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Incarceration Nation

Article by Linn Washington, Jr.
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The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country on earth, accounting for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, despite having just five percent of the world’s population.

America currently holds over two million in prisons with double that number under supervision of parole and probation, according to federal government figures.

Mass incarceration consumes over $50-billion annually across America – money far better spent on creating jobs and improving education.

Under federal law persons with drug convictions like Garner are permanently barred from receiving financial aid for education, food stamps, welfare and publicly funded housing.

But only drug convictions trigger these exclusions under federal law. Violent bank robbers, white-collar criminals like Wall Street scam artists who steal billions, and even murderers who’ve done their time do not face the post-release deprivations slapped on those with drug convictions on their records, including those imprisoned for simple possession, and not major drug sales.

“Academics see this topic of mass incarceration as numbers, but for millions it is their daily lives,” said Princeton conference panelist Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean of Yale University.

Exclusions mandated by federal laws compound the legal deprivations of rights found in the laws of most states, such as barring ex-felons from jobs and even stripping ex-felons of their right to vote.

“Mass incarceration raises questions of protecting and preserving democracy,” Dr. Brown-Dean said, citing the estimated five-million-plus Americans barred from voting by such felony disenfranchisement laws.

Many of those felony disenfranchisement laws date from measures enacted in the late 1800s which were devised specifically to bar blacks from voting, as a way to preserve America’s apartheid.

During the 2000 presidential election Republican officials in Florida fraudulently manipulated that state’s anti-felon voting law to bar tens of thousands of blacks from voting. For example, many people with common names like John Smith who shared their name with a felon were also barred from voting, despite having clear records.

Yet George W. Bush won by Florida – the state where his brother Jeb served as Governor – by 537 votes. That victory in the state where George W.’s brother Jeb served as governor sent him to the White House.

Policies creating barriers to things like education and employment make it “increasingly difficult” for persons recently released from prison to “remain crime-free” according to a report released earlier this year by the Smart on Crime Coalition.

More than 60 percent of the two-million-plus people in American prisons are racial and ethnic minorities.

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