Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Does Democracy Account For America's Astounding Imprisonment Rates?

There were several surprising headlines on the the front page of the New York Times this morning. If you're into opera, or music in general I suppose, the lead tenor at the Met hit nine high C's in a single aria and then did it all again. Oh and America has about one twentieth of the world's population but nearly one quarter of its prisoners.

Now I knew that the US locked criminals up at an astonishingly high rate, and that the US had the highest incarceration rate on the planet (turns out we lock up 1 out of every 100 adults) but I had no idea that the US had, simply, the most prisoners of any country, and by a lot mind you.

According to the article the US today has nearly 2.3 million people behind bars, second place you may have guessed goes to China. But did you also guess that they're almost a million inmates behind? If you took all of the prisoners in Russia and added them to all of the prisoners in China you'd pass the US's count, but just barely.

The article is shocking, and well worth a look (it also has another great interactive graphic from the Times). It offers a few insights into how the US came to be in this situation.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.
Locking people up for bouncing a check or being addicted to drugs isn't something that any other civilized countries do (not that many uncivilized ones do either for that matter). But our dedication to democracy may also be to blame.
Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.
You better be tough on crime if you want to get elected around here. Or better yet, you better appear tough on crime - watch the third season of the Wire for a great contemporary example.

So be good out there boys and girls, don't bounce any checks now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More Web Fun

Once again I find myself thinking that some people have entirely too much time on their hands. Hey at least this guy is getting creative with it.

Some friends sent this one my way, so thank them and then kick back and enjoy yourself for a few minutes. After all you probably deserve it.

Animator vs. Animation by *alanbecker on deviantART

Yeah yeah, 5 million people have watched this already and you might well be one of them. If so was it worth watching it again?

From His Cold Dead Hands

Charlton Heston died this week. He was known to many as a great actor, who portrayed Moses and Ben Hur, who discovered that Sloylent Green is people, and who uttered among other memorable lines "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

It is for a very different line and an appearance that Mr. Heston made not on the silver screen but in real life that he will be most remembered by many Americans particularly among our younger generations.

Mr. Heston will forever be associated with, as he used to put it, five words- "From my cold dead hands."

Immortalized in Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine, Mr. Heston spat forth those five words as a taunt to the community and its citizens who had asked him not to hold a pro-gun National Rifle Association rally in nearby Denver, just ten days after the massacre at Columbine High School.

(pertinent section begins at 5:00)

Mr. Heston we're here for your guns.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Best. Story Corps. Ever.

Thats right folks, a really great Story Corps from NPR. Normally when they come on these days I sort of zone out, or sometimes wonder why I'm hearing some inane story from some old lady-which I'm sure is a beautiful and touching moment for her and her family-but come on its six something AM and I have Morning Edition on for the news.

These days I only hear Story Corps on Fridays (it ran everyday when I lived in Connecticut last year, it probably still does) and I missed this one on air. Much to my chagrin I came across it somewhere online (I don't remember where, sorry whoever you are), can you imagine how great it would have been to hear this story while getting ready to face the day?

Well you do have to know the story to imagine hearing it while searching for a clean shirt. The short version goes like this: This guy, Julio Diaz, gets mugged leaving the subway up in the city (yes thats what we call NY in DC), offers the kid his coat too, ends up having dinner with his assailant, tells the kid he has to pay seeing as how he's stolen Julio's wallet , ends up getting the wallet back and buying the kid the meal and giving him twenty bucks for his knife. Not a bad evening of social work.

Seriously though, listen to the actual story, its worth the time.