Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Gulags and Gitmos

For participating in an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Survey I received The Pocket World In Figures for 2009. Its filled with all kinds of interesting statistics to measure, compare and contrast economic and social indicators for countries of the world. Included in this useful little tome is the usual mundane statistical econometric measures like GDP, income levels, life expectancy, agricultural output and similar macroeconomic indicators. The Survey also includes many other quality of life statistical measures and one that immediately grabbed my attention were the entries concerning Crime and Punishment.

The Survey tabulates Crime and Punishment statistics in four areas; murders, death row inmates, total prisoner count and prisoners per 100,000 of a country’s population. Sadly the EIU Survey reports that the United States leads the list in two out of the four categories. Those include prisoner population and prisoners per 100,000 of total country population. The US holds the dubious distinction of the number two spot behind Pakistan in the number of death row inmates.

I find these telling statistical measures most perplexing and equally disturbing. The United States prison population of 2.253,000 is 30% higher then second place China with 1,566,000 inmates and third place Russia with 885,000 inmates. These numbers become more significant when measured as a percent of 100,000 of the country’s population. The United States again occupies the top spot with 751 inmates per 100,000 followed by Russia with 627 per 100,000. As a percent of total population the US incarceration rate is 17% higher then that of Russia. China which occupied the number two spot in total prison population falls off the list of the top 23 nations with the highest level of incarceration due to its large overall population.

One needs to ask what is it in the cultural, social, political and economic DNA that places the United States as the world leading gulag?

It has been long known that people of color comprise the majority of death row and prison inmates in the United States. The glaring racial and social class dimensions of imprisonment and how it is disproportionally borne by minorities and the working poor is a direct causal effect of the dismantling of the manufacturing base of the US economy. This has exacerbated the inequality of wealth distribution in the US economy. It has accelerated the deterioration of our urban economic zones thereby fostering the growth of illegal underground economic activities and petty economic crime.

The economic and social factors that contribute to crime and imprisonment are usually the central topics that take center stage in the debate between conservatives and liberals. Ironically this debate obfuscates underlying causal factors that can be ascribed to the political culture in the US. The preponderance of law and order candidates running for public office, the political clout of police and public safety unions, the emergence of industry sectors that build and manage prisons, the vibrant security and protection industries, the use of cheap prison labor and dramatic wealth disparity creates powerful market and cultural forces that incubate and sustain the growth of penal industries and the political sentiment that supports it.

Since 9/11 our political culture has been saturated with messages of fear, suspicion , demonization of “the other” and the pervasiveness of terrorism. This political climate has spawned two wars, the dramatic growth of prison privatization, suspension of some basic rights of privacy with the passage of FISA and the creation of special rendition prison camps like Gitmo that suspend habeas corpus and other internationally recognized standards of basic prisoner rights. The revelations about the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib has shamefully placed torture at the forefront in the political debate concerning appropriate practices and acceptable tools interogators can use in the fight against terrorism. The US is clearly in danger of losing the moral high ground in its self proclaimed defense of human rights as it continues to extol the righteousness of its law and order society by building and populating an ever expanding network of gulags.

Sadly our penal culture creates some horrific abominations. The US taxpayer conveys its eager willingness to pay up to $40,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner; while claiming that its good fiscal policy to balk at paying anything over $8,000 to educate a child in a public school.

This Sunday we will be marching in Newark NJ in Support of Solidarity Sunday. Our mission will be to join forces with those who are dedicated to ending violence and crime in our communities. We believe this objective can only be realized if we respond with unity, love, peace, hope and help.

Information on Solidarity Sunday can be found here.

It is our fondest hope and most fervent prayer that we will build more schools and factories and less prisons. We also pray that our fellow citizens and elected officials will find mercy in their hearts and proclaim 2009 as a Jubilee Year and grant amnesty and set free those who are worthy of freedom and have paid the price for their crime. We also pray that those who imprison others will recognize the humanity of their captives.

You Tube Music Video: The Midnight Special, Odetta

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott Heron, Angola Louisiana

Risk: civil liberties, rule of law, Bill of Rights, social justice

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November 26, 2008 - Posted by | commerce, crime, culture, folk, jazz, prisons | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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