Reversing Mass Imprisonment

by Kieran Healy on July 17, 2008

Bruce Western writes in the current Boston Review about the prison boom and its effects, summarizing findings and extending arguments he’s been developing for a few years, and which I’ve often written about here.

There are now 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails, a fourfold increase in the incarceration rate since 1980. During the fifty years preceding our current three-decade surge, the scale of imprisonment was largely unchanged. And the impact of this rise has hardly been felt equally in society; the American prison boom is as much a story about race and class as it is about crime control. Nothing separates the social experience of blacks and whites like involvement in the criminal justice system. Blacks are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and large racial disparities can be seen for all age groups and at different levels of education. One-in-nine black men in their twenties is now in prison or jail. Young black men today are more likely to do time in prison than serve in the military or graduate college with a bachelor’s degree. … Nearly all the growth in imprisonment since 1980 has been concentrated among those with no more than a high school education. Among young black men who have never been to college, one in five are incarcerated, and one in three will go to prison at some time in their lives. The intimate link between school failure and incarceration is clear at the bottom of the education ladder where 60 percent of black, male high school dropouts will go to prison before age thirty-five. … These astonishing levels of punishment are new. We need only go back two decades to find a time when imprisonment was not a common event in the lives of black men with less than a college education.

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Posh Bostonians

by Chris Bertram on July 17, 2008

On a friend’s recommendation, I watched the excellent “Now, Voyager”: the other night. A very fine performance from Bette Davis, who makes the transition from dumpy and downtrodden to shining society beauty brilliantly. But enough of the plot spoilers. Especially in the opening scenes, everyone sounds upper-class _English_. Perhaps not as cut-glass as “Brief Encounter”: , but close. Maybe some of the characters are supposed to be English (Dr Jacquith, played by the English Claude Rains might be), but others, such as the matriarch Mrs Henry Windle Vale (played by the English Gladys Cooper) are definitely supposed to be American (upper-class Bostonian). And Bette Davis herself, is, obviously, an American actor playing an American character (but still sounding _English_). So, did Bostonian aristocrats in the 1940s actually speak with English accents? Or were the dramatic conventions such that English actors (Rains, Cooper) didn’t have to change their voices?

(I’m recalling that Kieran wrote about accent change over time “here”: , and that Harry wrote about Brits playing Americans “here”: . In the year 2008 I know at least one posh Bostonian and she definitely sounds American, though only as much as Dr Niles Crane.)

Bruce Bartlett has a piece in the WSJ. His thesis statement: “Historically speaking, the Republican Party has a far better record on race than the Democrats.” Here’s the antidote. You can guess how this sort of thing is going to go:

In 1900 (under President McKinley) and again in 1922 (under Harding), Republicans tried to enact an antilynching law. Coolidge asked for legislation again in his 1923 State of the Union message. Unfortunately, Southern Democrats in the Senate routinely filibustered every Republican effort to aid African-Americans.

Thus: “[McCain] should explain that African-Americans will be much better off in the long run if they are receptive to candidates of both parties instead of being virtual captives of only one, which is then free to take them for granted.”

But surely if African-Americans feel the need to be specifically receptive to long-dead candidates of not just one but both parties, then a oijia board, not a ballot box, is the appropriate medium.

It would be kind of fun to flip this Bartlett logic over and sort of cross it with Mark Penn microtrends. You could have necrotrends: McCain needs to reach out to recently deceased left-handed soccer moms. Or: Obama needs to be sensitive to the concerns of long-dead jai alai dads. So forth. So long as political considerations are divorced from concerns about biological vivification, the possibilities are endless. If some politician is caught with a ballot box stuffed with the names of the deceased, he could defend himself on the grounds that only letting the living vote is sheer ‘animism’.

Bartlett does not even claim, in the op-ed, that there are living Republicans who deserve the support of African-Americans, due to their support for civil rights. The most recent instance he cites is Richard Nixon, who supported affirmative action as a way of busting racist unions. He is, apparently, seriously arguing that African-Americans should consider voting for dead people.

In short: these attempts to argue that McCain can’t be running for Bush’s third term because he’s running for McKinley’s second are getting a bit far-fetched.

This line is nice (paging Rick Perlstein): “Richard Nixon is said to have developed a “Southern strategy” of using racial code words like “law and order” to gain votes in the South.” Yes, that certainly is said.

UPDATE: I almost forgot. I sort of wrote this post two weeks ago, reviewing a Michael Swanwick story about democracy among the undead. “Salem Toussaint stood in the doorway, eyes rolled up in his head so far that only the whites showed. He held up a hand and in a hollow voice said, ‘One of my constituents is in trouble.'”