Cultural Baggage, July 30, 2008
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm so glad you're with us. We do have our guest today, Marie Gottschalk, and she can tell me if I'm pronounced that right, but she's an associate political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She's author of several great works including 'The Prison and the Gallows: the Politics of Mass Incarceration in America.' She had a recent op-ed in the Washington Post and has a forthcoming 'The World's Warden,' which will be published in Dissent this fall and with that I want to welcome our guest.
Marie, are you with us?
Dr. Gottschalk: Yes. Hi Dean, thanks for having me.
Dean Becker: Yes, Ma'am. Would you pronounce your last name for us?
Dr. Gottschalk: Sure, it's Marie Gottschalk.
Dean Becker: OK. I was close. All right, and yes, ma'am. And when I originally contacted you I had seen your write-up in Prison Legal News, 'Not the Usual Suspects: the Politics of the Prison Boom,' and I felt that you had delved into this, you had examined the process, if you will, that has led America to become the world's leading jailer, the world's leading executioner, and I had told others that I was looking for someone, an anthropologist, somebody who could explain this to me: why we can continue down this failed path? And with that thought, would you address what I'm saying?
Dr. Gottschalk: Yeah. I think certainly the common, I'm not an anthropologist, I'm a political scientist...
Dean Becker: Yes, ma'am. I know but I...
Dr. Gottschalk: Right...but I try to look at what's below the surface in the politics and I think that's what you're getting at and I think many people think this is simple plot that was done by the Right to get get votes; from Barry Goldwater to Nixon, and the Democrats played catch-up at the top and that explains it all. And that certainly explains a lot of the picture but the real question is--politicians don't always get they want and whether in the United States or somewhere else it's often popular to want to lock people up and get votes for it--but why have politicians here been so successful and why have they been so successful in the last thirty or forty years? Prior to that the U.S. incarceration rate was pretty constant at about one hundred, hundred and ten, per hundred thousand. Now we're at about 700 per hundred thousand. So I try to look at in the book, why wasn't there more resistance to this idea of locking so many people up?
Dean Becker: Yes, ma'am. And I'm still trying to get to that. You know, yesterday I attended a conference here, the American Bar Association had a panel about the drug war and, you know, they had the usual judges and, I don't know, federal representatives speaking. The former Drug Czar Lee Brown was there. And I stood up and asked the question near the end, I said 'Look, we have, over the lifetime, just frittered away our resources. We're empowering our terrorist enemies. We're enriching the gangs. And just not succeeding.' And the shock, I think, in the audience's face surprised me the most. That these people who have been deeply involved as prosecutors and attorneys just never saw it from that perspective.
Dr. Gottschalk: Uh-huh.
Dean Becker: That it just has to continue somehow. Your thoughts on that, Marie?
Dr. Gottschalk: I think that it's definitely true that ignorance is part of this. I mean, I am around a lot of educated people and I start running out the numbers for them, the incarceration figures and how the U.S. compares to other countries and how the United States compares historically and they're shocked. At first they think I'm making up the numbers. And I tell them, you know, we're incarcerating black men at a higher rate, perhaps ten times as much, as black men were incarcerated in Apartheid, in the closing years of Apartheid. And it takes a while for that to sink in, that shock of it. So I do think ignorance is part of it. I also think we just -- prisons are in places where we don't see them. And in the nineteenth century people, foreign tourists and domestic tourists, went and visited prisons and talked about prisons and now we put them in, kind of, the waste spaces often of our society or we put them in rural areas. And so for people who are not working in a prison or who don't have an imprisoned relative it's not part of our consciousness except in the extreme form of stereotypes on TV. And so in some ways I think we need to make prisons and prisoners and the prisoners' families more visible in this society.
But I also think that the natural progressive forces who should own this issue and fight about this issue have been reluctant to do that. And in my book I put some of the blame on the Women's Movement. I think that the Women's Movement to its credit emphasized issues of rape and domestic violence but in some ways that movement against rape and domestic violence got highjacked by more conservative law-and-order forces and in some ways helped to demonize people who committed crimes and particularly people of color. And that's something that I think the Women's Movement is just beginning to reckon with right now. I also think leading national black organizations have been reluctant to embrace this issue. Many of them were quiet or leading blacks bought onto the hysteria over crack in the middle eighties. I think now we're beginning to see some willingness to own up to this issue but it's still reluctant to say and to publicize that there's so many blacks who are in prison and what are the reasons for that.
Dean Becker: You had indicated that the comparison between South Africa under Apartheid and the U.S. is that we're now imprisoning five times, was it, as many...
Dr. Gottschalk: It may be as many as ten times, depending on whether you look at people in jail and prison or just people in prison. But yeah, our rate -- we're looking at imprisoning black men at a rate of about 7,000 per hundred thousand. And in South Africa in the time of Apartheid it was about 600 per hundred thousand.
Dean Becker: Woah!
Dr. Gottschalk: It takes your breath away, even for people who study this stuff.
Dean Becker: Yeah. And it just surprises me that, well, again -- it is gaining traction. Just this morning the BBC had a fifteen minute report with, see if I get it right, Misha Glenny...
Dr. Gottschalk: Uh-huh.
Dean Becker: ...I think was the gentleman's name who had written a book in this regard. And the BBC had some experts on that made it sound a lot like one of my shows. I found it kind of gratifying that they were kicking it as thoroughly as I do at times.
Dr. Gottschalk: But I don't know about your BBC but my BBC comes on at 5:00 in the morning...
Dean Becker: [laughter]
Dr. Gottschalk: and, frankly, in Europe there's lots of discussion about mass incarceration and my piece that was in the op-ed got picked up a number of places overseas because I think it is interesting and it is surprising to people in Europe and, in fact, at one point Europeans, a number of points, leading European figures have criticized the United States for lecturing the rest of the world when it has so many people in it's own shores who are incarcerated. But where is the issue here in the United States? And I think that there's still, particularly at the national level, a collective silence about this. And Barack Obama gave an interesting speech at Howard University where he glancingly talked about some of these issues last September but that issue was not in the primaries in any significant way and in some ways, I think, Obama, since then, has been running away from this issue with his opposition to the recent Supreme Court on capital punishment, as his embrace of the right to bear arms and his father day's lecture to black fathers about their proper parental roles without looking at the structural reasons why, in some communities, it's a lot harder to be a good father than it is in other communities because of poor schools and poor education and poor hospitals and poor jobs.
Dean Becker: Well, there's even the other ramification, if you will, that if you have a drug conviction you can't live in public housing, therefore you can't live with your family, right?
Dr. Gottschalk: Right. I mean, that's -- even Bill Clinton who was an accomplice in the prison buildup recently used the words that having a criminal conviction is the last scarlet letter in America today. And that it banishes you in society in so many ways that we're creating, really, a whole second order of what we might call 'internal exiles' or 'partial citizens' who may never get full rights: they don't have a right to housing, they may not have a right to vote, they don't have a right to certain jobs like, even, a license to be a hair-cutter, which is a popular trade in many prisons and yet you come out and you can't get licensed as a hair-cutter because you have a criminal conviction.
Dean Becker: Well, this brings to mind the piece that you had published earlier this year in the Washington Post, “Two Separate Societies: One in Prison, One Not.' Let's talk about that piece.
Dr. Gottschalk: Right. I mean I liked the title and it was based on the Kerner Commission report from several decades ago. It's the fortieth anniversary of the Kerner Commission saying that we're moving towards two societies. And in some ways I like that title because it's provocative but I also think, in a deeper way, we're not two societies and that for a long time we could ignore the incarceration issue because it quote-unquote 'just happened in poor inner cities or poor communities' and it didn't affect our broader society. And I think one way to think more progressively about this issue is to look at the way that it's degrading our democracy and it's degrading our democratic institutions; that it's no longer just a problem for poor communities, if it ever even was just a problem -- for example, it's costing an enormous amount of money, right? It costs about 50 billion dollars a year just to run the correctional system. I take my students in the University of Pennsylvania into a class inside a jail here in Philadelphia and I say, you know, the cost of keeping the men here housed in this jail is about what it costs your tuition at the University of Pennsylvania. And my students are shocked.
So the first thing is there's the cost. And that cost means that there's fewer services all around in society because of this huge carceral state. The second thing is, you know, it's affecting votes, right? Had formerly incarcerated people been allowed to vote in Florida the studies are quite clear now that Al Gore would have handily won Florida and would have handily won the 2000 election. And there are a number of senate races and gubernatorial races from the 1990s that if formerly incarcerated people had been permitted to vote and were not disenfranchised by this maze of laws, that would have changed the outcome of these elections and the Democrats probably would have held the Senate for a longer period of times than they have over the last ten to twenty years or so.
The other way it's degrading our institutions is the U.S. census, right? We think of the census as the gold standard of who we are, where we're going economically, socially, demographically, and yet we're increasingly finding that our census data is not good because people who are incarcerated tend to live far from the neighborhoods where they came from and they're counted in these often rural areas and they inflate the figures for those rural areas and they deflate the figures for cities. They get this bad data about migration patterns. It also fundamentally affects our 'one person, one vote' ideal. And it also, in effect, you know it takes us back in some ways, back to the constitutional convention that said blacks would be counted as 2/3 of a person for purposes of apportioning congressional seats but that they would not be allowed to vote. Well, most of the people in prisons are not allowed to vote and yet they're being counted in communities that they don't really reside in, that they will not live in once they're released from jail.
So I think that this is degrading our political institutions.
Dean Becker: Marie, I was going to ask you -- what had first caught my attention, made me aware of your writing, was your article in the Prison Legal News, 'Not the Usual Suspects: The Politics of the Prison Boom.' Let's talk about that piece.
Dr. Gottschalk: OK. That gets at some of the sinews of the political reasons why we have the huge incarceration rate that we have here and we don't have in other countries. And it goes back to what I was saying earlier, that it's not just about leading politicians saying 'let's lock more people up.' The question is, why, for forty years, we've been doing this and it's been a pretty costly strategy. And I identify several social movements that, for various reasons, were unable to resist this thrust or became complicit, or their problems got defined in ways that helped the thrust of incarceration. As I discussed earlier, I talked about the Women's Movement. In the book I talk about the Prisoners' Rights Movement, that the Prisoners' Rights Movement became much more inflammatory and much more of a central political issue in the United States than it did in other countries. It got tied much more to issues of race. Many prisoners, people like George Jackson and Angela Davis, became leading national and international celebrities. And so what you saw in other countries like Britain, Britain could reach an accommodation between a burgeoning Victim's Movement and yet protect the rights of offenders. In the U.S. case offenders got such a high profile national celebrity the issues of prisons got so tied to these broader issues of race in the United States that as the Victim's Movement emerged in the United States it became a much more anti-offender movement. And also the Victim's Movement in the United States felt much more like it had to reclaim the idea of being a victim from the Prisoners' Rights Movement. And so the politics around prisoners' rights and victims was much more inflammatory, or much more contested and much harder to reach a détente between victims of crime movement and a movement for offenders. So in Britain, you have a victims' movement but it doesn't become a punitive victims' rights movement and it doesn't become a zero sum -- if we give something to victims it means we have to take something away from offenders.
Dean Becker: And this brings us back again to, kind of, my original thought on this: that, you know, America, I don't know if it's retained from the Puritan years or if it's Judge Roy Bean 'toughest law west of the Pecos' mentality, but we just hang on to this necessity, to...
Dr. Gottschalk: Yeah, but the difference is we didn't lock people up. And that's like, you know, some people say that to me and they say 'Well, you know, it's just our culture.' We have this frontier culture, we have this eye-for-an-eye culture, but the fact is that this is something new. That for much of American history we were not locking people up. In the nineteenth century we were leaders in the anti-capital punishment crusade. We were the leaders. We were not the last holdouts in the Western world still executing people. In the nineteenth century we were the people who invented the penitentiary. Now you could say, well, the penitentiary isn't that great but it was, at that time, considered a progressive alternative to killing people for stealing something or cutting their hands off for stealing something or torturing them for stealing something. And so it's important to recognize that, if we accept that it's a cultural thing then frankly we're never going to change this. I think it's much more optimistic to say 'Hey, what changed in the last forty years?' that previously in our history -- you know we talk a lot about law and order and lock them up and eye-for-an-eye, but we really didn't act on it. And it's only in the last forty years that we're acting in a so-much more punitive way than other countries are and are much more punitive than in our own history.
Dean Becker: You know, my thought on that is, it's always said, look at the money. And I guess that once this prison industrial complex kind of gained stature...
Dr. Gottschalk: Right.
Dean Becker: ...or standing, whatever you want to call it. And the people in power manipulated data, facts and other people to just ratchet this up and to continue.
Dr. Gottschalk: I think it's important to make a distinction between what caused the spike in incarceration and what's a major contributor today. I think money didn't cause it.
Dean Becker: OK.
Dr. Gottschalk: I think that's it's complex politics, it's the complexity of the political institutions, it has something to do with the law-and-order history that you were talking about. But now that it's here, now that it's so big, lots of people make lots of money from it. And if you've ever been to the American Correctional Association and gone to their gadget room and you can see everything from supposedly gourmet soup that you can serve on the cheap in prison to fancy heat-seeking machines to figure out if someone's sneaking someone out of a prison, you realize there's a lot of money to be made from this. And so that is probably sustaining this today but I don't think that it caused it. And I think this is where you run into problems with -- I think people who, today, want to say 'it's just the prison-industrial complex' and that if people just realize how expensive it is we'll start building the prisons down. And what I say to that is 'yeah, economics matters but at the end of the day this is a moral issue.' And major moral change didn't happen in the United States, like ending slavery, just because we said it was too expensive. So the people today who just look at these figures and say 'Oh, we can't, we're not going to be able to keep affording this' and therefore we're going to start cutting back -- well, everybody's been saying that for several years now, really since the recession of five or six years ago, and yet, if you look at the numbers, the number of prisoners, despite all these so-called drug and penal reforms, the number of prisoners has not really shrunk. And the Pew Foundation projects it's going to increase substantially unless legislation, real penal reform legislation is enacted the next few years.
Dean Becker: Once again, we've been speaking with Maria Gottschalk, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Marie, we got about a minute-and-a-half and I wanted to frame a quick question for you. For the alcohol prohibition, it was the Women's Movement who finally stood up, who took control of that change, if you will, and I heard you mention the Women's Movement a lot during our discussion. It's going to take more women getting involved, pointing out the horrors that happened to their children under this draconian situation, right?
Dr. Gottschalk: I think that at the grassroots level you're beginning to see that. You see many community groups, some statewide groups, who are putting, who are emphasizing two things: one, with all the millions of sisters, wives, aunts, daughters who are the children of men who are incarcerated, so this is not just a men's issue. And second of all, that women are the fastest growing population of people behind bars. And I think you're beginning to see within the Women's Movement, within women's groups, the need to recognize the racial dimension of penal policy and to recognize they're fighting domestic violence purely by emphasizing law enforcement solutions may have negative effects over the long term.
Dean Becker: OK. Marie, thank you so much for being our guest today. We'll have to do this again soon. I think there's much more we need to bring forward and I do thank you for your time.
Dr. Gottschalk: Well, thanks so much for having me.
Dean Becker: All right.
Dr. Gottschalk: Bye-bye.
Dean Becker: Bye-bye.
It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!
Works directly on the brain by interfering with neurotransmitters and dopamine levels. Because of drug prohibition this product is made with over-the-counter cold medicine, matchbook covers, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel and anti-freeze.
Time's up: The answer! Tina, chalk, go-fast, zip, crystal, crank, speed...methamphetamine hydrochloride.
This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
I just finished presenting at the National Council of State Legislators in New Orleans. This is my second National Council of Legislators convention in three years. I've been meeting some of the same folks and they are mostly looking for ways to introduce change into government policy as it relates to the war on drugs. Many completely agree with LEAP's position and have thanked us for our message. They agree that something has to be done because the jails are full and managing the cost is starting to cause severe strain on state and local budgets. It's a common fact that the jail population is becoming unmanageable and everyone is looking for solutions. The opinion numbers related to LEAP's stance on the war on drugs after two days and talking to approximately 350 NCSL members are almost identical to years past. Eighty-three percent agree, thirteen percent were undecided and only four percent disagree. On the first day, two New Orleans police officers stopped by and chatted for a few minutes and said they fully agree with our message. On the second day, three other officers came by and I asked them if we were ever going to arrest our way out of the drug war and all three said 'no way!' Several of the legislators are former police officers as well and they also lent their support to our message. One even offered to sponsor a fund-raiser for LEAP. Boy, what a change in the last three years.
I think the time for change is now. Members of LEAP know that a person can beat an addiction but not a conviction. Money spent incarcerating drug offenders in the prison system in the United States would be better spent on education and treatment. It's time to legalize drugs. The taxation of marijuana sales alone would bring in billions of dollars and would more than adequately pay for the research into cures for addictions as well as support the treatment of those that do become addicted. Many state senators and congressmen, as well as their staffers, are stopping by LEAP's booth to chat about the drug war. Several of the legislators asked 'Do we mean heroin, cocaine, and meth as well as marijuana?' And we respond that the only way to control something is to make it legal. We believe it will not work unless the criminal gangs and drug cartels are out of the picture and the only way to do that is legalize it and remove the obscene profits.
LEAP calls for a system of total legalization of drugs and the regulation and control of the distribution and manufacturing process. It's time for a change in America.
Speaking for LEAP, at www.LEAP.cc, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, this is Terry Nelson signing off.
Dean Becker: Poppygate. Bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.
Glenn Greenway: Last month, the State Department's Senior Coordinator for Rule of Law and Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan took his job and shoved it.
Thomas Schweich resigned from his ambassadorial level post and has since authored a bitter tirade for the New York Times which asked but did not dare answer the question: 'Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?' Ironically, Afghan narcotics production doubled on his watch as U.S. point man on Afghan narcotics policy.
Mr. Schweich angrily blames Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Europeans, liberal media, the Pentagon, Democrats and the Taliban; reserving no blame what-so-ever for himself, the White House or the international drugs prohibition for which they stand.
Last year Afghanistan produced 93% of the world's heroin and 35% of its cannabis. Last year the country dropped a place in a UN global human development index, falling to 174 out of 178 countries worldwide. Life expectancy has dropped to forty-three years. Despite this extraordinary expansive poverty a main thrust of Mr. Schweich's blame shifting is to decry what he calls the 'myth' of the starving Afghan farmer.
Drugs prohibition perversely subsidizes and pays for weapons which are killing U.S. and NATO troops stationed in the country yet over half of the war-torn country's entire economy depends on the same perverse prohibitionist narco-subsidies. As one astute commenter at the New York Times remarked, 'eradicating the drugs means eradicating the economy.'
At least former top drug warrior Tom Schweich had the integrity to resign. So long and thanks for all the dope.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.
Dean Becker: Five times as many people die from alcohol each year than from illicit drugs and the misuse of pharmaceuticals. Fifteen times as many people die each year from poor diet and activity patterns. Twenty times as many people die from tobacco. Why arrest 1.9 million people a year for drugs? Does jailing drug users make more sense than jailing overweight people and smokers? Let's keep America's drug problem in perspective.
Common Sense for Drug Policy.
Dean Becker: All right, my friends. I hope you enjoyed this edition of Cultural Baggage and that you appreciate our visit with Marie Gottschalk, the professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She has delved deep into this. She has gained the respect of the Washington Post and many other publications around this country. She speaks the truth. And I think you hear the truth. You need to absorb the truth, you need to embrace the truth, work with the truth and change our system. America's the world's leading jailer, the world's leading executioner. You know we justify mayhem in the name of freedom and that's just gotta stop. I mean, we have to stand up, become citizens, do our part, make the changes necessary. I mean, these politicians, they're all, and the officials and the authorities are making millions and billions of dollars from this drug war. And it continues and it will continue until you participate, until you stand up, speak up and make them change the way they go about this procedure.
Be sure to join us next week on our programs. We'll have reports from American Bar Association event I mentioned earlier, I attended yesterday, and we'll also have a segment of that BBC report featuring Misha Glenny. We'll also have an affiliate report from our new station in Australia. And my friends, I urge you, please do your part. And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.
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