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  • Doug Tjapkes

Bad person in prison? More likely, poor person in prison!

For the past 20 years or so I’ve been vocal about mass incarceration. Our prisons are too full. Our nation’s incarceration rate is matched by no other country. I’m starting to change my mind. Oh, I agree that many people in our prisons should be released. Right now! It’s estimated that between 2.3 and 5% of all U.S. Prisoners are innocent! That’s over 100,000 people. Then consider those still in prisons over non-violent drug charges, those who were seriously overcharged and/or over-sentenced by over-zealous prosecutors and judges, the indigent who couldn’t afford good defense. Think of all the spouse abuse victims spending time behind bars because they fought back. Think of the sad number of old-timers in prison who, statistics prove, will never reoffend, but who cannot be released because of life-without-parole guidelines. The list goes on and on. But here’s my point. Granted, our prisons are too full, but I also think they’re too full of the wrong people! Take a look at white collar crimes alone, for example. I offer this quote from a highly respected investigative journalist: It started to dawn on me that the Department of Justice and the SEC were broken institutions when it came to corporate white-collar [crime] enforcement. In the wake of the financial crisis, I started to see other examples in the tech world, in the pharmaceutical world, in the industrial world, in retail— Walmart, Google, Pfizer— companies that were making mistakes, admitting to wrongdoing, [even] criminal wrongdoing, but no senior individuals were being charged. I realized that this is a broken system... Jesse Eisinger, Pulitzer prizewinner Take a look at those in public office. -An inordinate number of police officers involved in various types of misconduct. -Prison guards who abuse mentally ill inmates, with little accountability. -County Prosecutors who knowingly initiate wrongful convictions and who boast immunity. -U.S. marshals who kill 22 suspects and/or bystanders every year! -Top public officials in our land who get away with sex trafficking and sex with minors. -National leaders without consciences who, for example, incited a national insurrection. I completely agree with author Michelle Alexander when she says, “...if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly.” But I’m also of the belief that our prisons are full of poor suckers who didn’t have the capital, the clout, the power or the public sentiment to avoid incarceration. And that is simply shameful!

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