America: the land of the incarcerated and the impact of the War on Drugs

15 Apr

Click the image for a full screen version.

I’d like to draw your attention to the line graph in the top right corner of this infographic. The incarceration rate has TRIPLED since the 1980s! That is not the sign of a society that is getting healthier or dealing with crime. This is what happens when you’re ‘tough on crime’ in the most naive and ignorant sense: you put criminals behind bars in for-profit jails, mistreat them and then forget about them while you hunt down their friends and neighbours and siblings.

It’s sick. Can you imagine if the health service was run this way? You have a plague affecting some parts of the country or some towns more than others, and all you do is put the sick people in poorly run wards that benefit from having more sick people ‘needing treatment’, and that treatment involves little actual medicinal care before they are returned to the streets to infect more people. In Victorian times, an example of this kind of genuine plague was cholera. Do you know how they treated it? John Snow (yes, that is his name), a physician, tracked the source of the infection to a water pump and removed the handle (the handle is on Broadwick Street, behind my office as it turns out). You treat the source, not the symptoms. Otherwise you’re just plugging holes rather than fixing the ship.

An extreme problem now emerging is the result of ‘treatment’ of criminals that has actually made them more ‘sick’. And that has emerged in the form of the Aryan Brotherhood in the American south.

As a result of the harsh prison environments in post-racial segregation prisons (aka, no longer segregated) are the formation of racial gangs in multi-racial prisons. The result of the conditions – often solitary confinement – is that people become monstrous and psychotic, and many of them were indoctrinated into extremist right wing groups that have militarised. A new mafia, with revenge, ideology, psychopathy and a cult-like indoctrination policy that occurs INSIDE the prisons. In a public but anonymous confession, a prison inmate and member of the Aryan Brotherhood explains this group’s genesis and their

reason d’etre in the wake of the assassination of several high profile members of the law enforcement, including Mike McLelland, the district attorney of Texas’s Kaufman County, and his wife, Cynthia Woodward, McLelland’s former colleague Mark Hasse, who was shot in January, and Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements, who was gunned down in mid-March..

“Many of the first men locked up when our nation embarked on a policy of for-profit mass incarceration near the end of the last century are now returning into society,” the former prisoner writes. “And, as predicted by numerous professionals, they are sicker and more dangerous than when they went behind bars.”

That is a terrifying reality. That the prison system has actually created its own disease. This all comes back to the War on Drugs, which Mexico is also suffering from (see the infographic I posted last week on this). The spike in incarceration rates between 1980 and present is largely a result of the crack epidemic, which was related to the CIA-backed rebels in the Nicaraguan civil war. Speaking to my aunt and uncle, who lived in NYC (and still do) during that period, they said the city was a truly hard and scary place to be, and my aunt was mugged on several occasions; now she says the city is much safer, a feeling I certainly feel when I visit. Like London, NYC’s formerly impoverished and criminal areas have been gentrified – my neighbourhood, Islington, used to be a tough place until only a decade ago. Now it’s becoming like Notting Hill, filled with well-off young families and educated older folk. Anyway, back to crack:

In 1985, cocaine-related hospital emergencies rose by 12 percent, from 23,500 to 26,300. In 1986, then increased 210 percent, from 26,300 to 55,200. Between 1984 and 1987, cocaine incidents increased to 94,000.

Between 1984 and 1994, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 more than doubled, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased nearly as much. During this period, the black community also experienced an increase in foetal death rates, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and the number of children in foster care. In 1996, approximately 60% of inmates incarcerated in the US were sentenced on drug charges. The United States remains the largest overall consumer of narcotics in the world today. 

The reasons for these increases in crime were due mostly to the fact that distribution for the drug occurred mainly in low-income inner city neighbourhoods. This gave many inner city residents the opportunity to move up the “economic ladder” in a drug market that allowed dealers to charge a low minimum price. The basic reason for the rise of crack was economic.

I’m not sure incarceration helped those neighbourhoods, which have been further destroyed by the deaths of family members, the establishment of vicious gangs and the culture that surrounds them (the fall of crack and the Nicaraguan situation hasn’t stopped them trafficking other drugs), broken homes, poverty, violent crime, culture of indoctrination of young boys into gangs. The US created its own drug problem and blames the criminals for perpetuating a cycle that is their only livelihood. I’m surprised there isn’t another epidemic (other than stolen manholes) born from the recession.

What should the US be doing, rather than imprisoning 1 in 5 black males (of which the leading cause is a non-violent drug related offence More social care, rather than less (these are being removed in budget cuts), better munition controls, prisons that educate rather than destroy people’s chances of building non-criminal lives, reducing punishments for drug-related offences, the loosening of laws affecting drugs consumption and sale (i.e. marijuana). Thoughts?

For the full article from the anonymous prisoner:

The history of the crack epidemic in the US:


One Response to “America: the land of the incarcerated and the impact of the War on Drugs”


  1. The War On Drugs | dylanmackinnon - April 18, 2013

    […] America: the land of the incarcerated and the impact of the War on Drugs ( […]

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