A couple of months ago, Senator Tom Cotton ridiculously spewed that the U.S. has an under-incarceration problem.

Cotton, who has been an outspoken critic of the bill in Congress that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, smacked down what he called “baseless” arguments that there are too many offenders locked up for relatively small crimes, that incarceration is too costly, or that “we should show more empathy toward those caught up in the criminal-justice system.”

“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

Of course, his arguments are really stupid. The last part, regarding the low arrest rate for property crimes and violent crimes, has nothing to do with levels of incarceration, but rather more to do with priorities of policing, such as financial incentives for police to focus on drug crimes rather than property crimes, for example.

Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing has nothing to do with policing priorities, but has to do with stopping the practice of stockpiling prisons with people who are not a danger to society for unreasonably long sentences.

Earlier this week, Amy Ralston Povah, who had one of those unreasonably long sentences, published this excellent response to Senator Cotton: Senator Cotton’s under incarceration problem

It didn’t matter that I had never been in trouble with the law. It didn’t matter that I had left my manipulative husband, the one who had become involved with the drug MDMA. It didn’t matter that they had the ring leader in custody, either. In 1989, the Reagan-Bush administration resurrected Nixon’s drug war and launched a “zero tolerance” campaign to punish citizens remotely involved with or related to anyone in the drug business.

This affected wives and girlfriends like me who would not, or could not, provide “cooperating” information to prosecutors about drug dealing. As a result, I was held responsible for every criminal act my then-husband had committed. He, however, did “cooperate” by turning on everyone, including me! He was rewarded with a 3-year probation sentence, while I got a quarter of a century in prison.

Yes, my parents learned all about who goes to prison and who goes free in this country.

It is troubling to hear well-intentioned policymakers such as Senator Cotton oppose criminal justice reform based on myths about the system that are just not true. My parents did not deserve to stand in a courtroom and have their hopes and dreams shattered when their daughter was given a 24-year sentence, and neither do all the other families who are currently living this nightmare.

Having been to prison, I know there are thousands of wonderful, patriotic, and good people there. A drug conviction does not translate into being a bad person.

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36 Responses to Under-incarceration

  1. primus says:

    There should be extremely long mandatory sentences for politicians who lie to the people, who engage in activities which are illegal without regard for national security, or who are corrupted by cash and gifts. Those are all crimes where the entire population are victims, and are therefore worthy of mandatory sentences. Victimless crimes should never lead to mandatory minimums.

    • Freeman says:

      My thoughts exactly. To the extent we have under-incarceration in this country, it’s represented by Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen who should be serving hard time for their high crimes and misdemeanors, but instead remain free to advocate locking up everyone else.

  2. DonDig says:

    With liberty and justice for all

  3. BackToPurple says:

    Here’s another example of ill thought through conjecture leading to bad policy, and in this case, also personal consequences: Joe Hogsett became mayor of Indianapolis through a campaign of promises to reduce crime in the city, but not by scaling back prohibition but by hiring additional police officers. He also expressed an interest in “reaching juveniles early, before they become entrenched in criminal behavior.”

    Hogsett was elected mayor in November, 2015. It didn’t take long for karma to come knocking:

    Mayor Joe Hogsett’s son William was arrested last week on marijuana possession and other drug-related offenses, according to the Rushville Police Department.

    William Hogsett, 18, was arrested about 10:45 p.m. Friday on initial charges of possessing marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia, Rushville Assistant Police Chief Todd Click told IndyStar on Thursday.


  4. Chipster says:

    The serious career criminals are mostly in government and bureaucracy. There are not enough resources to bring them to justice. Maybe there’s another way…

  5. Servetus says:

    False positives from an unreliable $2 drug test kit can send a person to jail:

    July 7, 2016 — There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. In Las Vegas, authorities re-examined a sampling of cocaine field tests conducted between 2010 and 2013 and found that 33 percent of them were false positives. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department’s records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.

    Source: https://www.propublica.org/article/common-roadside-drug-test-routinely-produces-false-positives

    There are plenty of innocent people available who haven’t been sent to jail yet on drug charges. Those who can’t afford bail, a good attorney, and the court costs to fight the results of the faulty drug test kit often take plea bargains that result in some form of imprisonment, effectively producing over-incarceration.

  6. Freeman says:

    Heh, off-topic but this showed up on the wife’s screen and I couldn’t resist sharing with my couchmates. Grab a handful and pass ’em around.

    SAMBOTEC’s Worst Nightmare

  7. DonDig says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could move toward the Finnish model of criminal justice?

    (I just started reading it. Learned about it in Michael Moore’s new Where To Invade Next)


  8. darkcycle says:

    Well, recognition where recognition is due. Our own couchmate and my friend, Brian Bennett, has been named as a contributing expert at the Baker Institute. Congratulations, Brian. It gives me hope to believe all our hard work can result in more uncompensated hard work.

  9. DdC says:

    Snipers shoot 11 police officers ‘ambush style’ at Dallas protest, killing 4
    The gunfire broke out around 8:45 p.m. Thursday while hundreds of people were gathered to protest fatal police shootings this week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suburban St. Paul, Minn.

  10. BackToPurple says:

    Amnesty International has developed a new app for the residents of Rio to report shooting battles in their neighborhood:

    There have been more than 570 gun fights in the Rio metropolitan area so far this year, according to the app’s data director, Cecília Olliveira. She based her tally on reports from local media and online social networks. These include conflicts among the city’s three drug factions, extortion gangs run by former and off-duty police officers called milícias, and the police themselves. They add up to make Rio one of the most murderous Olympic cities ever; with 18.5 killings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015, according to government data.


  11. Servetus says:

    Carmen Boullosa, a Mexican poet and novelist, and Mike Wallace, a history professor at CUNY, expose terror and corruption in the Mexican drug war in their book A Narco History (2015) :

    JULY 6, 2016 — “Mass murder (in one instance producing three hundred corpses); grisly torture (one victim’s face was skinned and sewn onto a soccer ball): collusion between mayors, governors, and militarized drug traffickers; rampant kidnapping and extortion; police on the payroll of cartels possessed of vast drug profits available for bribery; the wholesale arrest of police departments; a criminal justice system that all but guarantees criminals impunity from prosecution; the inefficiency of disinterest of higher political officials; and the eruption of protests from civil society—all these have been routine in the past dozen years.”

    Like his counterparts in Mexico, Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the stateside Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), oversaw an apparatus which aided and abetted the very forces he had declared war on. In 1968, six years after Anslinger’s retirement, an investigation concluded that the bureau was a major supplier of heroin. Although that report was quickly squelched, subsequently almost all of the agents in the organization’s New York branch were ousted; the FBN’s successor agency The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was found by CIA investigators to be “heavily infiltrated by dishonest and corrupt elements, who were believed to have ties with the narcotics smuggling industry.”

    Source: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/06/narco-politics-the-political-economy-of-the-drug-war/

    The CIA hates it when other bureaucracies compete with them in the drug business.

  12. Newsflash says:

    The UN is sending 100,000 troops to put pants on horses.

    • jean valjean says:

      It’s those surrealists again, innit.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Are those the same horses that botched Humpty Dumpty’s resuscitation?

      • Newsflash says:

        As we’re still waiting for ovum specific confirmation on third party involvement, it’s still all speculation at this point. But I give you my solemn promise that I’ll move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of what is now clearly developing into a farce of biblical proportions and an even worse international incident than when Little Miss Muffit got a creative makeover in that truly disgusting 1970s Broadway musical.

  13. Tony Aroma says:

    Is this true, or current (there’s no date)?

    Justin Trudeau To Pardon All Prisoners Convicted Of A Marijuana Offense

    OTTAWA – A press conference was held last night by The Liberal Party of Canada, on behalf of newly-elected Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau about future marijuana laws and regulations.

    30 minutes into the conference, Trudeau announced the big news that all members of the parliament have agreed to – and that is pardoning all Canadian prisoners who have been convicted of a minor or major offence of marijuana.

    Justin Trudeau supported: To ensure that we continue to be a strong and fair nation, this must be done – the legalization of marijuana is approaching and all action regarding the legalization must be taken. This is the first step.”

  14. cy klebs says:

    I thought Sen.Cotton likes smaller government.

  15. jean valjean says:

    A senior police officer says:
    ‘”We are continuing to investigate these deaths and are following lines of inquiry, including the possibility that they may be drug related. I would remind all persons attending the festival that there is no safe way of taking drugs.”‘

    Oh and by the way, we’ve guaranteed that last bit by handing over distribution of “drugs” to profiteering criminals.

  16. BackToPurple says:

    It is widely known that police engage in pretextual traffic stops, not because they are concerned about vehicle safety but because they are fishing for something else, usually drugs. These stops are notoriously racially skewed, …..


    The US has been waging a war on drugs for 40 years, and drugs are cheaper, of higher quality, and more widely available than ever before. A police-centered approach merely criminalizes people in a way that exacerbates racial and economic inequality and undermines the legitimacy of government in those communities. States like Louisiana, and increasingly the whole country, have put themselves in a position where social problems go unaddressed until they become a source of violence or disorder that, in turn, is defined as a problem to be addressed exclusively through policing and punishment. This is what must change.


    • Frank W. says:

      “Do you have anything in your pockets that might be harmful to us? I’ll just take a look here…”

  17. DdC says:

    Uncle Tom Cotton

    “Prisoners for profit, human lives a commodity? Imagine that. …
    A lot of people profit from the Incarceration Industry in America. Thousands of men and women serve longer prison sentences because of the Corporate greed and the desire to increase the bottom line at the expense of other humans.”

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who may have an ulterior motive in trying to influence other congressional members to abort the sentencing reform initiatives that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015.

    ☛ Donald Trump’s wingman: Sen. Tom Cotton. Wingnut.

    ☛ Donald Trump to Meet with Sen. Tom Cotton. 4VP?

    ☛ John Lyon at the Arkansas News Bureau examines another of Sen. Tom Cotton’s one-man Senate roadblocks — this one to a juvenile justice reform bill. Cotton objects to ending the ability of judges to jail youths for minor offenses such as skipping school.

    ☛ Sen. Tom Cotton’s malicious blockade to get at President Obama.

    ☛ Charles Pierce of Esquire calls Sen. Tom Cotton a “sadistic swine” for blocking an ambassadorship for a qualified black woman (who died during his 2.3-year hold on the nomination) to “inflict special pain on the president.”

    ☛ Justice reform? Don’t tell it to Tough Talking Tom Cotton
    U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton isn’t having any of this talk of justice reform. The U.S. isn’t putting ENOUGH people in jail, despite a world-leading penchant for prisons.

    ☛ GOP Senator Says America,
    The World’s Leading Jailer,
    Doesn’t Put Enough People In Prison

    ☛ Tom Cotton a sadistic swine for ‘weaponizing’ Cassandra Butts

    ☛ Rep. Alan Grayson says Sen. Cotton is “already on his way to marking himself as the premiere warmonger of the 114th Congress.” Heather Digby Parton from Salon called him“Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent.” Whatever your characterization, this much is clear: this freshman senator is an arrogant bully and needs a time out.

    ☛ Tom Cotton Screwing Up
    The One Good Thing Congress
    Might’ve Done This Year

    ☛ Senator Tom Cotton Received Nearly $1 Mil To Oppose Iran Deal[

    ☛ Opposition to private prisons in Arkansas
    Shipping incarcerated people across state lines into for-profit prisons rather than prioritizing reforms that would reduce the number of people behind bars exemplifies our state’s dangerous reliance on incarceration, particularly incarceration for profit.

    ☛ ‘Relax Your Muscles as Much as Possible’
    “If you have a choice, try to avoid men who used needles for drugs in the past or are still doing so. … The more often you are raped, the more exposed you will be, so especially try to avoid anal gang-bangs. The most dangerous situation of all is if your +!@$ is bleeding, for that allows easy entry of the virus into your bloodstream. So try to use a lubricant or grease or cream if you can to minimize injury to your delicate internal body parts, avoid anal gang-bangs, and if you must endure forced anal penetration, try to relax your muscles as much as possible. These tactics are not ‘cooperating’ or consenting, they are just common-sense measures to try to save your life.

    ☛ Kochroach & Aleech
    Demonstrations, Protests and Videos about ALEC, KOCH
    Immigrant detention and private prisons…Wed May 18, 2011
    Today many have had their eyes opened regarding the huge profits made off of what is commonly called the “Prison Industrial Complex.” Suddenly awareness has turned from disbelief to anger as taxpayers realize the screwing private prison companies, their lobbyists and elected Legislators have been giving them for more than three decades now.

    ☛ Slavery: Another Fine Product Still Made in the USA
    SLAVERY IS STILL LEGAL in the USA. Contrary to what we may learn in school, the American Civil War did not see the complete abolition of slavery in 1865. The 13th Amendment to their constitution reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime…”

    Great numbers of newly freed blacks were quickly ‘convicted’ and forced to work without pay in state prisons. For those unfortunates all that happened was that ownership of slaves transferred from private parties to the state. Today, with the advent of private, profit-making prisons and prison factories slavery still exists and is moving back to the private sector.

    ☛ Dysfunction Junction, Incarceration Nation

    ☛ One in twenty Americans will spend some part of their life in the prison system

    ☛ False positives from an unreliable $2 drug test kit can send a person to jail:

  18. Servetus says:

    From an article in Truthout by Alex S. Vitale, in light of recent events in Dallas, “The Problem Is Overpolicing ” (no kidding):

    09 July 2016 — Over the last few decades, cities across the country have significantly increased this kind of low-level traffic enforcement as both a form of revenue generation and as part of the war on drugs. There is no evidence this kind of enforcement leads to greater safety on the roads or reduced traffic deaths, and it certainly hasn’t done anything to reduce the availability of drugs. It was also a major factor in Ferguson, Missouri, where black residents felt unjustly targeted for low-level vehicle infractions by the mostly white police department there. Also, when police view a traffic stop as a potential drug bust, they are much more likely to fear for their safety and perceive those they stop as a source of danger, leading to frequent cases of unnecessary force and degrading treatment.(Emphasis mine)


  19. jean valjean says:

    “In Surprise Reversal, Democrats Call for ‘Pathway’ to Marijuana Legalization”

    Bernie Sanders still has the ability to focus Democrats’ attention away from their usual knee jerk prohibitionist inclinations.
    One in the eye for Wasserface.

    • Frank W. says:

      “a bit mealy-mouthed” -and how!

    • DdC says:

      I posted Tom’s article on it on June 26, 2016. Looks like they did”clean up” the language a bit.

      In the laaaaaaand of the freeeeeeee
      and the home, of the, mealy mouthed?

      Democrats Approve Marijuana Platform Plank by Tom Angell
      “We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates.”

      Looks to me like its still going to be a battle at the Convention over TPP, Last I heard Lil Debbie Wasserface is still there. Looks like the CARER Ax to give the monopoly to fat pharma. They admit and removed the wording that it was started on racism and profits for competition industries Yet they can’t fully oppose it. Like letting blacks in Atlanta be free but not the entire state of Georgia.Just in case. If this is opposition to the prohibitionists I’m glad they didn’t fight in the revolution or we would still be speaking with a Cockney accent. Or a Southern drawl if the GOP get all three branches.

  20. Frank W. says:

    2014 article by Lory Kohn that shut me up good (well, it should have):
    “Do you really think that the Obama Administration or its successor is going to turn its back on its petrochemical masters and legalize weed [read repeal prohibition] to appease a bunch of stoners without being forced to by masses of us demanding our herbal rights?
    Oh, that’s exactly what you think. The tipping point theory and all that. Sorry, I forgot.”

  21. DdC says:

    Both parties are led by Neocons. Obama didn’t enforce the CSA certain places. Hilzy says the same. That is not legalizing. But it is better than escalating and destroying what is in place certain places are Wall St employees with a trillion dollar war to profit on and trillions in competition not having to deal with it.

    S#2 or CARER will give fat pharma a monopoly and potential reason for Hilzy to say we don’t need dispensaries. Except the base. That is what makes the difference. The Bernies compared to the teabags the past dozen years shows clearly who is more likely to follow the prohibitionists. Or war mongers. There is no magic in DC, just bullshit and plenty of gullible Americans to spread it on. Moneysluts worshiping the dead trees and ink with old dead white men pictures.

    Cannibals devouring the middle class, serving the Neocon of the country of Earth. No allegiance to the old ways or Constitutions or BoR. A board of directors heading an Army and Cop force. Finally world peace, everybody equal sharing their slavery and wages with 3rd world workers. A large labor pool to pick and choose workers not caring about wages, just a paycheck..

    So the Bernies crowd would be better off with a progressive base regardless of who is in DC. Hilzy needs support from democrats and can’t turn her back on everything or not accomplish anything. Until Science and reality deal with the classification system the state incremental illness is better than nothing which is what past GOP advocated and shut down dispensaries. Some places more than others. I am totally opposed to ALUM giving state cops jurisdiction they don’t have with Prop 215. But if DC won’t deal with reality, it may be another band aid to keep people from prohibition germs. A half assed way to deal with a situation that should have never happened.

  22. Servetus says:

    If Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas really wanted to save his state from future economic collapse–and moral chaos–he might note Arkansas spends less than $10,000 for each of its students while spending more than $20,000 for each prisoner. It’s a bad return on non-investment.

    In the future, someone will make a movie called Escape from Arkansas, featuring Snake Pliskin battling the evil Mr. Big Tom Cotton. In the final scene, Pliskin immobilizes Cotton with a cannabinoid neuralyzer dart from a blowgun that turns Cotton into a peace-loving liberal. Arkansas is saved and its school-children are freed from its awful intellectual prisons. Many students go on to careers in hemp production that eventually replaces the cotton industry in Arkansas.


    • DdC says:

      Jails and prisons are the complement of schools;
      so many less as you have of the latter,
      so many more you must have of the former. —
      ~ Horace Mann

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