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UMass Amherst LEGAL 397G - LEGAL 397G Lecture Notes

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D E C E M B E R 1 9 9 8Correctional officials see danger in prison overcrowding. Others see opportunity. Thenearly two million Americans behind bars -- the majority of them nonviolent offenders-- mean jobs for depressed regions and windfalls for profiteersby Eric Schlosser(The online version of this article appears in three parts. Click here to go to part two. Click here to go topart three.) N the hills east of Sacramento, California, Folsom State Prisonstands beside a man-made lake, surrounded by granite wallsbuilt by inmate laborers. The gun towers have peaked roofsand Gothic stonework that give the prison the appearance of amedieval fortress, ominous and forbidding. For more than acentury Folsom and San Quentin were the end of the line inCalifornia's penal system; they were the state's onlymaximum-security penitentiaries. During the early 1980s, asCalifornia's inmate population began to climb, Folsom becamedangerously overcrowded. Fights between inmates ended instabbings six or seven times a week. The poor sight lineswithin the old cellblocks put correctional officers at enormousrisk. From 1984 to 1994 California built eight new maximum-security (Level 4) facilities. The bullet holes in the ceilings ofFolsom's cellblocks, left by warning shots, are the last traces of the prison's violent years. Today Folsom is a medium-security (Level 2) facility, filled with the kind of inmates that correctional officers consider "soft." No one has been stabbed to death at Folsom in almost four years. Among its roughly 3,800 inmates are some 500 murderers, 250 child molesters, and an assortment of rapists, armed robbers, drug dealers, burglars, and petty thieves. The cells in Housing Unit 1 are stacked five stories high, like boxes in a vast warehouse; glimpses of hands and arms and faces, of flickering TV screens, are visible between the steel bars. Folsom now houses almost twice as many inmates as it was designed to hold. The machine shop at the prison, run by inmates, manufactures steel frames for double bunks -- and triple bunks -- in addition to license plates.Less than a quarter mile from the old prison is the California State Prison at Sacramento, known as "New Folsom," which houses about 3,000 Level 4 inmates. They are the real hard cases: violent predators, gang members, prisoners unable to "program" well at other facilities, unable to obey the rules. New Folsom does not have granite walls. It has a "death-wire electrified fence,"set between two ordinary chain-link fences, that administers a lethal dose of 5,100 volts at the slightest touch. The architecture of New Folsom is stark and futuristic. The buildings have smooth gray concrete façades, unadorned except for narrow slits for cell windows. Approximately a third of the inmates are serving life sentences; more than a thousand have committed at least one murder, nearly 500 have committed armed robbery,and nearly 200 have committed assault with a deadly weapon.Inmates were placed in New Folsom while it was still under construction. The prison wasbadly overcrowded even before it was finished, in 1987. It has at times housed more than 300 inmates in its gymnasiums. New Folsom -- like old Folsom, and like the rest of the California prison system -- now operates at roughly double its intended capacity. Over thepast twenty years the State of California has built twenty-one new prisons, added thousands of cells to existing facilities, and increased its inmate population eightfold. Nonviolent offenders have been responsible for most of that increase. The number of drug offenders imprisoned in the state today is more than twice the number of inmates who were imprisoned for all crimes in 1978. California now has the biggest prison system in the Western industrialized world, a system 40 percent bigger than the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The state holds more inmates in its jails andprisons than do France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan,Singapore, and the Netherlands combined. The CaliforniaDepartment of Corrections predicts that at the current rate ofexpansion, barring a court order that forces a release of prisoners,it will run out of room eighteen months from now. Simply toremain at double capacity the state will need to open at least onenew prison a year, every year, for the foreseeable future. Today the United States has approximately 1.8 million peoplebehind bars: about 100,000 in federal custody, 1.1 million in statecustody, and 600,000 in local jails. Prisons hold inmatesconvicted of federal or state crimes; jails hold people awaiting trial or serving short sentences. The United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world -- perhaps half a million more than Communist China. The American inmate population has grown so large that it is difficult to comprehend: imagine the combined populations of Atlanta, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, and Miami behind bars. "We have embarked on a great social experiment," says Marc Mauer, the author of the upcoming book The Race to Incarcerate. "No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own citizens for the purpose of crime control." The prison boom in the United States is a recent phenomenon. Throughout the first three quarters of this century the nation's incarceration rate remained relatively stable, at about 110 prison inmates for every 100,000 people. In the mid-1970s the rate began to climb, doubling in the 1980s and then again in the 1990s. The rate is now 445 per 100,000; among adult menit is about 1,100 per 100,000. During the past two decades roughly a thousand new prisons and jails have been built in the United States. Nevertheless, America's prisons are more overcrowded now than when the building spree began, and the inmate population continues to increase by 50,000 to 80,000 people a year.Documentingthe Prison-IndustrialComplexA series ofphotographs byAndrewLichtenstein.The economist and legal scholar Michael K. Block, who believes that American sentencing policies are still not harsh enough, offers a straightforward explanation for why the United States has lately incarcerated so many people: "There are too many prisoners because there are too many criminals committing too many crimes." Indeed, thenation's prisons now hold about 150,000 armed robbers, 125,000 murderers, and 100,000 sex offenders -- enough violent criminals to populate a medium-sized city such as Cincinnati. Few would dispute the need to remove these people from


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