Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Three-Strikes law mandatory sentencing

US: First of all, this is not about a simple baseball game.

This is about the most important thing of all, the game of life. The Three-Strikes law (mandatory sentencing for three felony convictions) came into being through fear, manipulation and, yes, full-blown prejudice.

The popular image of the African-American male as a predator continues to fuel this absurd trend, and is hardly likely to be arrested in the short term, that is, save a miraculous transformation of the media, the economy, black male collective organizations and public opinion.

Ever since the 1968 presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon, the African-American male image has been a useful mobilizer for white votes. With the focus on street crime completely saturating the media through both entertainment and news, or a combination of both, it is not surprising that 90 percent of the American public agrees that crime is a very "serious" problem.

In the August 1995 issue of American Demographics, Cheryl Russell writes that the obsession of the media with providing the "gory" details of crime has increased the public's fear of crime. This is particularly true in regard to the largest "inner-city" areas of the nation, like Los Angeles. It is also well known that Gallup Polls rank cities according to their perceived danger of crime.

In the aftermath of the decline of the military-industrial complex as a result of the end of the Cold War and the rusting of America's industrial heartland, the business of imprisonment looms more importantly. Many, many people realize crime (or the perception of it) is profitable for a wide spectrum of firms. More than two in five Americans have additional locks on their doors, and slightly less than one in five have residential security systems or alarms.

Again, according to Russell, gun sales, Mace and other devices designed against crime have also fueled the tremendous growth of the private security industry. Today, well over $50 billion per year is spent in an industry that employs over 2.5 million guards and consists of over 22 thousand firms.

Private firms now own prisons and utilize inmates as a source of cheap labor. Prisons also represent new jobs and the infusion of new money into some rural communities previously suffering from economical depression. In addition to jobs, prisons fuel a variety of high- and low-tech industries, including surveillance and electronic monitoring, food service, medicine, supplies, health care, drug treatment programs, telecommunications, lenders, architectural firms, and the construction trades (including masonry, fencing, barbed wired, etc.) as the prison industry continues to boom.

The Origins of Three-Strikes Law

Many have traced the popularization of mandatory minimum laws to the Rockefeller Drug Law, enacted in 1973 under West Virginia's then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. These laws began the downward spiral of removing the discretion of judges from sentencing.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws incarcerate offenders for 15 years to life for possession of four ounces, or the sale of two ounces, of select controlled substances as Class A felony crimes. These laws provide an individual with the same sentence for possession of a few ounces of illegal drugs as someone convicted of murder, kidnapping or rape.

Enacted in the same year in New York state was the Second Felony law, which adds time onto sentences for second felony offenses, regardless of whether violence was involved. In New York, African Americans and Latinos comprise 93 percent of those incarcerated for drug felonies, while making up only 23 percent of New York's population.

Annually, 35,000 individuals are locked up in New York State for drug felonies. Also, while the Rockefeller and Three-Strikes law impacts society on the state and local levels, federal mandatory minimums have also had a negative impact throughout the country.

In actuality, the Three-Strikes law in California was designed for the most brutal criminals, and as is the case of federal and Rockefeller Drug Laws, meant to get the "kingpins." Instead, these laws are penalizing ordinary offenders with draconian punishments.

Over 65 percent of those imprisoned under Three-Strikes in California are non-violent offenders. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, African-American males sentenced in state courts on felonies receive prison sentences 52 percent of the time, while whites just receive them 34 percent of the time.

The rapidly increasing number of women being locked upnow the fastest growing proportion of America's prison populationis also seen as a cause for alarm.

By Otis L. Cavers posted 26 April 05


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