One of every 40 American adults cannot vote because of state laws that bar people with past felony convictions from casting ballots. Experts say racial disparities in sentencing have had a disproportionate effect on the voting rights of blacks and Hispanics.
A report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform, estimates that 6.1 million Americans are not be allowed to vote because of these laws.
State laws that bar voting vary widely. Three key swing states — Florida, Iowa and Virginia — have some of the harshest laws; they impose a lifetime voting ban on felons, although their voting rights can be restored on a case-by-case basis by a governor or a court. On the other end of the spectrum, Maine and Vermont place no restrictions on people with felony convictions, allowing them to vote while incarcerated.
“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process,” said Christopher Uggen, lead author of the report and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
Felon disenfranchisement laws have a long history and are based on the idea that those who violate society’s rules should not be allowed to help set them.
Notice however, that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. And its very clear that there has been a systematic effort to put ‘people in Jail’, with a strange correlation to electoral outcomes. Here is a chart that illustrates how the “war on drugs” started during the “Reagan administration” led to mass incarcerations.
And then compare this to the proportion of African-Americans imprisoned versus white (European) -Americans.
While the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners — about 2.2 million people.
Over the past four decades, the nation’s get-tough-on-crime policies have packed prisons and jails to the bursting point, largely with poor, uneducated people of color, about half of whom suffer from mental health problems.
This startling reality has cost U.S. society in many ways, concludes a sweeping National Research Council report produced by an interdisciplinary committee of researchers.
“We reached a broad consensus on what negative impacts these policies have had on individuals, on families, on communities and on the nation,” says Craig Haney, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, a report co-author and member of a committee that in July briefed the White House on the report’s findings.
One out of every 100 American adults is incarcerated, a per capita rate five to 10 times higher than that in Western Europe or other democracies, the report found. Though the trend has slowed in recent years — from 2006 to 2011, more than half of states trimmed their prison populations — in 2012 the United States still stood as the world leader in incarceration by a substantial margin.
While the United States has 707 incarcerated people per 100,000 citizens, for example, China has 124 to 172 per 100,000 people and Iran 284 per 100,000. North Korea is perhaps the closest, but reliable numbers are hard to find; some estimates suggest 600 to 800 per 100,000. (See “Incarceration rates per 100,000” chart.)
“No other country in the world imprisons its citizens as we do in the United States,” Haney says.
The prison boom also has meant more resources spent on corrections — about $60 billion annually on state and federal prisons, up from $12 billion 20 years ago, according to the Pew Center on the States.
“Our incarceration policy is very costly with relatively few benefits and a lot of deleterious effects on our economy and our families and on the fabric of our communities,” says June Tangney, PhD, a psychology professor at George Mason University who studies offender rehabilitation.
“Being the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world is really something we need to take a second look at,” she says. “It’s not that we have any more criminals than the rest of the world; we’re just doing different things with them.”
How did we get here?
For decades, the United States had a relatively stable prison population. That changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some factors included a rise in crime from the 1960s to 1980s; rising concerns over crack cocaine and other drugs, resulting in huge increases in drug penalties; a move to mandatory minimum sentences; and the implementation of other tough-on-crime policies, such as “three-strikes” laws and policies to ensure prisoners served at least 85 percent of their sentences. These harsher sentencing laws coupled with the dramatic increase in drug penalties added up to a state and federal prison population of 1.5 million, up from 200,000 in 1973. And that’s not including nearly 750,000 Americans in jails on a daily basis (as well as an annual jail population of close to 13 million, says Tangney).
This growth is “historically unprecedented” in the United States and “internationally unique,” the report concludes.
What’s more, the movement toward broad, punitive crime control and prison policies wasn’t based on any scientific rationale, says Haney, who studies the psychological effects of incarceration. “Rather, it was largely the product of a series of policy decisions made for largely political reasons,” he says. “For whatever reason, legislators and other politicians have found it politically advantageous and expedient to continue to pursue a strategy of punitive crime control policies irrespective of the cost of that policy.”
Who’s in prison?
Clearly, the rise in incarceration rates has also disproportionately affected minority populations, the report found. In 2011, for example, about 40 percent of those behind bars were black, although African Americans and others of African descent make up only 13.2 percent of the U.S. population, one study found. Hispanics also were over-represented in prison, at 20 percent of the prison population compared with 17.1 percent of the U.S. population.
The report notes that such disparities in sentencing were caused partly by more severe laws and the war on drugs, as well as “small but systematic racial differences in case processing.” For instance, blacks were more likely to be incarcerated before trial, to fare worse in plea agreements that might otherwise have kept them out of prison, to receive the death penalty, and to be arrested and charged with drug crimes, which carry stiff mandatory sentences, the report found.
People of color also are more likely to suffer disparities in mental health treatment in general, which results in their being “more likely to be ushered into the criminal justice system,” says Tiffany Townsend, PhD, senior director of ethnic minority affairs in APA’s Public Interest Directorate.
“The rise in incarceration transformed not only the criminal justice system, but also U.S. race relations and the institutional landscape of urban poverty,” the report notes.
Yet while some studies show U.S. crime dropped as incarceration rates went up, the report found no causal link between the two, Haney says. “It’s very clear from our analysis that the reduction in the overall amount of crime is only modestly if at all attributable to the high rate of incarceration,” he says, pointing to other countries that have experienced less crime — without high rates of incarceration.
Even within the United States, crime rates have varied while the incarceration rate has shot up. For example, the number of people in prison for drugs is 10 times higher today than it was 30 to 40 years ago, yet the amount of drug crime hasn’t changed.
The Iran Connection on the War on Drugs
Based on the facts provided, its very clear that there has been a systematic effort to suppress African-American voting, and that this suppression was caused by incarceration related to drug crimes. But no-one seems to understand the underlying elements that resulted in an ‘explosion’ of drugs in American ghettos.
In August 1996, there was a series in the San Jose Mercury News by reporter Gary Webb linked the origins of crack cocaine in the U.S. to arms shipments to Iran (Iran-Contra scandal) and Nicaraguan contras, a guerrilla force backed by the Reagan administration that attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s.
Webb’s series, “The Dark Alliance,” has been the subject of intense media debate, and has focused attention on a foreign policy drug scandal that leaves many questions unanswered.
A briefing book compiled from declassified documents has been established at George Washington University from the National Security Archive, including the notebooks kept by NSC aide and Iran-contra figure Oliver North, electronic mail messages written by high-ranking Reagan administration officials, memos detailing the contra war effort, and FBI and DEA reports. The documents demonstrate official (Reagan Administration) knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers. Court and hearing transcripts are also included.
Here is a link to this archive: https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html
But perhaps more interestingly, history has been repeating itself. Yes, the civil war in Nicaragua is over, but then folks were thrown in Jail for over 20 years. And now, we have drugs being imported from Afghanistan (via Mexico).
We have gone from a crack epidemic to a heroin epidemic – all organized by the highest levels of U.S. political administrations. Here is another link:
One clear outcome of the invasion of Afghanistan (after 9/11) was the creation of a narco-state with record opium production levels, right under U.S. military control. Heroin from Afghanistan is now used as a weapon against U.S. enemies (look at addiction levels in Iran, for example one-in-ten adults), to America’s ghettos (where there is another drug (heroin) epidemic).
Although the Heroin entering the U.S. is coming from Mexico, the actual drug itself is the product of Afghanistan. Heroin and Opium production in Afghanistan has ‘hit’ the roof. Here is another link: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/11/21/afghanistans-opium-production-is-through-the-roof-why-washington-shouldnt-overreact/
From 2016 to 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 63 percent, to 328,000 hectares (ha); the estimated total production of opium shot up by 87 percent to 9,000 metric tons (mt). That’s the most in Afghan history.
And there is literally an opioid epidemic in the U.S. However, this time, the program has not gone as planned. Heroin has become a white (rural and suburban) drug. There has been a massive increase in drug overdoses among young white adults, often in rural areas. While Afghan heroin production was originally developed as a political tool against US enemies and for distribution in US ghettos, it has migrated into becoming a ‘white-trash’ drug of choice.
Back in the 80’s no one seemed to be sensitive about people who used crack cocaine. Families were torn apart at that time, too. Lives were cut short and a wealth of potential was lost on a generation of African-American youths. But no one seemed to care about those urban “crackheads.” Unlike the heroin addicts creating today’s opioid epidemic — which has had a disproportionate impact on white suburbanites and rural areas — black crack addicts were dispensable. To many politicians, they belonged in jail.
Now, suddenly, we have white suburbanites lobbying their state officials to help them solve a problem that is ruining young people’s lives. They are holding rallies on statehouse lawns, urging elected officials to treat their addicted children with dignity — something that young people addicted to crack never received. State legislators, governors, members of Congress and even the president are paying attention. President Trump interestingly has declared this crisis a public health emergency but not a national emergency (Note President Trump’s recent announcement of the death penalty for Heroin drug pushers)!
And Donald Trump’s buddy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is now leading a White House commission focused on addressing opioid addiction, recently issued a report to Congress that gives us some insight into why this epidemic is so urgent.
But wait a minute, the Opioid crisis is now (suddenly) moving into African-American ghettos too. The newest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, complicates that story.
White people still suffer a greater rate of overdose deaths, and, as a majority of the population, they still make up much more of the raw total of overdose deaths.
But over the past several years, black people have been increasingly killed by drug overdoses as well — particularly, it seems, as the opioid epidemic has become less about opioid painkillers and more about heroin and fentanyl and other potent synthetic opioids.
To put this in context: Black Americans are now dying from overdoses at around the same rate as white Americans were in 2014 — which even then was considered a public health crisis.
And, now as Heroin migrates to African-American ghettos, suddenly new laws are being enacted in the “new war on drugs”! History is repeating itself. Countless people will be thrown in jail, disqualified from voting, and democracy will be undermined again.
Oh, wait for it, that’s not all: there will be another invasion of Iran (via Afghanistan) … it seems the poppy fields not have been taken over by the Taliban; and they have been using the heroin as a weapon against the U.S. for a while now (hence the high addiction rates in white communities). So maybe, just maybe, those poppy fields might disappear forever (this time around).
If you can’t directly enslave African-Americans; then you can surely do it through drugs. If you can’t beat your opponents at the ballot box fairly and squarely, then surely you can disqualify their supporters from voting. And if you can’t beat your enemies directly with hot weapons, maybe you can do it indirectly, by swarming their countries with Drugs…. Iran, Russia, China …
I always thought the opium wars were a feature of British imperialism in the 19th century, only to learn that the U.S. (and Republicans in particular) have been using it as a political tool for over 50 years now!