icans are only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 44 percent of all prisoners in the U.S. are Black.

Nearly 5 percent of all Black men are behind bars, compared to 0.6 percent of white men.

According to Human Rights Watch calculations based on the 2000 U.S. Census, the proportion of Black people in prison exceeds the proportion among state residents in every single state in the U.S. In 12 states more than 10 percent of African American men from ages 18 to 64 are incarcerated.

Around 12.6 percent of all African American males in their late twenties are in prisons or jails, compared to 3.6 percent of Latinos and 1.7 percent of whites in the same age group.

African American men of all ages are incarcerated at more than seven times the rate of white men. In 13 states, Black men are locked up at more than 10 times the rate of white men. No state is free of significant disparities.

The Sentencing Project is a national leader in the development of alternative sentencing programs and in research and advocacy on criminal justice policy. They document that despite falling crime rates since 1991, the rate of incarceration has increased 49 percent since then, especially in the area of drug convictions.

The rise in imprisonment is due to policy changes and not crime rates. These include such measures such as “three strikes,” mandatory sentencing and “truth in sentencing.”

Crime and violence in the U.S. arises from a capitalist system built on crime and violence, from the theft of Native lands to the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans. This country spends billions on war and less and less on human needs.

The education system is inherently racist and woefully inadequate, particularly in poor communities. The state and the federal governments do not sufficiently fund education, health care and jobs. President Bush's own home state of Texas has the lowest percentage of children covered by health insurance.

When the workers topple the Pentagon and the corporations and establish a socialist society that they control to provide for human needs, then the real criminals, the bosses and their repressive goons, will do the time and the poor and oppressed will finally be free of the violence of prisons.