Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capitalizing off Crime: Part 2

Do you remember the last time you’ve heard conversation or discussion about the budget for the Department of Corrections in the state in which you reside? Neither can I, but on a daily basis educators are being laid off due to budget cuts.  States are claiming to be doing everything they can to save money, but ironically, funding for jails and prisons is rarely a part of these money saving ventures. 
The American solution of building more prisons and incarcerating more people than any other civilized nation in the world is not deterring people from committing crime.  When analyzing capitalizing off crime, it makes perfect sense why certain laws exist. Follow the money trail that leads from a corporation to the politician who is “Tough on Crime”.  This tough talk sounds good on paper, but in reality, public safety is not the motivating factor in keeping criminals off the street.  Follow the money.
Without a doubt, the War on Drugs has been a massive failure and private for-profit prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Community Education Centers are making billions of dollars each year due to this failed war and close ties to politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.
The Len Bias Affect:  Len Bias is probably known as the greatest basketball player to never play professional basketball.  Bias played basketball at the University of Maryland and was selected as the 1986 ACC player of the year, an All-American and the 2nd overall pick of the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Two days after the draft, on June 19, 1986, Bias died from a drug induced overdose.
In a 2003 study by the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, African American and White people represented similar proportions of all those sent to prison in the state in 1986, but by 1999, 47% of all African American prison admissions in Maryland were for drug offenses, compared with 21% for Whites.  While only making up 28% of the state’s general population, 68% of all people arrested for drug offenses in Maryland were African American.
Bias’ death sparked a round of legislation that completely changed the prison landscape in America.  The amount of non-violent offenders is what has driven the prison population through the roof.  Not only did the introduction of crack in the 1980’s spark an era of getting high as fast as possible for as little as possible, but it also ignited the get rich as fast as you can mentality in the minds of young people and business people alike.  That mentality has worked out miserably for the young people who are on the streets selling a drug that is killing their fellow man and worked out wonderful for the business people who decided to invest in for-profit prisons.
In Maryland from 1986-1999, the African American rate of drug prison admissions per 100,000 citizens grew eight times the rate of the White drug prison admissions and represented 96% of the new youth prison admissions for drug offenses.  This phenomenon was not isolated to one state, and quickly spread across the entire nation.  The movement toward increased incarceration and the racial disparity that exists in sentencing practices has gotten to the point of horrendous proportions for African Americans. The winner in the end is the prison industrial complex.
Does it make sense that African Americans serve nearly as much time in prison for a drug offense (57 months) as Whites do for a violent crime (58.8 months)? Does it make sense that more than 80% of crack cocaine defendants are African American, while about two-thirds of crack cocaine users are White or Hispanic? Or that the average sentence for a crack cocaine offense (119 months) was more than three years greater than for powder cocaine (78 months)?
Does it make sense that African Americans and Hispanics are the largest contributor to the prison population on the local, state and federal level considering the demographic make-up of this country?  How is it possible for African American men to only make up about 6% of the population, yet make up over 40% of the prison population?  Are African Americans committing crime three or four times the rate of White Americans, or is there an underlying systemic problem when it comes to harsh sentencing practices and the ethnicity of the individual convicted of a crime?
It would not be fair to blame Len Bias’ death for the knee jerk reaction by politicians on both sides of the aisle, which resulted in laws that have had a powerful, damaging, and racially disparate effect on the African American community.  Bias’ death is a reminder of what can happen when self-serving media personalities, politicians and business people combine to fix a problem.  Democrats try to out rough Republicans by being “tough on crime” and as a result, helped to create a system that has nearly disenfranchised an entire generation of people.
Meaningful reforms to the Len Bias drug legacy have been few and far between and the problem of the prison industrial complex will most likely continue to get worse if we do not help young people realize that they are being used like pawns in the chess game of wealthy private prison companies and their political flunkies.
Money is obviously the driving force behind the political apparatus that seeks to ensure that Public-Private Partnerships are not losing money due to a lack of criminals to fill their jail cells.  Rather than spending money building, expanding, and upgrading prison facilities, I would prefer that our tax dollars be spent building, expanding, and upgrading schools for our students and teachers.  An investment of our tax dollars into programs that will help keep kids occupied and off the streets will help prevent them from becoming inmate number 426957.
What can you do?  If you have a loved one or know anyone currently serving time in prison, I encourage you to purchase one of the following books and send it to them immediately:
The Isis Papers: Keys to the Colors by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Ask them to accept one or both of these books as a seed offering and remind them that you are praying that the words in these books will inspire them to become better humans and productive members in our society upon their release.  I have no doubt that these books will be a blessing to their collective minds, bodies, & souls. 
Originally published by Steve Maynor Jr. on June 20, 2012 via