Situation of American prisons

Who I am
Lluis Enric Mayans

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There are more than 2.250.000 people in prison in America. 726 convicts for every 100.000 inhabitants, one for every 138 Americans: the world imprisonment record.

100.00 inmates are in solitary confinement. 128.00 are life sentences. 100.00 minors in a reformatory and 15.000 in prisons for adults. Michigan alone has 300 minors sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of early release.
Of the 700.000 in local prisons, 400.000 are waiting for a lawyer rather than awaiting trial. They wait, even for years, for someone to deign to find them a shred of official defender.

There are 4.800.000 people on probation and to these must be added 5 million former prisoners who have lost the right to vote. Thirty years ago, in federal and state prisons, there were 200.00 inmates, today they are 1.400.000: the largest experiment in mass imprisonment since Stalin's time.

Half of the inmates are African-American. If the incarceration rate for whites is 393 per 100.000, for blacks it is 2.531. Then, if only males are considered, the rate for whites rises to 717, while for blacks it reaches 4.919, but in many states it well exceeds 10.000. It is therefore not surprising that in a quarter of the United States, 10% of adult black males are in jail. This is explained because, despite being 13% of drug addicts, blacks are 35% of those arrested for drug possession, 55% of those on trial for this crime and 75% of those who are serving a sentence for this crime.

One-third of black twenties are in prison or on probation, and for young blacks, spending a certain amount of time in prison has become a "rite of passage," as military service was for us. Their incarceration rate is 12.603 ​​per hundred thousand, while for their white peers it is 1.666.

Half of the crimes are not reported, yet every day Los Angeles County prisons welcome 6.000 new inmates and every year the 18.000 American police arrest at least 13.700.000 people (but more likely 15 million). About 2.200.000 are minors: at least 500.000 under 15, 120.000 between 10 and 12 and 20.000 under 10. Children under 6 were arrested.

There have been almost a thousand executions and about 3.400 people are on death row, including some innocent and many crazy. Texas carried out a third of the executions, 152 under current President George Bush. 121 innocent people were released and we don't know how many were killed, but given the poor quality of American trials, there must have been many.

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan said the US judicial system is unable to determine who is innocent, who is guilty, or even the degree of guilt. He is right. American justice works only because it does not prosecute, does not make appeals and does not motivate sentences. More than 90% of convictions for serious crimes are obtained through plea bargaining. The same is true for 56% of the convictions for intentional and voluntary homicide. Most petty crimes are unraveled in less than a minute by local courts, where the presence of the defense lawyer is not foreseen and often not even allowed.

The trials, when they take place, are characterized by a great summary and by the scarce guarantees that are granted to the poor defendants, who are provided with incompetent lawyers, when not drunk, drugged and asleep. Convictions are often obtained through beaten-up confessions, bogus repentants, lying witnesses, and compliant laboratory reports. The Prosecutors have no qualms about lying and clearing away evidence in favor of the defense: nothing happens to them anyway.

The appeal (in the rare cases in which it is accepted) has biblical temples and does not provide for the bailment of the condemned, so that the Texas Parliament had to make a special law to free the 13 innocents of the "Tulia massacre". Prison conditions are usually horrific and often atrocious, so much so that a Georgia prison has been defined by a federal judge as a "slave ship". In this immense gulag, suicides, violence and rape are innumerable.

Newspapers are rarely interested in US capital punishment. The vast majority of the killings carried out by the United States of America go unnoticed. But this was not the case for Donald Gaskins: newspapers around the world spoke of his execution in South Carolina on September 6, 1991.

Gaskins was not one of the many possible innocents killed by American justice. He was not a poor fellow, a minor, a madman or a black lynched by a white jury. Gaskins was a ferocious killer like few have been seen in US prisons, but he was the first white man, since 1944, to be "executed" for killing a black man. Such a fact is extremely rare in the "States". In Texas it never happened and in South Carolina it hasn't happened since 1880.

The circumstances of his crime were also exceptional. Gaskins, who was serving nine consecutive life sentences for killing nine whites, was approached by the son of another inmate's victim, black Rudolph Tyner, and persuaded to kill him for a fee.

In recent years, another 11 whites have been "executed" for the murder of a black, while 202 blacks were killed for the murder of a white (a fourth convicted by juries of whites only). Of a total of nearly 1.000 executions, 80 percent involve murders of whites, although in America 50 percent of those killed are black.

From the time when the United States was colonies, around twenty whites, out of nearly 20.000 legal executions, have been “executed” for killing a black man. The total rises to 30 if we also count the 10 whites killed because they had destroyed the property of a white: that is, they had killed a slave.

Dr. Claudio Giusti

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