The following quotes and chart were culled from Jason DeParle’s New York Review of Books article, “The American Prison Nightmare.” The issue has been covered here extensively. Here is a Google search of the Keywords archives for the word “prison.”

  • Black men in their early thirties are imprisoned at seven times the rate of whites in the same age group.
  • Counting jails, there are now seven Americans in every thousand behind bars. That is nearly five times the historic norm and seven times higher than most of Western Europe.
  • But by 2000, high school dropouts of either race were being locked up three times as often as they had been two decades before. And racial disparities have become immense. By the time they reach their mid-thirties, a full 60 percent of black high school dropouts are now prisoners or ex-cons.
  • The disclosure of a prison record reduced the chances of getting a second interview by half for whites and by two thirds for blacks.
  • as official unemployment hit record lows, joblessness among young black dropouts rose to record highs. The prison expansion reflected inequality. The prison expansion created inequality. The prison expansion hid inequality from view.
  • physically separating some inmates from the rest of the population (often in conditions amounting to solitary confinement) has become a punishment of first resort, leading to what the commission called “tortuous conditions that are proven to cause mental deterioration.” From 1995 to 2000, the number of inmates in isolated cells rose 40 percent to 81,000.
  • 1.5 million people who are released from prisons and jails each year with an infectious disease—tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and drug-resistant staph infections. They are a threat to everyone, but especially to the minority neighborhoods from which they are disproportionately drawn. Meanwhile, the increasing number of prisons that require inmates to pay for part of their own medical care, an innovation intended to deter malingerers, has been found to reduce clinic visits by up to 50 percent.
  • By the most conservative estimate, the mentally ill account for 16 percent of the prison population, or about 350,000 people on a given day; their true numbers may be twice as high.
  • By denying the vote to felons, the average state disenfranchises 2.4 percent of its voting-age population—but 8.4 percent of its voting-age blacks. In fourteen states, the share of blacks stripped of the vote exceeds 10 percent. And in five states (including Kentucky), it exceeds 20 percent. Focusing on black men, Marc Mauer has estimated that felony laws keep nearly one in seven from voting nationwide. (See chart)
  • If felons were allowed to vote, the United States would have a different president. … [and] seven modern Republican senators owe their election to laws that keep felons from voting: John Warner of Virginia (1978), John Tower of Texas (1978), Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (1984), Connie Mack of Florida (1988), Paul Coverdell of Georgia (1992), Jim Bunning of Kentucky (1998), and Mel Martinez of Florida (1998).

CHART: Share of population barred from voting by felon disenfranchisement laws.


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