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New York Times Profiles Hidden Incarceration Epidemic

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 in the challenges the accused face in our criminal justice system and how to best protect their rights and interests throughout every phase of their case.

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