Term Paper: Nils Christie in His Book

Pages: 10 (3079 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Close to half of the prison population in America is black; in 1996, black males had an incarceration rate of 6.6% per 100,000 or 6,607 compared to the 944 for white males.

Quoted in Crime Control is the research of Jerome Miller:

In 1992, the National Centre on Institutions and Alternative Studies conducted a survey of young African-American males in Washington DC's criminal justice system. It found that on an average day in 1991, more than four in ten of all the 18-35-year-old African-American males who lived in the District of Columbia were in jail, in prison, on probation/parole out on bond or being sought on arrest warrants.

The war on drugs, especially when incarcerating individuals with minor drug offenses rather than the large dealers, is disproportionate as well. From 1986 to 1991, the number of white drug offenders in state prisons increased by 110%. The number of black drug offenders grew by 465%. African-Americans account for about 14% of the nation's drug users, yet they make up 35% of those arrested for drug possession, 55% of those convicted for drug possession, and 74% of those sentenced to serve time. The burden on inequality on African-Americans comes about for several reasons. Crack cocaine, which is more likely to be used by African-Americans, will trigger felony charges for amounts 100 times less than powdered cocaine, which is more likely to be used by whites. Racial profiling has been shown to target African-Americans for police stops and searches. Also, drug dealing is more likely to be out in the open in poor communities, but behind closed doors in suburbs.

In general, the war on drugs has been very ineffectual because it is easiest to find the users and not spend the resources going after the larger pushers. This fills the prisons with nonviolent offenders. The reason behind building new prisons and being more tough on crime supposedly was to decrease the threat of violent crime. However, the fact is that increase in prisoners has had nothing whatever to do with violent crime. Nonviolent offenders account for 84% of the increase in prison admissions since 1980. Only 27% of annual admissions to state prisons and 6% of annual admissions to federal prisons are violent offenders. Further, for total populations, only 23% of those in jails, 47% in state facilities, 11% in federal prisons, and 15% in juvenile facilities are violent offenders.

Lastly, I find an increase in privatization of prisons very disconcerting, because I do not trust the underlying motives of the companies: Profits and not the well-being of customers or employees is their main priority. It is of interest to note the recent news of service companies such as WalMart that publicize through commercials and advertisements that here is a great place to work. That is why the company has over 40 lawsuits against it for not providing benefits, low wages, unpaid salaries, and the like. Many other companies are laying off employees in the U.S. And then going overseas so that they can pay lower wages to employees and not have to worry about minimum wage.

Meanwhile, those individuals who are in the "crime business" are doing quite well, too. For example, through his Texan businessperson Arthur McDonald bought California's largest private prison company, Eclectic Communications, Inc., with the backing of Wall Street investment houses Dillon, Reed & Co. And Charterhouse. Eclectic Communications has managed to receive prison contracts worth over $50 million in revenues since 1988. Similarly, Lehman Brothers, along with Paine Webber, teamed with the nation's largest private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America, and formed C.C.A. Prison Realty Trust in early 1997 specifically for buying existing prisons. The company's Initial Public Offering raised an amazing $388.5 million.

Further, how can these private prisons be "policed," (pun intended)? Everyone knows the government's record on determining whether or not regulations are broken. And if more money is requested for better patrol of such private prisons by government offices, that only increases costs -- and the primary reason for going with private concerns is to lower costs. It is an oxymoron.

Most states do require private prisons to achieve accreditation by the American Correctional Association, but critics argue that ACA standards are inadequate or difficult to enforce. Even in those states requiring visits by independent boards, there are many inmate abuses such as substandard diets, the beating of prisoners, inadequate protection from violence, and denial of medical treatment.

Christie concludes his book by asking people to question themselves regarding what they consider morally right for the amount of pain required for punishment. This is asking a great deal from the average American who will do about anything to lower crime rates. A change in penal system in the United States would take a complete change of mindset. Presently, there is "moral panic" about violence and stereotypes about those who are violators. Politicians who are running for office or want to be re-elected are playing up to these fears, regardless of the fact that it has been often shown that stricter punishment does not deter crime.

Organizations that support prison reform, civil liberties and the end to discrimination and stereotyping have to combat such fears with strong messages to the contrary. They have to work hand-in-hand with legislators who want to see a reduction of coercive treatment and excessive punishment. They also must have experts in the field of criminology and the media backing their cause. In addition, support of the local enforcement organizations such as the police is required. It is a strong sell job.

At the same time, it is necessary to provide other alternatives for penal rehabilitation. No one is going to switch from the present situation, unless better and proven options are offered beyond the fear of punishment.

In Finland, for example, the conditional sentence has been the most effective alternative to lowering the imprisonment numbers. Sentences of imprisonment of at most two years can be imposed conditionally, provided that "the maintenance of general respect for the law" does not require an unconditional sentence. In younger age groups there is a special provision allowing the use of an unconditional sentence for those who have committed the offence under the age of 18 only if certain extraordinary reasons call for it. In practice this means either that the crime is especially serious or that the offender has several prior convictions.

An offender sentenced conditionally is placed on probation for a period of one to three years. For adults, such probation does not involve supervision. However, a young offender who is sentenced conditionally may be placed under supervision for the period of probation. A conditional sentence may be ordered enforced if, during the probation period, the offender commits a new offence for which he/or she is sentenced to imprisonment.

Another approach is using community service in lieu of incarceration, especially for minor violations. A good selling point for this is the huge cost of one year of prison vs. The much smaller costs -- if any -- of community service. Perhaps much of this community service can be done in conjunction with enhancing the lives of those who turn to crime.

There are some areas of the country that are trying different approaches to criminal law. For example, in the 1990s in California the juvenile crime rate was lowered significantly. Criminologists believe that this was a mixture of getting guns out of the hands out of criminals, tougher sentencing laws, as well as social service and prevention policies such as after-school programming, helping at-risk teens and providing employment support. In other parts of the U.S. crime has declined by these above mentioned factor as well as community policing efforts and youth crime-prevention programs.

In an article This Works: Preventing and Reducing Crime, George L. Kelling, Professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, and a fellow in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Ronald Corbett, the Executive Director of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, noted that crime was reduced in parts of the United States nationwide because "police departments across the country adopted innovative new crime prevention strategies." They further added:

Two principal goals must guide the creation of strategies to replicate the most impressive crime prevention successes of the '90's: Order Maintenance and the creation of law enforcement structures to support it. The guiding vision for law enforcement must be to maintain order within each city, not to catch criminals. Creating an environment that is not conducive to illegality, rather than seeking to punish illegal conduct after the fact, is the key to preventing crime. Having adopted this vision, implementing it on the streets requires that local police units have the resources to do their job properly and the freedom to use them innovatively, and that they be held strictly accountable for the results, whatever… [END OF PREVIEW]

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