Under-incarceration

A couple of months ago, Senator Tom Cotton ridiculously spewed that the U.S. has an under-incarceration problem.

Cotton, who has been an outspoken critic of the bill in Congress that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, smacked down what he called “baseless” arguments that there are too many offenders locked up for relatively small crimes, that incarceration is too costly, or that “we should show more empathy toward those caught up in the criminal-justice system.”

“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

Of course, his arguments are really stupid. The last part, regarding the low arrest rate for property crimes and violent crimes, has nothing to do with levels of incarceration, but rather more to do with priorities of policing, such as financial incentives for police to focus on drug crimes rather than property crimes, for example.

Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing has nothing to do with policing priorities, but has to do with stopping the practice of stockpiling prisons with people who are not a danger to society for unreasonably long sentences.

Earlier this week, Amy Ralston Povah, who had one of those unreasonably long sentences, published this excellent response to Senator Cotton: Senator Cotton’s under incarceration problem

It didn’t matter that I had never been in trouble with the law. It didn’t matter that I had left my manipulative husband, the one who had become involved with the drug MDMA. It didn’t matter that they had the ring leader in custody, either. In 1989, the Reagan-Bush administration resurrected Nixon’s drug war and launched a “zero tolerance” campaign to punish citizens remotely involved with or related to anyone in the drug business.

This affected wives and girlfriends like me who would not, or could not, provide “cooperating” information to prosecutors about drug dealing. As a result, I was held responsible for every criminal act my then-husband had committed. He, however, did “cooperate” by turning on everyone, including me! He was rewarded with a 3-year probation sentence, while I got a quarter of a century in prison.

Yes, my parents learned all about who goes to prison and who goes free in this country.

It is troubling to hear well-intentioned policymakers such as Senator Cotton oppose criminal justice reform based on myths about the system that are just not true. My parents did not deserve to stand in a courtroom and have their hopes and dreams shattered when their daughter was given a 24-year sentence, and neither do all the other families who are currently living this nightmare.

Having been to prison, I know there are thousands of wonderful, patriotic, and good people there. A drug conviction does not translate into being a bad person.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon