The Washington Post reports: The nation was once again gripped by gun violence on Friday after a gunman identified by authorities as Robert Lewis Dear Jr. stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing two civilians and one police officer and injuring nine others.
It is just the latest in a year of more-than-daily mass shootings in America. In fact, there had already been one mass shooting on Friday — in the early morning hours, two people were killed and two injured in a shooting at a restaurant in Sacramento, California. Another mass shooting incident in Boston in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day took the life of an MBTA rail conductor.
There have been at least 351 mass shootings so far this year, according to news reports collected by a reddit community that tracks these incidents. The reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting — the old FBI definition focused on four or more people murdered as part of a single shooting. [Continue reading…]
In September, Climate Change News reported: At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.
It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.
A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.
“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.
His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. “Present thinking,” he wrote in the 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.
Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. [Continue reading…]
In October, the Los Angeles Times reported: Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.
The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.
Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times now reports: The New York attorney general has begun a sweeping investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.
According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.
The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.
The sources said the scrutiny would include a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives. [Continue reading…]
InsideClimate News reports: As he wrapped up nine years as the federal government’s chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken lashed out at ExxonMobil for opposing the advance of climate science.
His own great-grandfather, he told the Exxon board, had been John D. Rockefeller’s legal counsel a century earlier. “What I rather imagine he would say is that you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position,” he wrote.
No wonder: in the opening days of the oil-friendly Bush-Cheney administration, Exxon’s chief lobbyist had written the new head of the White House environmental council demanding that MacCracken be fired for “political and scientific bias.”
Exxon was also attacking other officials in the U.S. government and at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), MacCracken wrote, interfering with their work behind the scenes and distorting it in public.
Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the IPCC, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming, documents written by an Exxon lobbyist and one of its scientists show. The company persuaded the White House to block the reappointment of the IPCC chairman, a World Bank scientist. Exxon’s top climate researcher, Brian Flannery, was pushing the White House for a wholesale revision of federal climate science. The company wanted a new strategy to focus on the uncertainties. [Continue reading…]
Wagner Moura writes: As a child growing up in one of Brazil’s poorest regions, I was used to seeing well-off families take in girls from poorer ones to come live in their homes and be brought up as one of their own. This was seen as an act of kindness. It was only much later that I came to see it for what it really was: these young girls, who would do all the domestic chores all day long in return only for food and a roof over their heads, were in fact modern slaves.
There are 21 million modern slaves in the world today, most of them women and girls hiding in plain sight in poor and rich countries alike – 7% of today’s slaves live in North America or the European Union. From trafficking and sexual exploitation to work in private homes, agriculture, fishing, construction and manufacturing, modern slavery is not only a crime, it is big business. It generates some $150bn in illegal profits every year, according to an estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Poverty is at the root of it, as is lack of awareness by both victims and the general public. Forced labor affects the most vulnerable and least protected people, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty and dependency. Women, low-skilled migrant workers, children, indigenous peoples and other groups suffering discrimination on different grounds are disproportionately affected. And many victims don’t even consider themselves to be slaves – working to pay off a debt passed down through generations, or being a servant in a private home from dusk to dawn is the only life some have ever known. At the same time, you may be eating food picked by modern slaves, or wearing clothes made with slave labor without realizing it. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The US is reeling from another school shooting, the 45th this year, after a 26-year-old gunman murdered as many as nine people and wounded seven more at a community college in Oregon before he was killed.
The gunman was named as Chris Harper Mercer, a 26-year-old man who lived near Umpqua college in the rural town of Roseburg. He is thought to have been born in England before moving to the US as a young boy.
Investigators were focusing on reports from survivors that Mercer told students to state their religion before he opened fire.
The police were also looking at reports that hours before the attack he posted messages on an internet chat site warning people to stay away from school. Investigators said they were attempting to trace people on the site who discouraged him while others urged him on. It does not appear anyone reported the messages to the authorities before the shooting. [Continue reading…]
Quartz reports: A study this summer from Arizona State University found “significant evidence” that school shootings and other mass shootings were far more likely if there had been reports of a similar shooting in the previous two weeks.
And last year, after analyzing 160 mass shootings in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013, Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded, “The copycat phenomenon is real.”
“As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks,” Simons said at the time.
The reporter’s typical mandate—to paint the clearest, most accurate picture of an event using all available information—may, in this case, be unintentionally encouraging further crime, sociologists and psychologists say. [Continue reading…]
Misha Glenny writes: In the midst of the refugee crisis, the European Union has for the first time ever been considering deploying naval assets against organized crime. People smuggling, chiefly from Syria and the Horn of Africa, is now a multibillion-dollar business that is as profitable, if not more so, than the trade in illegal narcotics.
This is not the trafficking of migrant labor or women for sexual purposes. These criminal gangs are effectively offering travel-agent services to desperate people fleeing conflict. Their services can include false documentation, bribes to border guards and transport, in dangerous, often deadly, circumstances.
Sadly, the measures countries are taking to counteract the flood of refugees serve only to make organized crime stronger. As long as European countries fail to implement a plan to take in refugees across member states, the business of people smuggling will continue to grow.
It has been almost a decade since I first argued that organized crime should be seen as a priority for resources above the more emotive issue of combating terrorism. The crisis in Europe demonstrates just how devastating the impact of organized crime can be, through both the exploitation of defenseless refugees and the undermining of legitimate governments at a time when countries on Europe’s periphery are facing daunting economic challenges. [Continue reading…]
We have all been raised to believe that civilization is, in large part, sustained by law and order. Without complex social institutions and some form of governance, we would be at the mercy of the law of the jungle — so the argument goes.
But there is a basic flaw in this Hobbesian view of a collective human need to tame the savagery in our nature.
For human beings to be vulnerable to the selfish drives of those around them, they generally need to possess things that are worth stealing. For things to be worth stealing, they must have durable value. People who own nothing, have little need to worry about thieves.
While Jared Diamond has argued that civilization arose in regions where agrarian societies could accumulate food surpluses, new research suggests that the value of cereal crops did not derive simply from the fact that the could be stored, but rather from the fact that having been stored they could subsequently be stolen or confiscated.
Joram Mayshar, Omer Moav, Zvika Neeman, and Luigi Pascali write: In a recent paper (Mayshar et al. 2015), we contend that fiscal capacity and viable state institutions are conditioned to a major extent by geography. Thus, like Diamond, we argue that geography matters a great deal. But in contrast to Diamond, and against conventional opinion, we contend that it is not high farming productivity and the availability of food surplus that accounts for the economic success of Eurasia.
- We propose an alternative mechanism by which environmental factors imply the appropriability of crops and thereby the emergence of complex social institutions.
To understand why surplus is neither necessary nor sufficient for the emergence of hierarchy, consider a hypothetical community of farmers who cultivate cassava (a major source of calories in sub-Saharan Africa, and the main crop cultivated in Nigeria), and assume that the annual output is well above subsistence. Cassava is a perennial root that is highly perishable upon harvest. Since this crop rots shortly after harvest, it isn’t stored and it is thus difficult to steal or confiscate. As a result, the assumed available surplus would not facilitate the emergence of a non-food producing elite, and may be expected to lead to a population increase.
Consider now another hypothetical farming community that grows a cereal grain – such as wheat, rice or maize – yet with an annual produce that just meets each family’s subsistence needs, without any surplus. Since the grain has to be harvested within a short period and then stored until the next harvest, a visiting robber or tax collector could readily confiscate part of the stored produce. Such ongoing confiscation may be expected to lead to a downward adjustment in population density, but it will nevertheless facilitate the emergence of non-producing elite, even though there was no surplus.
This simple scenario shows that surplus isn’t a precondition for taxation. It also illustrates our alternative theory that the transition to agriculture enabled hierarchy to emerge only where the cultivated crops were vulnerable to appropriation.
- In particular, we contend that the Neolithic emergence of fiscal capacity and hierarchy was conditioned on the cultivation of appropriable cereals as the staple crops, in contrast to less appropriable staples such as roots and tubers.
According to this theory, complex hierarchy did not emerge among hunter-gatherers because hunter-gatherers essentially live from hand-to-mouth, with little that can be expropriated from them to feed a would-be elite. [Continue reading…]
You want to profile America’s mass killers? No need at all for the FBI or the national security state. You don’t have to secretly read anyone’s emails or check their phone metadata. You don’t need to follow them on Twitter. All you have to do is narrow down the possibilities in a logical way by looking at the history of mass killing in recent years. That means, as a start, leaving aside half the population, since women make up close to 0% of American mass shooters.
So, start with men. Admittedly, that’s a pretty broad category. Still, among men, you can narrow the field fast. Begin with age. Generally, mass killers are young. Unfortunately, this category isn’t quite as blanket as the no-woman rule. Just recently, in what looked like a copycat mass killing — a repeat of the 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater — a mentally unstable 59-year-old white man in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a chip on his shoulder about women (as well as blacks), opened fire in a theater showing the new Amy Schumer hit, Trainwreck, a film drawing female audiences, and killed two women. Similarly, in February, a disturbed and mentally unstable 36-year-old white man, barred from owning guns, carried out a mass killing of seven in the tiny Missouri town of Tyrone. Nonetheless, when you’re conjuring up the next mass killer, think young man (16-24) and think white.
Now, we’re getting somewhere. One more obvious thing: look for someone carrying a gun, generally obtained quite legally — most likely a semi-automatic pistol or an assault rifle — or come to think of it, three or four or more weapons and lots and lots of ammo. Now, given the 300 million or so guns floating around this country and the spread of “right-to-carry” laws that let anyone bring lethal weaponry just about anywhere, this may not narrow things down quite as much as we’d like. But it should be helpful. And yes, there are other factors, too, that might aid you in setting your sights on the next mass killer. As Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and TomDispatch regular, points out today, these would undoubtedly include feelings of hopelessness and anger, a history of mental instability, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse.
In the grips of a much overblown panic about ISIS-inspired terror in the U.S., the government, Greenberg reports, is about to spend a pile of taxpayer money doing a version of what I just did. Here’s my guarantee: it will cost you a boodle, most of which, as she makes clear, won’t go where it might do some good — that is, to helping unnerved or disturbed young men. And I’ll also guarantee you one more thing: the massed thinking and resources of the national security state won’t do much better than I’ve done above when it comes to the problem of identifying lone-wolf killers. But that state within a state will, as ever, emerge from the experience more powerful and more entrenched. And, as novelist Kurt Vonnegut might once have said, so it goes. Tom Engelhardt
Dealing with mass killings in America
Funding our children, not our wars
By Karen J. Greenberg
Imagine that you’re in the FBI and you receive a tip — or more likely, pick up information through the kind of mass surveillance in which the national security state now specializes. In a series of tweets, a young man has expressed sympathy for the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, or another terrorist group or cause. He’s 16, has no criminal record, and has shown no signs that he might be planning a criminal act. He does, however, seem angry and has demonstrated an interest in following ISIS’s social media feeds as they fan the flames of youth discontent worldwide. He’s even expressed some thoughts about how ISIS’s “caliphate,” the Islamic “homeland” being carved out in Syria and Iraq, might be a place where people like him could find meaning and purpose in an otherwise alienated life.
The New York Times reports: As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes.
In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish. The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below.
It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase. For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines. In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history. [Continue reading…]
Another day, another shooting.
While it’s hard to construct a profile of the typical American shooter who engages in random killing, there are a few generalizations that can be made with reasonable confidence:
1. The shooter will be male,
2. his weapon(s) will much more often than not have been acquired legally, and
3. he’ll probably be white.
Whether a demographically disproportionate number of homicidal, gun-wielding Americans are white, I have no idea. But the latest shooting — this time the gunman, at 59-years-old, was probably above average age — illustrates the fundamental problem with the idea that carrying a gun is the best way to defend yourself against another gun owner who’s on the rampage: By the time you’ve figured out who the crazy guy is, it’s too late. Why? Because the crazy guy looks just like the regular guy.
The gun lobby would have everyone believe that guns are really only dangerous if they get in the wrong hands and thus when gun ownership turns deadly we are encouraged to overlook the central fact: guns are designed to kill.
There are lots of things that can be deadly — cars, alcohol, cigarettes, passenger aircraft, and so forth — but when these become instruments of fatality, they are not performing the function for which they were designed.
But when a gun owner goes on the rampage, unless his weapon malfunctions, each time he kills or injures someone, his gun and its ammunition were functioning exactly in accordance with specifications.
Although guns can be used to pop holes in paper targets or shatter bottles, what they’re really meant to do is rip flesh apart and end lives. This is machine tooled, high precision, state of the art, carnage.
Lisa Wade writes:
While it seems that much of the discourse around curbing gun violence focuses on the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, these two issues — gun violence and mental illness — “intersect only at their edges.” These are the words of Jeffrey Swanson and his colleagues in their new article examining the personality characteristics of American gun owners.
To think otherwise, they argue, is to fall prey to the narrative of gun rights advocates, who want us to think that “controlling people with serious mental illness instead of controlling firearms is the key policy answer.” Since the majority of people with mental illnesses are never violent, this is unlikely to be an effective strategy while, at the same time, further stigmatizing people with mental illness.
What is a good strategy, then, short of the unlikely event that we take America’s guns away?
Swanson and colleagues argue that a better policy would be to look for signs of impulsive, angry, and aggressive behavior and limit gun rights based on that. Evidence of such behavior, they believe, “conveys inherent risk of aggressive or violent acts” substantial enough to justify limiting gun ownership.
By Wade’s estimate, based on an unspecified national data set, there are several million American gun owners who pose a risk.
Political realism may dictate that America’s gun owners can’t be deprived of their cherished weapons, but civil libertarians would just as surely guarantee that no screening process would ever be put in place (if such a process could even be devised) that would keep guns out of the hands of impulsive, angry, and aggressive Americans.
The remedy, it seems to me, will have to come from the other end by making legally available weapons less deadly and by holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for the effects of their products.
No other industry enjoys impunity from product liability yet in 2005, Congress, under pressure from the NRA, conspired with the gun makers to protect their profits at the expense of American lives.
The authors of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act have blood on their hands. Each time the families of victims of yet another mass shooting attempt to sue the gun makers, this law provides them with protection.
The Washington Post reported in 2013 on those stymied efforts.
Marc Bern, a New York trial lawyer representing family members of Aurora victims, said the gun law severely limited his clients’ options. He is pursuing a case against the movie theater company, although some of his clients had expressed interest in trying to pursue companies that provided guns or ammunition to the shooter.
“We looked at the gun industry, but they were able to insulate themselves with this law,” Bern said. “It is absolutely outrageous that the gun industry is not accountable when virtually every other industry in this country is accountable.”
President Obama bemoans the fact that the U.S. does not have “sufficient, common-sense gun safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings,” and the chances of new legislation being crafted during what remains of is term are slim.
He could, however, push for the repeal of the 2005 law.
The Washington Post reports: To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.
Then there is the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally, there is the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.
“They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,” Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman said.
Yet, in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years. [Continue reading…]
James Kwak writes: One of the central dramas of the early seasons of The Wire is the cat-and-mouse game between Avon Barksdale’s drug operation and the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit. The drug dealers started off using pagers and pay phones. When the police tapped the pagers and the phones, Barksdale’s people switched to “burner” cell phones that they threw away before the police could tap them. By Season 4, Proposition Joe advised Marlo Stanfield not to use phones at all.
Well, apparently, Wall Street currency traders don’t watch The Wire. I don’t think anyone was surprised to learn that major banks including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, and UBS conspired to manipulate currency prices — something that regulators have been investigating for over a year and a half. One common strategy was cooperating to time large transactions in order to manipulate daily benchmark rates at which other client transactions are executed.
What is surprising is that these traders — supposedly the smartest people around — carried out their criminal conspiracy in online chat rooms whose contents could be discovered by investigators. (In this day and age, the last thing any bank’s general counsel wants to be accused of is destroying evidence, so you should assume that everything you do over a bank’s networks will be tracked.) Even using their personal cell phones would have been much safer. (Apparently they do watch The Sopranos, however: one of the chat rooms was nicknamed “The Mafia, which is probably not a good idea when you are actually engaged in a criminal conspiracy.)
The game is still to make money any way you can. “If you aint cheating, you aint trying” is the new money quote. The clients are just collateral damage — whether or not JPMorgan says, “Throughout our long and distinguished history, we have been steadfastly committed to putting our clients’ interests first.” The offenses described in the settlement documents extended at least into 2013 — more than four years after the financial crisis. [Continue reading…]
Jeffrey E. Stern reports: On the morning of his execution, Clayton Lockett hid under the covers.
Before a team of correctional officers came to get him at 5:06 a.m., he fashioned a noose out of his sheets. He pulled the blade out of a safety razor and made half-inch-long cuts on his arms. He swallowed a handful of pills that he’d been hoarding. And on April 29, 2014, when the team of officers knocked on the door of his cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett — a 38-year-old convicted murderer — pulled a blanket over his head and refused to get up.
The officers left and asked for permission to tase him. While they were gone, Lockett tried to jam the door. They came back, forced their way in, tased him, and dragged him out.
Eleven hours later, at about 5:20 p.m., after a medical examination, X‑rays, eight hours in a holding cell, and a shower, Lockett was brought by a five-member strap-down team into the death chamber. It was a small, clinical-looking room with white walls and a polished floor that reflected the lights overhead. A gurney stood in the center of the room; above it hung a microphone for Lockett’s final words. [Continue reading…]
CORRECT!V reports: The Italian mafia has established a hidden but lethal presence in Africa. Its members own diamond mines, nightclubs and land, all with the complicity of corrupt regimes.
Italian anti-Mafia authorities estimate that organised crime groups earn €26 billion a year in Italy alone. But the figure only scratches the surface of its economic power. Mafia Inc. is more than ever a global business, infiltrating legitimate economies worldwide. And the extent of the empire is unknown.
An international team of reporters from the non-profit investigative journalism centres IRPI and ANCIR (with the Investigative Dashboard Africa) partnered with the data analysts of QUATTROGATTI and the production room of CORRECT!V to uncover for the first time the Italian Mafia’s grip on Africa.
Supported by two working grants for independent journalism, the Innovative Journalism Grant of the EJC and Journalism Fund, the work took seven months, and included trips to Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Lombardy, in Italy and South Africa, Namibia, Senegal and Kenya, in Africa.
Ten investigative reporters from six different countries, one data-journalist and a data-scientist, three editors, one cross-examiner and a bunch of lawyers joined the effort in producing in-depth research into the Mafia’s involvement in 13 countries. [Continue reading…]
Jed S. Rakoff writes: For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out.
The basic facts are not in dispute. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons, a 500 percent increase over the past forty years. Although the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The per capita incarceration rate in the US is about one and a half times that of second-place Rwanda and third-place Russia, and more than six times the rate of neighboring Canada. Another 4.75 million Americans are subject to the state supervision imposed by probation or parole.
Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. And even though crime rates in the United States have declined consistently for twenty-four years, the number of incarcerated persons has continued to rise over most of that period, both because more people are being sent to prison for offenses that once were punished with other measures and because the sentences are longer. For example, even though the number of violent crimes has steadily decreased over the past two decades, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has steadily increased, so that one in nine persons in prison is now serving a life sentence.
And whom are we locking up? Mostly young men of color. Over 840,000, or nearly 40 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are African-American males. Put another way, about one in nine African-American males between the ages of twenty and thirty-four is now in prison, and if current rates hold, one third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Approximately 440,000, or 20 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are Hispanic males. [Continue reading…]