Abolitionists and the Prison System

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new kind of abolitionists. They want to abolish prisons and those aspects of the government that make prisons possible including having police departments. Of course all abolitionists are not alike and some have more rigid expectations while others seem to have more realizable goals. And neither is it a recent phenomenon. It may date back to the 60’s with the ideas of Angela Davis and with the work of trail blazers like Ruth Wilson Gilmore. What gave this movement flight however was CNN host Van Jones suggesting several years ago that the prison population should be cut by half. Then he was criticized but things have sufficiently changed he is now hailed. What is new is that many committed to reform the criminal justice system have endorsed some of the abolitionists’ ideas. Closing Riker’s Island prison in New York City for example was once thought ridiculous, but it no longer is. Besides incarceration, probation is also being looked at including the possible use of ATM-like machines through which people could check in without having to report to a probation officer. Other ideas that seem to have traction are what crimes should be prosecuted as well as the seeking of out of court remedies. Still another idea filtering through to a more general acceptance is that the system as it is creates harm seriously mitigating whatever public safety it yields. Those who work toward criminal justice reform from within the system can be frustrated by die-hard abolitionists who would want to not only abolish the whole structure but redirect the monies spent on it.  But an outsider like me can be indebted to both for instigating long overdue reforms and looking to continue reforming a system that is no longer serving the society, and much less the human beings caught within it.

Access To Justice

About two thirds of the world’s population, 5.1 billion do not have access to justice. Of these, 1.5 billion or one in five, have been left with justice issues they are not able to solve. That could be a land dispute, being the victim of a crime or a consumer debt.  These figures come from a new report issued by The Task Force on Justice. The report indicates that 253 million people live with extreme injustice and are deprived of legal protections. They comprise 40 million modern day slaves, 12 million stateless, 200 million who live in countries which are so insecure seeking any kind of justice is not possible. The report points out not only the advantages of providing justice but also the fact that as a human right along with education and health care, it is actually cheaper. In low income countries, where most of the lack to access to justice exists, it costs $20 per person, universal primary and secondary education $41 and healthcare at least $76.  These figures would certainly increase for the developed world, but the message that providing justice to those who need it is cheaper than we think remains.

It’s so easy to forget that providing justice is part of the infrastructure of security in any country, and that infrastructure is necessary for prosperity, a prosperity which in turn provides citizens with a modicum of quality of life.

Broken Capitalism

The Guardian has been running a series they call Broken Capitalism, and have featured articles about Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan. Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway or Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s biggest hedge fund. Suddenly these and others have become aware that the way capitalism is currently practiced will soon affect their bottom line and possibly their future. It is not yet clear how serious they are in fixing capitalism, in making it more equal and in addressing the economic inequalities of our society, but the mere fact they are acknowledging it is hopeful. What I found of note in the article about Ray Dalio are the figures which are prompting his interest. Here they are.

  • 40% of Americans would struggle to raise $400 for an emergency.
  • The childhood poverty rate is 17.5% and has not meaningfully improved in decades.
  • In the developed world the US scores lower than any country (except for Italy and Greece) in educational achievement.
  • The US incarceration rate is nearly 5 times the average of developed countries and 3 times that of emerging ones.
  • For the bottom 60% premature deaths have increased about 20% since 2000.

Women In The World

It’s not enough to have International Women’s Day, it’s necessary to remember why it’s needed, and do so sufficiently frequently so that it might allow us to make a difference. Here are a few statistics that may direct our attention and efforts:

  • At minimum 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation
  • More than 130 million women and girls did not attend school in 2016
  • 750 million women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18
  • 5000 women and girls globally were murdered for having “dishonored” their families
  • 50% of people with HIV today are women
  • 23.7%  is the portion of women representatives in national parliaments worldwide
  • 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same jobs as men
  • Women have never been Secretary General of the UN, Archbishop of Canterbury, Catholic priests, Prime Minister of Belgium, the Netherlands or Spain, governor of the Bank of England and of course President of the United States