Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Is there no limit to the meanness of NC legislators?

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, NC by helenofmarlowe on June 19, 2012

I’d go along with some limits on the kinds of TV inmates could see.   I’d go along with allowing only PBS or only The History Channel, or The Nature Channel, or BBC.   There is much evidence, after all, that movies and video games affect our behavior. If there were a Jane Austen channel, I’d go along with a bill to let them watch only that (dreaming here).  But this?

RALEIGH, N.C.

A divided House committee agreed Wednesday to prohibit North Carolina death-row prisoners from watching television despite the warning by Central Prison’s warden that removing TVs could increase violence among the condemned inmates. (The Associated Press, June 6, 2012 )

I’d like to suggest that our legislators read Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying.   Read Gaines’s lesson in how a condemned prisoner should be treated.  Do our legislators know or care that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world? Are Americans really more evil than citizens of any other country, or is there some other reason – such as profits for the private prison industry – that the US fills its prisons with (mostly black) non-violent unfortunates? 730 per 100,000 citizens.  More than Russia or El Salvador or Rwanda. Our 730 per 100,000 compares to 333 in Iran, 310 in South Africa, 160 in Saudi Arabia, 129 per 100,000 in Australia, 30 per 100,00 in India. Are people in America 24 times more dangerous than people in India?

After our legislators read A Lesson Before Dying, they might start on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The facts about mass incarceration in America are hard to take, but really should be a part or our national conversation.

In The New Jim Crow, we learn, if we didn’t already know, that a life sentence for a first-time drug offense is unheard of in the rest of the developed world.    “Remarkably, in the US, a life sentence is deemed perfectly appropriate for a first-time drug offender.” (page 89)  Mandatory life sentences are used in the US for non-violent offenders for crimes other countries consider to be minor.    “In fact, fifty years to life was the actual sentence given to Leandro Andrade, whose sentence for stealing videotapes was upheld by the supreme court.” (p. 90).

When I read a book like this, and then hear people say they’re proud to be Americans, I want to respond, Then you’re not paying attention.

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