In staring at the United States of America, the mother of all statistics horrific, the rest of the world’s nations can see the future if we do not change course. America jails one in four of the world’s incarcerated and has the widest divide between rich and poor, is abominably harsh on its poor and homeless. The USA is the mother of all jailers, a ruthless meritocracy that leaves behind its most vulnerable. The moral abominations of the United States are an unnecessary evil that we should steer our course well away from.
Twenty-five per cent of the world’s prisoners are in American jails, one in five of all the prisoners in the world. America has jailed nearly one per cent of its total population, nearly three million Americans, while nearly three per cent of its population is currently before the criminal justice system. No other nation on this earth compares even closely.
President Barack Obama in the tailings of his stretch as leader of the world’s most influentially subversive nation on this planet, lamented recently that his nation is home to five per cent of the world’s population but jails 25 per cent of the world’s prison population.
“America keeps more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined,” said President Obama.
“Mass incarceration doesn’t work. Let’s build communities that give kids a shot at success and prisons that prepare people for a 2nd chance.”
If only he dedicated his two-term presidential tenure to such ends.
“We could eliminate tuition (fees) at every public college and university in America with the $80 billion we spend each year on incarcerations.”
Like any nation with comparatively recent oppressor histories, America’s extreme poverty is racialised. African-Americans wholesale disproportionately endure the worst poverty. They are disproportionately represented and hung out to dry at the bottom rung of economic inequalities and not even assimilation is an attainable avenue for them to the hoodwink of the American dream. They are jailed at six times the rate of the rest of the population, making up nearly 40 per cent of the American prison population while they comprise less than 15 per cent of the American total population. Racial inequalities – and racism – are intertwined with historical economic inequalities. These power relations, because they are of the economic underlying, cannot be redressed without affirmative economic actions.
Racism – a disguise for oppression – continues when there is an ongoing rejection of redressing past wrongs in entirety. This means addressing the economic inequalities. Colonisation is nothing more than the forcible occupation of another people’s land. Racism is a tool for the purpose to exploit. By the end of the end of the 18th century two-thirds of the world was ‘colonised’ by Europeans and ‘racism’ was used to justify the dispossession of peoples of their lands and then to keep them downtrodden so as not to pose a threat to the new order. Someone’s colour as a marker of difference between people manifest from the express purpose to justify dispossession. We need to deconstruct the oppressor, shifting the industry of research from the oppressed.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, in 2012 there were 4,309 deaths in prisons while the leading cause of death was suicide. The majority of these suicides were actually White lives. The American penal estate is purely punitive, with long sentences and a dire sense of hopelessness. In contrast, Finland and Sweden have small prison populations, shorter sentences and focus on rehabilitative practices and hence have Europe’s lowest reoffending rates. There has got to be the opportunity for hope, for redemption, there has got to be the opportunity to improve one’s lot so lives can be changed, lives saved. Without light at the end of the tunnel of course people will suicide, self-destruct, harden as criminals, re-offend.
American prison and local jail suicides have come somewhat under the microscope because of the tragic death of Sandra Bland – who may have been murdered despite an alleged history of suicidal ideation. Ms Bland was found hanging in a Texas jail cell after being outrageously arrested following failing to indicate a lane change. Police should not be able to arrest anyone for the most minor of offences. This death followed the alleged suicide of a Black Lives Matter protester, Kindra Chapman after she too was arrested in Alabama. In between these alleged suicides Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a Lakota woman, allegedly suicided in a South Dakota jail cell. What would lead these women to suicide when in the prime of life, when fighting injustice, when it was not likely they would spend much time in jail even if they had been ludicrously hit with convictions? If we are to accept they suicided then we have to ask why? Does the liability of ‘race’ get to people? Is there a bleak sense of hopelessness that one feels? Do the situational and composite traumas of the cruel dichotomy of the oppressor and the oppressed just become too much?
From the beginning of their lives they have been haunted by racialised narratives of human suffering and misery, of historical and contemporary injustices; that they are coloured and that they are oppressed. For many this is a lived experience and the racialisation, and racism is disturbingly haunting.
When suicide is the leading cause of death for those in custody then we have to ask why. Ms Bland was only 28, a university graduate and who was about to start a job at her university.
We can corral conversation on why America is jailing so many, why so many are suiciding in jails, and drop in the self-responsibility mantra. America’s police are militarised. But in the end it is only going to get worse. The future for the American nation is one of even more acute economic inequalities. The problem is the economic inequalities and the ruthless meritocracy. Of the world’s nations, the USA is one of the least egalitarian nations – it does not believe in equality, just in open slather.
Problem with America is it is fundamentally an open slather ruthless meritocracy and which wreaks havoc the world over. The USA has no boundaries not with the extreme economic inequalities within its borders and similarly so with the subversion and wars it relentlessly inflicts the world over. The USA should be considered by the rest of the world as the future that no one should want.