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Crossposted on 43rd State Blues

"You don't have to worry about nothin' out here."

I have heard that phrase dozens of times from fellow transplants to my area, who came from big city areas.

"Watch out if you are ever in Nampa or Caldwell."

That warning also has been given to me dozens of times. It has always come from native Idahoans.

If you’ve noticed a decline over the last few years in the number of stories in this newspaper about violent gang-related crimes, give yourself a gold star. The Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office confirms that the number of such crimes has been on the decline.

reads today's editorial in the Idaho Press Tribune.

Two different perceptions stringently persist, yet neither is entirely true.

The area including Nampa and Caldwell Idaho, about 20 miles east of Boise, had gained a sort of stigma over time as a dangerous place that was infested with gangs, drugs, and drive-bys.

Of course, those of us who live here know that perception was off base. Even when violent gang-related crimes made headlines on a regular basis, most of that was gang-on-gang activity. Other than property crimes such as graffiti, most gang-related crime — especially the violent kind — is gang-on-gang. And most of us have had no reason to fear going for a walk in our neighborhoods or worrying about our safety.

But with the help of federal funding, local law enforcement put an added emphasis on gangs and street crimes. This focus netted indictments of more than 50 gang members this year alone — many of them the “top brass” in those gangs, according to Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor.

Q. What kind of children get involved in gangs?
A. The kind with nothing better to do.

That is why I was also happy to see the Press Tribune report that Caldwell’s community policing program is credited for having a strong impact on gang activity.

Nonetheless:

Gang membership and recruitment is still an issue here. According to the Nampa Police Department, there are 583 documented gang members in the city, a number that has been increasing. But once a gang member is on the list, he or she remains there for a minimum of five years — not counting any time spent in incarceration. Therefore, it’s difficult to make short-term evaluations on gang membership trends based entirely on the official number of documented gang members. In an effort to curtail gang recruitment, the Idaho Legislature in 2006 passed the Idaho Criminal Gang Enforcement Act, sponsored by Sens. John McGee of Caldwell and Patti Anne Lodge of Huston. That stiffened the penalties for gang-related felonies and outlawed gang recruiting.

The delicate balance between a war on gangs and a war on communities is an ongoing and fluid challenge.

On the one hand, too much kicking in doors, storming low-income housing units, and rolling young people (usually of color) up like pretzels in handcuffs as they lay on the street for patdowns and arrests -- gives those branded as gang members great incentive to fight back -- and they rise to the occasion. This extreme provides great clips for the media. Result: gangs grow stronger, kids get "street cred," and police end up looking bullies who pick on children.

This dynamic was evident several years ago in Salt Lake City, prompting an assistant chief at the time to disband the "gang unit" and take a different approach.

Are we fighting gangs? Fighting Drugs? Or fighting someone else's children? In Idaho, the perception of fighting a community, specifically Mexican immigrants, is a dangerous slope to go down, one that local agencies need to strenuously avoid.

On the other hand, when authorities don't fight crime well enough, such neglect hurts those who are most vulnerable, since most gang-related offenses are against victims in poor communities.

On July 1, a new Idaho law will take effect that will add more crimes under the umbrella of the gang-enforcement statute and increase prison time for gang-related offenses, the Press Tribune reports.

But has the prison industry has become a predatory entity, as Demico Booth writes?

"During the last two decades ... state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education." - naacp.org

Booth writes about black men, but the social dynamics he analyzes can also be applied to our discussion of Idaho's Mexican community.

Do minorities commit more crimes than whites? Is that why there are more of them in jail? Or are minorities caught, convicted and jailed more often (and for longer sentences) than their white peers?

On April 7th, the NAACP released a new report, Misplaced Priorities, that examines America's escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children, according to naacp.org.

Misplaced Priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. Researchers have found that over-incarceration most often impacts vulnerable and minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities.

The report is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe Campaign,” and offers a set of recommendations that will help policymakers in all 50 states downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.

The report includes these startling facts:

• The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.

• The nation’s reliance on incarceration to respond to social and behavioral health issues is evidenced by the large numbers of people who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Among people in federal prisons, people in local jails, and young people held in the nation’s detention centers and local secure facilities, more than 500,000 people— nearly a quarter of all those incarcerated—are incarcerated as the result of a drug conviction.

• During the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education.

"When Idaho’s legislature reluctantly reached into its pockets for money this year, it gave colleges and universities a buck. Then it dug back in and handed the prison system 75 cents," reads a recent editorial in the Idaho State Journal.

The state’s universities were told to tap students for any extra funds they needed to provide higher educational opportunities. They swallowed a 7 percent decrease in funding and were given $209 million. However, the budgetary cell door didn’t slam shut on the Department of Corrections. It received a 5.3 percent increase in state money or $155.6 million.

A television ad campaign sponsored by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation urges Idaho’s students to “Go On” and enroll in post secondary programs after high school. It's message: "The future belongs to the educated."

However:

There’s a dark side to the awareness campaign ... It says Idaho is number one in the nation — for students who don’t complete a two- or four-year degree program. In other words, we’re last in the nation in the race to achieve a higher education. ... However, there is one statistic where we are above the national average and well above our neighboring states. Idaho incarcerated 5 percent more people per 100,000 than the national average in 2009, according to government statistics. And that’s no small feat. America incarcerates more people on average than any other country in the world. Russia is ranked number two. ... Compared to our neighboring states, Idaho locks people up with a vengeance. Utah is 48 percent below the national average; Washington, 40 percent; Oregon, 16 percent; Montana, 17 percent; and Wyoming, 13 percent below. ... Being above the national curve in prisoners per hundred thousand says something about priorities. Between 1987 and 2007, the U.S. prison population tripled. Though our nation has but 5 percent of the world’s population, it locks up 25 percent of those behind bars. The resolve to keep one in 99 people locked up costs money.

Even though treatment has proven, time and again, to be cost effective, we still read statistics like this one:

A solid share of the responsibility for prison growth and costs has been given to the nation’s war on drugs and its stiff prison sentences. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, about 24 percent of all prisoners were convicted of drug-related charges. ... Idaho instituted a drug court program in 2001 to reduce offender recidivism through education and counseling. Working with a jail population where nearly 40 percent are high school dropouts, the program has enjoyed success. But, it receives a small part of the corrections funding pie. A study by the Pew Center shows the lion’s share of corrections funds, $8.70 out of every $10, goes to incarceration and prison financing in Idaho. ... Meeting expenses is killing investments. Keeping an Idaho prisoner behind bars costs the state 3.6 times more than educating one child. Although Idaho ranks 49th in per capita student spending, our legislature continues to cut funding for K-12 education. State support for Idaho colleges and universities has fallen 27 percent in the past two years.

One of my community college students, Shami Yakovac, wrote:

I can also tell you that Idaho puts people away for way too long on drug crimes. I spent 6 years on a possession charge. I needed help not prison but that chance was never offered. I spent time with people who had taken lives with manslaughter and child abuse or molestation. They ALL had a lot shorter sentence then I did. I honestly believe it was needless because now that I have had some rehabilitation and been given some tools, I'm fine. I begged for help 7 years ago and got nothing but a chance to waste the taxpayers money!

The Journal concludes:

It’s nice to encourage Idaho’s youth to “Go On.” It’s cruel if we don’t adequately fund something to go on to — besides prison.

Originally posted to The Book Bear on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 06:59 AM PDT.

Also republished by White Privilege Working Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  For further study: (5+ / 0-)

    Race, Incarceration, and American Values by Glenn C. Loury:

    With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of those who are imprisoned. What does that say about American values? asks economist Loury. Those statistics suggest that the U.S. is a punitive society targeting its punishment disproportionately more often at the poor and racial minorities, stigmatizing huge segments of the population, Loury asserts. - from Booklist

  •  the prison... (6+ / 0-)

    ...has perhaps become to America what the stadium was to Rome.  Our monument, our civic center, and an expresson of our deepest understanding of communal endeavor.  When we withdraw from countries occupied, we will leave behind...big prisons.  

    And don't forget...people who have gone to prison -- which is a much bigger number than the current population in prison -- can't vote, get hired in most all jobs, or obtain housing which requires a background check (all housing, pretty much, that isn't informally arranged).  It isn't just predatory on the front end, it is a permanent undercaste.

    I think its most predatory in how it monetizes the poor.  What is a poor black or brown kid worth to society in terms of dollars loaned and businesses built?  If he or she is a prisoner, they are the foundation of loans for prison building, construction gigs to make the prison, jobs for guards, and a police force to keep removing them from a society they can't get entry to.

    I don't think it will change though.  At this point it is deep in our cultural DNA.  

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 08:00:35 AM PDT

    •  Powerful! (4+ / 0-)
      What is a poor black or brown kid worth to society in terms of dollars loaned and businesses built?  If he or she is a prisoner, they are the foundation of loans for prison building, construction gigs to make the prison, jobs for guards, and a police force to keep removing them from a society they can't get entry to.

      You've pegged it and they are projecting the number of prisons we need based on school performance on children as young as 8 and 9.  It is commodification of systemic failure for profile.  Excellent observation.

      I for one am tired of pandering to perpetrators --- many of whom are opposed to any discussion however it comes. -- soothsayer99 DPK Caucus

      by princss6 on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 08:31:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  To quote David Simon: (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        princss6, jessical, oysterface, conlakappa
        There's an America that America doesn't need. Either the middle class is becoming affluent and voting up to their pocketbooks, or they're slipping into poverty. People are not ascending to the middle class, and that was what used to make the country great.

        We do not need ten percent of our population. The economy is fine, and half the African‑American males in Baltimore don't have jobs. So what are we training these kids for? We're training them for nothing. We're training them for the drug corner, and they know it. The corner is the new Bethlehem Steel.

        I couldn't find the original article. I didn't want to link to this source since it featured only some of the text.

      •  sadly, a fairly obvious one... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        oysterface, princss6, soothsayer99

        ...I don't know what more people can hear that will change their minds.  

        My guess is that budgetary arguments (it costs too much to simply dispose of some significant percentage of citizens) and appeals to fairness (it is in fact a new Jim Crow, a GI bill in reverse) will carry further than an analysis based on cui bono.  The best I hope for at this point is that (a) municipalities, states, and the federal government will decide that the present net cost of incarceration and relentless prosecution breaks the bank, to spite the money in them thar humans, and (b) we at least start to return education to prisons, and create real opprotunities for those who have been processed by the system.  Long term monetization requires planning like bridges or universities do, and it isn't infinite bandwidth.  So even California reaches a limit, and places like WA (my current home state) tend to put other projects first.  

        Sometimes it feels like the narrative of relentless meanness will always win.  And sometimes it seems like there is a ray of hope.  Mean isn't the only American narrative, though it certainly holds sway now.

        ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

        by jessical on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 09:01:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Some people belong in prison (0+ / 0-)

      Despite what some people here think there are are some people who belong behind bars. People who rape, molest, assault, kill, maim, shoot, stab, and attack other people belong in jail.

      •  reflect on the numbers... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        soothsayer99, princss6

        ...and the length of the sentences, and what your goal is.

        Somehow, the rest of the world seems to make do with much shorter sentences, education programs in prison, and a very different sentencing structure.  Are americans THAT much more evil than the rest of the world?

        WTF do you want?  Endless vengance?  

        ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

        by jessical on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 11:31:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I want violent people incarcerated so they (0+ / 0-)

          can't ever harm another human being ever again. Some people here don't want to believe that there are some criminals who can't be rehabilitated. There are sociopaths out there who have no remorse for other people and won't ever change because they don't think they have a problem. I want those people behind bars. They forfeit whatever rights to freedom they had once they violate another human being.

          I could support offering nonviolent drug offenders opportunities to avoid jail if they complete a treatment program and don't reoffend. I could even support extending such programs to people who commit nonviolent crimes like stealing and so forth.

          But I draw the line, though, when it comes to prisoner who have commit violent crimes. Despite what the "prison abolition" activists say, who, in my opinion, are just woefully naive about human nature, there are people who are too much of a risk to ever be let out into society again.

          •  anything violent? really? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            princss6

            Wow.  

            How do you parse societies like Rwanda?  Or South Africa?  

            There are indeed people like that.  But putting everyone who as ever been violent in jail forever is, imnsho, insane, if that is what you are proposing.  And proposing that people released from prison forfeit certain human rights forever, based on what they did, is a recipie for hell.  One you perhaps find quite agreeable?

            I have known some people who have done horrible shit.  I have known other people who the world would simply be better without.  The groups are in no sense an identity.

            ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

            by jessical on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 11:51:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I am talking about the more extreme violent (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              jessical

              crimes like murder, aggravated assault, rape, child molestation, and so forth. Someone who gets into a bar fight is different.

              It honestly depends on how brutal the crime is, but I don't want a rapist or murderer easily released.

              •  Well, no, of course not n/t (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                princss6

                ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

                by jessical on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 11:54:49 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Note that we have a relatively low crime rate (0+ / 0-)

                  ... one could argue (or not) that our high incarceration rate is related to that.

                  Crime has been dropping for decades.

                  Homicide rates - the same

                  We still outclass most other "civilized" countries in our high homicide rate, but when it comes to part I crimes in general, we are doing a lot better than many.

                  I think our destructive drug war needs to be fixed, but that's another issue.

                  Regardless, realistically speaking, the streets are far safer than they've been in a very long time.

                  Heck, San Diego just hit their lowest homicide rate since 1968.
                   

  •  Republished to the White Privilege Working Group. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jessical, oysterface, Rustbelt Dem

    Will come back to comment in a few.  Nicely done.

    Oh and following by the way!  

    I for one am tired of pandering to perpetrators --- many of whom are opposed to any discussion however it comes. -- soothsayer99 DPK Caucus

    by princss6 on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 08:08:18 AM PDT

  •  I question the long term benefit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    princss6, speak2me, oysterface

    of community raids like this. Is it a good idea to sweep through a neighborhood and remove dozens of males who might have only simple bench warrants to their name? Doesn't that make it harder for women and single moms to support themselves?

    If you commit a crime, the law says you're punished and/or "rehabilitated," I get that. It just seems like you're planting the seeds of more and greater crime down the road by aggressively sweeping through and rounding up "the usual suspects."

    •  You mean actions have consequences? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oysterface

      No one involved in sweeps like this thinks about the fact that women will be left on their own with children, or even worse, children will be left without the most responsible adult in their lives.

      I worked with a kindergarten child a few years ago who was 'helping' his family by asking my research assistants and me if we smoked pot. Because, if we did, his dad would sell us some. To this child, these types of interactions with adults were normal. I took a walk outside the school grounds with the security officer and asked him about this kid and his family. The security officer told me the dad was the most stable adult around, had felonies, and was selling pot because that was the only way he had to make enough money to provide a home for his kids. The kids came to school everyday, they were clean, and appeared well-fed. The dad came to every meeting the teachers requested.

      Would sending the dad back into the justice system really have improved the kids' lives?

    •  It depends on what they're charged with (0+ / 0-)

      If it is a nonviolent crime you have a point. But if the males are suspects in violent crimes I have no problem with them being swept up.

  •  I'm sorry but those who commit violent (0+ / 0-)

    crimes belong in jail. I gladly support efforts to offer alternatives to young people so they don't join gangs. I think more money should go in that direction.

    But those who violently hurt, rape, assault, and kill other people belong in prison. I know the "prison abolition" advocates don't want to believe that there are some people who belong behind bars, but there are some people who can't be "rehabilitated".

    This is also one reason why inner-city schools are in bad shape. Students are afraid for their own safety. If I were the principal of such a school I would identify the most disruptive students, the ones with extensive records of violence, and remove them. That way the kids who would want to learn and want to do something with their lives can attend school without having to worry about their safety.

    Additionally I would take it one step further. I'd have these kids' parents charged with neglect or as accessories for their children's behavior. If they raise children who run wild and hurt others they should also face accountability. That way, if these parents had to face consequences, I bet their children would shape up more quickly.

    •  Thanks oceanstar (0+ / 0-)
      I gladly support efforts to offer alternatives to young people so they don't join gangs. I think more money should go in that direction (empasis mine).

      But those who violently hurt, rape, assault, and kill other people belong in prison.

      You have come close to summarizing the point of my entire entry.

      •  I fully support after school programs, mentoring, (0+ / 0-)

        and other efforts that provide solid alternatives so that kids don't join gangs. I fully support creating scholarships so that these kids can attend college and find other opportunities.

        But I have zero tolerance for those who harm and commit violent acts against other people. I get lots of pushback from the "prison abolition" activists here, but those who commit extremely violent crimes belong in jail.

    •  Y'know, it's not just violent crime (0+ / 0-)

      Property thieves do a LOT of harm, and not surprisingly they often harm poorer people far more.

      A burglarly to a well-off upper middle class family?  They usually have insurance to cover the loss.

      Contrast with the struggling working class family who worked hard to get their kids some nice christmas bicycles and they get ripped off.  You have no idea the sadness I have seen from victims of property crime, not to mention the sense of being violated, when the inner sanctum of their home was invaded while they were away at work.

      These people are fucking predators.  They may try to avoid violence, and good for that, but they still prey on other people's hard work and sense of security.

      I've seen people with only liability coverage and one car to get back and forth to work, the store, etc. get their car stolen.  How do you think that affects them?

      Yes, violent criminals need to be locked up.  But predatory fucking thieves (and yes, I don't like what they do at all) don't exactly fill me with lightness and happiness either.

      The average law abiding person is far far far far more likely to be victimized by a car thief, burglar, etc. than be a victim of violent crime.  And the effect on their well being, their kids well being, sense of safety and security, quality of life, etc. cannot be understated

      Let's not give the thieves a pass here, thanks

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