If you have been following the wave of concern over mass incarceration
in the U.S. over the last few years, you may have noticed some headlines
that report encouraging numbers: crime rates are down and, while there
is still much work to be done, the rampant incarceration of black and
Latino defendants is also slowing.
But, as the
New York Times recently discovered, there is one anomalous statistic that is rising at
an alarming rate: the incarceration rate of white defendants in rural
conservative communities. In "This small Indiana county sends more
people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?," the
Times examines how this is this troubling trend is fostered and where it has
hurt communities the most.
Drugs, Prosecutors & Judges
If crime rates are universally down and many state and federal officials
more often avoiding prison sentences, why are some communities producing
so many prisoners? The answer is threefold: the prevalence of drugs in
rural communities, county prosecutors that wield more power than their
urban counterparts, and judges who allow the power to stand in the courtroom.
Many of the rising number of convictions in communities like Dearborn County,
IN are drug related. This is due to the epidemic of opioids and heroin
in these communities. However, when people are found with these substances
in other places, say Brooklyn, they may be eligible for drug treatment.
In Dearborn County, they are exposed to up to 12 years of imprisonment or more.
This potential for startlingly high sentences is exasperated by the fact
the county prosecutors and judges actively pursue the toughest penalties
possible—often with little regard to whether or not they are called
for. "I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than
other counties," says Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard.
"My constituents are the people who decide whether I keep doing my
job. The governor can’t make me. The legislature can’t make me."
Bucking National Trends
Perhaps what is so shocking about the
New York Times’ findings is how dramatic they are opposed to larger, national trends.
For instance, from 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions have fallen:
69% in Los Angeles, 37% in Brooklyn, even 93% in San Francisco. In nearly
the same window of time, the number of new black prisoners nationwide
fell by 25%. For Latinos: 30%.
Yet the number of new white prisoners fell by a mere 8%. That lack of improvement
is bolstered by the soaring rates of prison sentences being manufactured
in places like Dearborn country. As Dearborn County defense attorney Douglas
Garner put it: "It’s government run amok."
Are you or a loved one facing a serious criminal charge? If so,
Alan M. Liebowitz, Esq., LLC is ready to hear from you. A dedicated Englewood criminal defense attorney
with more than 25 years of experience, Attorney Liebowitz is well-versed
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