Thursday, February 28, 2008

That's It! You're All Going to Jail!

The New York Times reports that the US has crossed a wonderful threshold: more than 1 in every 100 American adults is in prison. Crooked Timber links to another paper showing that:
in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).

Could there be...racism? No...Black people are just morally defective!

And the land...of the "free"....

Also of interest: The VC has a line graph up on the amount of people put in either prison or mental institutions from 1934 to the present day. Up through the 1960s, mental institutions dwarfed prisons. But starting around 1970, the amount of people held in mental institutions crashed, and prison populations began to skyrocket starting in the 1980s, such that the relative proportions are nearly completely reversed from where they were in 1934.

Part of this, of course, is that we've gotten better at diagnosing and treating mental illnesses so that they don't require institutionalization (or that they're not mental illnesses at all). But part of it is probably that people who do have mental illnesses are being shuttled off into prison instead of getting the care that they need.


PG said...

1) To which racism are you referring? the over-representation of African Americans in poverty (a kind of systemic, institutional racism that's very difficult to pinpoint) and the related tendency of poor people to commit more crime, be more likely to be convicted of crime and to serve prison time for it; or a specific racism toward African Americans by prosecutors, judges and juries?

2) Another possible culprit for the inversing of populations between prison and mental institutions: the advent of the "guilty but mentally ill" verdict, in which a jury that knows very well the defendant is nuttier than a squirrel but can't bear to say "not guilty by reason of insanity" has a compromise option. Andrea Yates was initially found guilty on such a verdict, though it later was overturned and she was moved from prison to a mental health facility.

David Schraub said...

Neither on #1, I'm referring to systematic (but not necessarily overt or explicit) racism within the criminal justice system (e.g., drug laws that punish far more harshly "Black" drugs; the propensity of White defendants to get tracked into treatment programs while Blacks have the book thrown at them). I guess that could be called "specific" racism, but I don't think it's the product of judges or prosecutors saying "let's screw Black folks", and more "aversive racism" (in the technical, Gaertner & Dovidio use of the term) at work.

How'd the bar go?