8 Ball Aitken – Refugee

There are way too many for rent and for sale signs out here in the America we know and see every day. Something’s happening in this land, and there’s way too much suffering to go around.

There are too many storefronts and warehouses and factories abandoned in too many towns, even in places you would not expect. Outsourcing and unemployment is taking its toll on America. It is not healthy for a democracy. It’s even harder on the less fortunate in our society.

People just like us are losing their homes, and they have no place to go. No work, no hope. Too many people are only a paycheck or two away from crisis. Too many no longer have paychecks, and have been forced to scramble in the last couple of years to make ends meet, often without a safety net.

I don’t know what it will take to set the ship of America back on course. To get us back to work. To get America manufacturing again. To allow the American Dream to be revived from its doldrums. Or we will, once again, all be refugees in search of better lives.

8 Ball Aitken comes from Australia with a National Resonator guitar on his knee. “Refugee” comes from his 2004 CD Behind The 8 Ball. It rings true worldwide, no matter who you are or where you are.

The Shame of the American Penal System

I recently read an article in The Economist about America’s out-of-control prison system, which locks up more of our own citizens than any other nation on earth, including Russia and China. It has given me a lot to think about. I’d like to share the article and some of my thoughts below.

Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3 million and 2.4 million Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

And some of the reasons why:

The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. Since then, the voters, alarmed at a surge in violent crime, have demanded fiercer sentences. Politicians have obliged. New laws have removed from judges much of their discretion to set a sentence that takes full account of the circumstances of the offence. Since no politician wants to be tarred as soft on crime, such laws, mandating minimum sentences, are seldom softened. On the contrary, they tend to get harder.

The solution is obvious and logical, according to the Economist article — legalize drugs and treat drug abuse as a public health problem instead of a criminal problem. The population in most state prisons would drop in half, saving state budgets and solving a host of other problems at the same time. We could start by legalizing marijuana, which would be a big help by itself.

I believe that another reason could be that we have law enforcement officials who are encouraged to have high arrests numbers in order to gain advancement in their departments, and prosecuting attorneys whose high conviction rates can lead to political advancement. I know that in my own county, our prosecuting attorney every year writes a letter to the public in which he cites the statistics relating to arrests, convictions, fines collected, and years of incarceration handed down. It’s little else than a self-aggrandizing productivity sheet, much like a piece rate factory worker would turn in to justify his job and prove his value at turning out more pieces of product.

Another possible reason can be seen in the trend toward privatized prisons. Each person incarcerated has a dollar value placed on them in the private prison operator’s budget. More prisoners equal more money. I believe that prosecutors and judges, wittingly or unwittingly, are predisposed to send more people to prison in order to bump up the profit structure for these private industries, possibly in return for campaign funds, or other lucrative opportunities within the private sector of jurisprudence.