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by Peter Moskos

January 25, 2012

The more things change... January 25, 1830

Don't worry, the Department has your back! Yeah, right.
No Police Constable shall take proceedings at law or by indictment for an assault upon himself, unless he has previously obtained leave in writing from the Commissioners. The Superintendents will in each case inquire into the circumstances, and report their opinion upon it to the Commissioners. The Constables will understand that their interests and safety are best consulted by a check being thus given to unnecessary or vexatious prosecutions, while they will at all times be efficiently protected by every legal means, in cases that require prosecution.

Source: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. 1836. London: W. Clowes & Sons.

January 24, 2012

Couldn't have said it better myself!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I was flattered enough to send this letter to the New Yorker:
To the Editor,

As a long-time New Yorker subscriber, I was thrilled to see Adam Gopnik’s recent article, “The Caging of America.” I appreciate Mr. Gopnik bringing this important subject to the attention of the New Yorker’s readers (and I couldn’t agree more with his overall points).

Incarceration is a theme I am quite interested in. So much so, in fact, that I wrote a book on the subject, In Defense of Flogging (Basic Books, 2011). Mr. Gopnik may have come across my book in the course of his research as it seems to me that he referenced my book numerous times in his article.

Perhaps I am too familiar with the subject, but many of his phrases bear a uncomfortable resemblance to my own published work (examples follow). At the very least, it would have been nice to be acknowledged.

Professor Peter Moskos
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

1) The US prison/Soviet gulag comparison.

“The Caging of America”: Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.

In Defense of Flogging:
Stalin, at the height of the Soviet gulag, had fewer prisoners than America.

2) The US City of Incarceration.

“The Caging of America”:
That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

In Defense of Flogging:
If we condensed our nationwide penal system into a single city, it would be the fourth largest city in America, with a population more than Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco combined.

3) The baseball stadium analogy.

“The Caging of America”: Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement.

In Defense of Flogging:
At a sold-out baseball game in Chicago, forty-one thousand people can watch the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Two-point-three million is more than fifty-six sold-out ballgames.

4) The bathroom.

“The Caging of America”: (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.)

In Defense of Flogging: Consider one California inmates account of prison life: “I live in a bathroom with another man, rarely see my loved ones, Im surrounded by killers and thieves.”

5) Rape as comic fodder.

“The Caging of America”: More than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy.

In Defense of Flogging: Approximately one in twenty prison inmates say they’ve been sexually assaulted by other inmates or staff in the past year.... And yet we still joke about prison rape. ... comedian Chris Rock popularized an account.

6) Prisoners as disappeared.

“The Caging of America”: We lock men up and forget about their existence.

In Defense of Flogging: Troublesome people are out of sight and out of mind—picked up off the street and all but disappeared.

7) Marion prison lockdown.

“The Caging of America”: Then, in 1983, inmates at the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered two guards. Inmates had been (very occasionally) killing guards for a long time, but the timing of the murders, and the fact that they took place in a climate already prepared to believe that even ordinary humanity was wasted on the criminal classes, meant that the entire prison was put on permanent lockdown. A century and a half after absolute solitary first appeared in American prisons, it was reintroduced.

In Defense of Flogging: Things changed, however, in 1983, when inmates in Marion Prison killed two guards in two separate incidents on the same day. Marion immediately went on lockdown and remained there—for the next twenty-three years.... Reincarnated after nearly a century’s absence, the concept of near-total isolation spread from Marion, Illinois, to the world.

8) Drug offenders to embezzlers.

“The Caging of America”: Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two.

In Defense of Flogging: Certainly mere drug offenders should not be kept in prison, nor should white-collar criminals. Bernard Madoff, famously convicted in 2009 for running a massive Ponzi scheme, is being incarcerated and costing the public even more money. Why? He’s no threat to society.

9) “Natural rate of incarceration”

“The Caging of America”: The natural rate of incarceration seems to hover right around a hundred men per hundred thousand people.

In Defense of Flogging: We might consider 100 per 100,000 a somewhat “natural” rate of incarceration. [A phrase I believe I coined.]
And in case you're wondering, this image has been blatantly stolen from Gawker.

January 23, 2012

Richard Branson on the Drug War

From the Telegraph:
For all the successes I’ve had in business, I’ve also learnt to accept when things go wrong, work out why, and try to find a better way. The war on drugs is a failed enterprise. We need to have the courage to learn the lessons and move on.

[thanks to Menczel]

January 16, 2012

The more things change... January 16, 1830

After this date no Police Constable is permitted to apply for a warrant to apprehend any person for an assault upon him (the Constable) without first reporting the case to his Superintendent, and getting his permission in writing to make such application.

Source: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. 1836. London: W. Clowes & Sons.

[I'm on break. Regular blogging will resume in February.]

January 13, 2012

Please stop acting like "idiots and assholes"

The solution to all crime? Philadelphia Mayor Nutter hits the nail on the head: "The first way to stop this kind of stuff is for young people to home, where they're supposed to be home, and for adults not to act like idiots and asshole out in the streets of our city."

Kind of like in 2008 when he said after the Phillies won the World Series, "You can be joyous, you cannot be a jackass." Fair enough.

[thanks to Alex]

30-1 caught

The original suspect from New Years, who escaped when another guy sucker-punched the arresting officer, was caught.

January 12, 2012

The more things change... January 12, 1830

The Superindendents of division will always in future, during Sessions, send into this office a list of the names and numbers of the men who are obliged to attend the Sessions the follow day, and a Serjeant will always take care to be sufficiently early at the Session-house, and each man will report to him his arrival and the nature of his business; the Serjeant will then endeavour to ascertain as nearly as possible how long each man is likely to be detained, and will make a note of the hour at which the business of each is finished, and will then order him to return to his duty.

In the evening the Serjeant will send to the Superintendent of each division, in writing, the name of each man of that division who attended, and the hour at which he ought to have returned to his duty.

Source: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. 1836. London: W. Clowes & Sons.

[I'm on break. Regular blogging will resume in February.]

January 5, 2012

Tough Baltimore arrest

Monument and Rose. 325 Post. Cop gets sucker punched trying to take a guy into custody.

Anybody know if the original 30-1 got away? Was he backing up time? (email me at mail@petermoskos.com if you don't want to post a public comment.)

30-2 is lucky he didn't end up like like "Fat Herb," 11 years ago.

And is the term "30-1" still even used among Balto PD? Or was I, a G series, part of the last generation to use it, as we were the last to fill in a box 30-1?

[thanks to Gotti and LvT for the link. The pic is mine.]

January 1, 2012

Under 200

In 2011, there were 196 murders in Baltimore, the lowest number since 1977. From the Baltimore Sun:
The drop extends an overall downward trend in gun violence here since 2007, the year Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III took office.
During the crack-fueled drug wars of the 1990s, killings in the [Eastern] district sometimes topped 80 a year. Last year, there were 27 killings, and only one since Oct. 17 — nothing to brag about and yet a remarkable number for this beleaguered area.
The new priorities led to a sharp drop in arrests, with less than half as many people arrested last year than the 100,000 locked up in 2005.