Locked Up in Land of the Free
By Scott Shane
Inmates: The United States has surpassed
Russia as the nation with the highest percentage of citizens behind bars.
With a record-setting 2 million people locked
up in American jails and prisons, the United States has
overtaken Russia and has a higher percentage of its citizens
behind bars than any other country.
Those are the latest dreary milestones
resulting from a two-decade imprisonment boom that experts say
has probably helped reduce crime but has also created ballooning
costs and stark racial inequities.
Overseas, U.S. imprisonment policy is widely
seen as a blot on a society that prides itself on valuing
liberty and just went to war to overturn Saddam Hussein's
despotic rule in Iraq. . . .
The latest statistics:
new high of 2,019,234, announced by the Justice Department in
April, underscores the extraordinary scale of imprisonment in
the United States compared with that in most of the world.
During the 1990s, the United States and
Russia vied for the dubious position of the highest
incarceration rate on the planet.
But in the past few years, Russian
authorities have carried out large-scale amnesties to ease
crowding in disease-infested prisons, and the United States has
emerged unchallenged into first place, at 702 prisoners per
100,000 population. Russia has 665 prisoners per 100,000.
Today the United States imprisons at a far
greater rate not only than other developed Western nations do,
but also than impoverished and authoritarian countries do.
On a per capita basis, according to the best
available figures, the United States has three times more
prisoners than Iran, four times more than Poland, five times
more than Tanzania and seven times more than Germany. Maryland
has more citizens in prison and jail (an estimated 35,200) than
all of Canada (31,600), though Canada's population is six times
greater. . . .
Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton
University, says sentencing policies have had a glaringly
disproportionate impact on black men. The Justice Department
reports that one in eight black men in their 20s and early 30s
were behind bars last year, compared with one in 63 white men. A
black man has a one-in-three chance of going to prison, the
For black male high school dropouts, Western
says, the numbers are higher: 41 percent of black dropouts
between ages 22 and 30 were locked up in 1999.
"I think this is one of the most
important developments in race relations in the last 30
years," he says.
Some conservative analysts say that however
regrettable the prison boom has been, it's working. It's no
anomaly that the prison population is still rising despite a
decade-long fall in the national crime rate, they say, but
rather cause and effect.
"If you put someone in prison, you can
be sure they're not going to rob you," says David B.
Muhlhausen, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
"Quality research shows that ... increasing incarceration
decreases crime." Considering that there are still about 12
million serious crimes a year, Muhlhausen says, "maybe
we're not incarcerating enough people."
Miscreants have been locked up for centuries,
but today's prisons are the legacy of 19th-century reformers'
desire to rehabilitate wrongdoers rather than punish them with
whipping, dunking in water or being displayed in public stocks.
Quaker influence was behind the creation in
1829 of Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, often
considered the first modern American prison. It took a century
and a half, until 1980, to reach 500,000 inmates. Then, in
slightly more than 20 years, the prison and jail population grew
by 1.5 million.
A major cause of the increase is the war on
drugs. In 1980, says Marc Mauer, assistant director of the
Sentencing Project in Washington, about 40,000 Americans were
locked up solely for drug offenses. Now the number is 450,000,
three-fourths of them black or Hispanic, although drug use is no
higher in those groups than among whites.
"Drug abuse cuts across class and
race," says Mauer, author of
Race to Incarcerate. "But
drug law enforcement is focused on low-income
Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at
Carnegie-Mellon University, says locking up drug dealers does
not necessarily reduce their number, because new recruits
quickly take their place.
The well-established penal theory of
"incapacitation," Blumstein says, dictates that
"if a guy's committing 10 crimes a year and you lock him up
for two years, you've prevented 20 crimes," Blumstein says.
"That works for rape and robbery. But with drugs, there's a
resilient market out there. The incarceration of drug offenders
is largely an exercise in futility."
A second major reason for the rise in
imprisonment is the politically popular shift to longer
sentences with mandatory minimums, "three-strikes"
laws and "truth-in-sentencing" measures to eliminate
"Since the 1970s, there's been a growing
politicization of punishment policy," Blumstein says.
"It's the 30-second sound bite of the prison door slamming,
with the implicit promise, 'Vote for me and I'll slam the
door.'" A tough stance on sentencing usually wins votes,
whether or not it ultimately reduces crime.
Blumstein says the most rigorous recent
studies suggest that about 25 percent of the drop in crime in
recent years resulted from locking up more criminals. The rest
resulted from other factors, among them the ebbing of the crack
cocaine epidemic, changed policing strategies and the strong
economy of the 1990s.Now, with many state budgets in crisis,
there are hints of a turnaround. Justice Department figures show
that nine states reduced their prison populations last year,
including Texas, Illinois and New York.
The number of prisoners was still rising in
far more states, including Maryland, where the prison population
- excluding jails - has more than tripled since 1980, to about
But many governors and legislators are
wondering whether they can afford to house more and more
offenders at an average of $25,000 a year apiece.
"Even some of your more right-wing
people are saying, 'Let's see what we can do to get some people
out of prison to save some money,'" says Reginald A.
Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction and president of the association of state prison
Like many prison professionals, Wilkinson
says, "I always thought we locked up too many people."
He says he's taking advantage of the budget squeeze to push for
cheaper alternatives. Ohio's state prison population has fallen
from its 1998 high of 49,000 to 45,000, and two prisons have
been closed, he says.
In Maryland, there's no talk of closing
prisons. Major expansions are planned or under way at North
Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland and Eastern
Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore to add 396 beds to
the crowded system.
"Maryland would seem to be stuck in
neutral," says Judith A. Greene, a senior fellow at the
Justice Policy Institute who has tracked the beginning of a
turnaround in other states.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his secretary
of public safety and correctional services, Mary Ann Saar, have
said they want to use drug treatment and closer supervision of
parolees to keep former offenders from returning to prison.
Saar's planned programs "all have the
goal of getting people out of prison and keeping them out,"
says Mark A. Vernarelli, director of public information for the
department of public safety. Still, he adds, given the steady
flow of prisoners sent by the courts, "we maintain a
constant vigil for land for new prisons."
June 1, 2003
* * *
Report of the
on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Based on the
examination of currently available primary and
secondary documentary evidence, the oral histories
of descendants of Monticello's African-American
community, recent scientific studies, and the
guidance of individual members of Monticello's
Advisory Committee for the Robert H. Smith
International Center for Jefferson Studies and
Advisory Committee on African-American
Interpretation, the Research Committee has reached
the following conclusions:
DNA study was conducted in a manner that meets the
standards of the scientific community, and its
scientific results are valid.
The DNA study,
combined with multiple strands of currently
available documentary and statistical evidence,
indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson
fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was
the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children
appearing in Jefferson's records. Those children are
Harriet, who died in infancy; Beverly; an unnamed
daughter who died in infancy; Harriet; Madison; and
Many aspects of
this likely relationship between Sally Hemings and
Thomas Jefferson are, and may remain, unclear, such
as the nature of the relationship, the existence and
longevity of Sally Hemings's first child, and the
identity of Thomas C. Woodson.
implications of the relationship between Sally
Hemings and Thomas Jefferson should be explored and
used to enrich the understanding and interpretation
of Jefferson and the entire Monticello community.—Monticello
* * *
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account
Jefferson (April 13, 1743 –
July 4, 1826) was the principal author of the
Declaration of Independence
(1776) and the
Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
President of the United States
(1801–1809) and founder of the
University of Virginia
(1819). He was an influential
Founding Father and
an exponent of
Sarah "Sally" Hemings (Shadwell,
Albemarle County, Virginia,
circa 1773 –
1835) was a
slave owned by
through inheritance from his wife. She was the
Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by their father
John Wayles. She was notable because most
historians now believe that the widower Jefferson
had six children with her, and maintained an
extended relationship for 38 years until his death.
When Jefferson's relationship and children were
reported in 1802, there was sensational coverage for
a time, but Jefferson remained silent on the issue.
Four Hemings-Jefferson children survived to
adulthood. He let two "escape" in 1822 at the age of
21 and freed the younger two in his will in 1826.
* * *
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American
Gordon-Reed (law, New York Law Sch.) presents a
lawyer's analysis of the evidence for and against
the proposition that Jefferson was the father of
several children born to his household slave Sally
Hemings. Gordon-Reed is not concerned with Jefferson
and Hemings as much as she is with how Jefferson's
defenders have dealt with the evidence about the
case. Her book takes aim at such noteworthy
biographers as Dumas Malone, who has been quick to
accept evidence against a liaison and quick to
reject evidence for one.—Library
* * *
* * *
A Life of Reinvention
in the making-the definitive biography of
the legendary black activist.
Of the great figure in twentieth-century
American history perhaps none is more
complex and controversial than Malcolm X.
Constantly rewriting his own story, he
became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and
an icon, all before being felled by
assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine.
Through his tireless work and countless
speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands
of black Americans to create better lives
and stronger communities while establishing
the template for the self-actualized,
independent African American man. In death
he became a broad symbol of both resistance
and reconciliation for millions around the
new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement.
Filled with new information and shocking revelations
that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a
sweeping story of race and class in America, from the
rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the
struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties
Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his
parents' activism through his own engagement with the
Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the
world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the
never-before-told true story of his assassination.
Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of
the most singular forces for social change, capturing
with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in
the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.
* * *
According to historian Scharff,
Thomas Jefferson’s “most closely guarded secrets,
the most fiercely maintained silences, all had to do
with the women he loved.” It stands to reason that
in order to fully understand a man as tremendously
gifted and as deeply flawed as Thomas Jefferson, one
must also understand and appreciate the women who
collectively formed the foundation of his life and
shaped the nature of his legacy. Although
Jefferson’s mother, daughters, granddaughters, wife,
and enslaved mistress were all fascinating women who
played distinct roles in his life and legend, they
were also creatures of their time and place, living,
enduring, and playing by the rules of a patriarchal,
male-dominated society. By studying these women
Scharff not only opens a window to the heart and
soul of one of our nation’s founders but also
resurrects their own contributions to our nation’s
The chapter on Sally
Hemings does not add much new information, but it certainly lays
out the facts we know in a comprehensive and well organized
fashion. Much like Professor Gordon-Reed, the author carefully
explains the strange dual-family existence that prevailed at
Monticello, and how servants integrated with the Jefferson
family as they all lived together. As regards the two daughters,
they too emerge from the historical darkness and we learn a
great deal about them and their important role in TJ's life and
activities. As I read each chapter, I learned all manner of
things of which I had not been aware, and I have read a lot of
material on TJ. So women are central to the story, but there is
also an abundance of additional facts and perspectives that very
much enhance the book. —Ronald
* * *
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
This is a scholar's
book: serious, thick, complex. It's also fascinating, wise
and of the utmost importance. Gordon-Reed, a professor of
both history and law who in her previous book helped solve
some of the mysteries of the intimate relationship between
Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, now brings to
life the entire Hemings family and its tangled blood links
with slave-holding Virginia whites over an entire century.
Gordon-Reed never slips into cynicism about the author of
the Declaration of Independence. Instead, she shows how his
life was deeply affected by his slave kinspeople: his lover
(who was the half-sister of his deceased wife) and their
children. Everyone comes vividly to life, as do the places,
like Paris and Philadelphia, in which Jefferson, his
daughters and some of his black family lived. —Publishers
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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31 May 2012