In today’s New York Times book reviews there is a wonderful review of a book by Michelle Alexander called Drug Policy as Race Policy. Ms Alexander is a talented person with impeccable credentials as a law professor.
I have listened to some of her polemics on Youtube and they are both persuasive and eloquent. Anyone wishing to have a clear understanding of the issue should take the time and make the effort to understand what Michelle Alexander is saying. Follow the Michelle Alexander link and you will have your choice of over 30 YouTube polemics.
There is no doubt in my mind that racism is a part of the prison explosion and that Blacks and Latinos are represented to a proportion out of their percentage of the population. However, to simplify the problem by blaming it on racism is to ignore a host of dynamics that is to confuse causality with transcendental factors.
What is missing is an open and national debate on who we are and how will be conduct our business as a nation. Instead, what we have is a host of 30 second sound bytes designed to stir fear (Willie Horton as a case in point) and appeal to this or that section of the populace in an attempt of political and social leaders to curry favor for this or that position that in the end will secure their own well being.
Not all that long ago, President Eisenhower gave a speech warning the public of the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex and its threat to democracy. This was a remarkable statement from a retired four star general who lead the nation to victory in world war II. For those interested NPR did a nice review of the topic
Ike’s Warning Of Military Expansion, 50 Years Later
What everyone has missed is that what Richard Nixon, President Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, saw: was the latent power of the Criminal Justice Complex. This he galvanized in his War on Drugs. This war was kicked into high gear and distorted by the Asset Forfeiture Legislation a few years later that became a cash cow for the Criminal Justice complex of which prisons are only a small segment.
What has emerged is a distorted industry that like the military industrial complex is very political in nature and highly organized. The real threat and it has started to happen already is the merger of duties and responsibilities under the cloak of the war of terrorism between the two forces.
I spent many years working in Central and South America as an army officer during the 1970s and 1980s. I had occasion to know officers that were associated with death squads as well as soldiers from the security forces. They were not demented beings but no more than people that wanted to be happy and for their kids to go to good schools. I see and hear the exact same conversations among members of the Criminal Industrial Complex be it law enforcement or corrections.
These are men and women who will follow the instructions of our politicians that set the policies they live by. In many cases, their organizations will promote political initiatives that will simplify their work while expanding their employment opportunities.
I have been a prison volunteer for some 15 years in over 20 federal and state prisons that range from Death Row to youthful offenders. I have been an enlisted marine for 8 years and an infantry/special forces officer for maybe 16 or so years. I am used to dealing with men and women living at the edge of life. My best guess is that 75 percent of those in prison should not be there. 30 percent are in for drug crimes and another 30 or so percent are in for drug motivated crimes.
The average education level of prison inmates is the 6th grade. These are the necessary but expendable foot soldiers of the drug world that connect the pharmaceutical industry and drug cartels to the responsible professionals with disposable income who consider their right to engage in ‘responsible and recreational’ drug use as a form of relaxation and entertainment. When these foot soldiers become dysfunctional or overly successful they are harvested of their gains and incarcerated. There in lies the core of the problem.