Identity, Politics

Democracy Behind Bars

Today AlterNet is profiling award-winning journalist (and Jew) Sasha Abramsky’s latest book called Conned: How Millions Went to Prison and Lost the Vote. Here’s a taste of the interview:

    CK: People of color rightfully critique a primarily white political and activist establishment, including many progressives and liberals, as being all too comfortable with the high incarceration rates of people of color in this country, and the resulting disfranchisement from housing, jobs and voting that has disproportionately harmed communities of color. How do you think “Conned” might help to change this so that the systemic problems with, and those created by, our criminal justice system are better understood?
    SA: “Conned” demonstrates how “criminal justice” cannot be understood as a hermetically sealed issue. Instead, the policies and practices that have so dramatically enlarged the number of people convicted of felonies in America, and the number of people sentenced to spend parts of their lives behind bars, need to be understood as part of a larger societal transformation.
    In an era of mass incarceration, progressives need to be looking for linkages, seeking to explore ways in which society responds to poverty and to social disorder. At the moment, our society has made a series of choices that means we devote an increasing number of dollars to funding punishment-based institutions. At the same time, we dramatically underfund community drug rehabilitation programs, community mental health services, job training programs and the like. Not surprisingly, given these priorities, prisons have come to be first-tier response mechanisms for a host of deep-rooted social problems.
    Now, obviously, most everyone wants to live in a peaceful society, one not driven by crime and violence. The question is how best to achieve that. I’d hope that “Conned” opens up the debate here: Does simply locking up ever larger numbers of people best serve this goal? Does an over-reliance on incarceration come with a host of other, largely hidden costs? In the arena of voting rights, my book explores these costs. It looks at how society as a whole is now being impacted by out-of-whack sentencing policies and by the overlap of criminal justice institutions with the voting rights of citizens.
    I’d hope that readers of my book come away with a better understanding of the ways in which current incarceration policies produce a host of dysfunctional societal outcomes.

Check out the full article, and an excerpt of Conned.
These are critical issues for us to look at before elections, not just in the thick of it–and as we quickly move into the 2006 primary election season.
[Update]: For more information about how the nation’s prisoners are used as “phantom” populations to redraw state legislative boundaries and re-apportion political representatives and power accordingly go here. For more information about re-enfranchisement of people who were formerly incarcerated visit here and here.

One thought on “Democracy Behind Bars

  1. This is really one of the most outrageous and enraging topics, once you start to explore it. Especially the relationship to the drug war…

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