Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations'

The NY Times published the following article in today's edition. It begins:
The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.


Five years ago... I might have said "Too bad for the rest of the world."

Today... I'm tempted to move to another country.

I liked the term "producing prisoners." Actually we "produce criminals." I believe I have read that only 10% of federal prisoners committed crimes of violence. Just over 50% are drug offenders. Certainly white collar offenders are non-violent and many of them were convicted of "derivative" crimes, which are sort of phantom crimes like mail fraud, money laundering, and wire fraud, in which otherwise harmless conduct is criminalized due to its relationship to a substantive crime which itself is not typically even a federal offense and may even be a state misdemeanor.

In particular, I found this excerpt interesting:
It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed. “In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Please read this article and post comments. I am curious which parts people find interesting.


Anonymous said...


The numbers just make me sick. "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners."

As a tax payer, I have no problem with the violent criminal warehousing, but when I read the details on 50% drug offenders and not sure what % of white collar offenders, I was appalled that my tax dollars are going towards warehousing a ex-CEO who has as you noted commited a phantom crime of securities, wire or mail fraud. These crimes would be CIVIL penalties in other industrialized nations and majority of the world. I am NOT sure how the system has changed so drastically or maybe we (I) have kept our (my)eyes shut for too long. I am retired but recently started looking into our politics due to elections, 17 YEAR HIGH INFLATION etc..out of pain at the pump. The budget is astounding for BOP services and climbing every year. I am truly afraid about the deficit, US debt, erosion of business in the USA. Like you said I am also looking into moving/retiring in another country such as Belize, Costa Rica if things dont improve etc.. I wonder if GAO report and the waste in govt spending is an issue for any other citizen? Please post your opinions, it's important to be heard.

Anonymous said...

Hey You are Not alone, and I don't mean to upset you or depress you but this article sums it up. Do you think Obama or McCain can fix the below problem? I doubt it, it may take 20 years or more. I have lost faith in the politicians, not all of them are liers and thieves. And I dont mean Paul Jones so don't take it out of context. But you get my drift.

Anonymous said...

did not fully show up in my last message.

Anonymous said...

I was a fellow inmate at FPC Pensacola during your time. I self surrendered in Sept 06 and released in Sept 07 for 6 weeks halfway house.
In one of your previous blogs you mentioned an incident of being slapped while at work. The other victim was my roommate and yes he was released about 3 weeks after the incident. I find your comments quite interesting. I like your smoking notes (I'm a non-smoker also) But I haven't read anything about the FPC being next to a garbage dump that was rated unhealthy air by the health department. The ironic new RDAP building was being tauted as a solution to the overcrowding issues. move was to eliminate 2 beds from each of the 12 men rooms. In fact the Navy (which owns/ controls the buildings) has cited the B and C dorms as unsafe due to overcrowding. However, much of talk among us was that the warden would just bring in more inmates and increase the population. Since, his budget is determined by the number of inmates. Since it is about the time the building was to open, I'd be curious to see what transpired. The other comment I have was the work details. I considered myself fortunate to be an Unicor employee and took the ride as a vacation from the camp. I can't comprehend how someone could stay behind at Saufley and not experience outside life even as controlled as we were.
Yes FPC Pensacola, was the place to be IF you had to be incarcerated. (I was never behind a fence, so I'm probably biased) but seeing the same scenery everyday to me would be like a medium. I will try to write more at a later time and would be glad to answer any questions anyone needs to know.

Bill Bailey said...

How funny. I not only have readers who are preparing to enter Pensacola FPC, I now have readers who have also "graduated"!!

Glad you made it home, hopefully still sane and able to pick up the pieces so to speak.

Glad you can confirm my "assault" story so no one thinks I just made it up.

As for the "dump" next to the prison he is referring to, immediately to the right of E Fence Road (see map at bottom of the page), there is a landfill. When I arrived on March 30, 2007, there were large tractors moving red dirt (clay?) over the mounds of trash to cover them up. It seemed like they were pretty close to finished by the time I left. All you could see was a big large orange mound.

I never noticed the smell, but other inmates complained. In particular, there was an asian inmate (I think he was a lawyer) who always walked around wearing a dust mask. I don't know if he did this because he was genuinely concerned about his health or simply to make a statement.

I had heard rumors (but then again there are so many rumors in prison, you learn to discount most of what you hear) that Dorms B and C were actually in violation of the fire code standards due to the number of inmates in each room. Again, I don't know. I don't even know which standards apply... local standards or federal standards.

The new RDAP building is identified in the map at the bottom of the page. It was not finished, or really even close to being finished it seemed, when I left last June. Apparently, it may finally be close.

That would free up the inmates in Dorm A (about 100) to move there. There are about 20 rooms on each of Dorms B and C so I guess you could take 2+ inmates (one bunk bed) out of each room -- that would be 80+ inmates -- and move them to Dorm A which would reduce the count to 10 inmates per room instead of 12. Plus it would be 40 less inmates on each floor, making the showers and tv and microwave waits shorter.

I didn't mind staying at Saufley Field to work because I could sleep in an extra 30 minutes as well as finish earlier (since I did't have the 30+ minute bus ride back and forth).

Plus I was only there 3 months so the lack of change in scenery was not that big of a deal to me. I know it was a big deal to a lot of the guys.