Death and Other Penalties Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration Edited by Geoffrey Adelsberg, Lisa Guenther, and Scott Zeman f o r d h a m u n i v e r s i t y p r e s s New York 2015 F6560.indb iii F6560.indb iii 11/18/14 12:25:34 PM 11/18/14 12:25:34 PM
Legacies of Slavery F6560.indb 11 F6560.indb 11 11/18/14 12:25:35 PM 11/18/14 12:25:35 PM
13 Excavating the Sedimentations of Slavery: The Unfinished Project of American Abolition Brady Heiner The futility of severe punishment and cruel treatment may be proven a thousand times, but so long as society is unable to solve its social problems, repression, the easy way out, will always be accepted. It provides the illusion of security by covering the symptoms of social disease with a system of legal and moral value judgments. —georg rusche and otto kirchheimer, Punishment and Social Structure (1939) Mass incarceration is arguably the most pressing and protracted social cri- sis of postindustrial America. The imprisoned population in the United States has exploded from 200,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 mil- lion people in the first decade of the twenty-first century, including 95,000 youths under the age of eighteen. To accommodate this colossal move- ment toward confinement, close to one thousand prisons have been built throughout the United States since 1973. “Short of major wars,” writes criminologist Elliot Currie, “mass incarceration has been the most thor- oughly implemented government social program of our time.” 1 U.S. crimi- nal justice policy and imprisonment practice are drastically out of line with international human rights norms and those of comparably developed de- mocracies across the globe—so much so that America’s peculiar institu- tion of penality has been branded as “American penal exceptionalism.” 2 The United States incarcerates the largest population in the history of the world. 3 A mere 5 percent of the global population, we maintain 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. Incarcerated persons are dispro- portionately from racialized groups 4 (nearly 70 percent of the imprisoned population are people of African, Native American, or Latino/Chicano F6560.indb 13 F6560.indb 13 11/18/14 12:25:35 PM 11/18/14 12:25:35 PM
14 Brady Heiner ancestry); 5 they are disproportionately from economically disadvantaged backgrounds (e.g., 11 percent of those incarcerated were homeless in the year before their confinement, and 63 percent had incomes of less than $1,000 in the month prior to arrest); 6 and at the time of their arrest, they are disproportionately less educated than their counterparts in the general population (e.g., 43 percent of the imprisoned population had not com- pleted high school or its equivalent prior to their confinement, compared to 18 percent of the general population over the age of eighteen).
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