- Hola Amigos Latinoamericanos y Centroamericanos, y otros amigos que hablan español. Hoy di una plática, via Zoom, a la Facultad de Derecho en la Universidad de Buenos Aires sobre las políticas penales durante la administración Trump. Se me ocurrió que quizás hay mas gente que habla español y se interesa en el tema, y por eso aquí están mis notas para la plática. En unos dias, publicaremos la plática entera en YouTube y la ubicaré aquí.
- Antes de discutir la política de justicia penal de la administración Trump, es importante preparar el escenario con algunas características únicas del panorama penológico estadounidense.
- Los EE. UU. son los campeones internacionales del encarcelamiento, pero no es un campeonato que nos da orgullo: tenemos cuatro porciento de la población mundial pero veintidós porciento de la población mundial de prisionerors! Los Estados Unidos tienen setecientos treinta y siete prisioneros por cien mil de populación. En dos mil diecisiete Argentina tuvo doscientos siete.
- En dos mil siete, uno en cien personas en los EE. UU. estaba encarcelado.
- Este encarcelamiento masivo trasciende los muros de la prisión: uno en 33 estaba bajo alguna forma de supervisión estatal, por ejemplo libertad condicional después de servir una sentencia en la cárcel.
- Además, los riesgos de encarcelamiento no se distribuyen de manera uniforme entre la población y varían drásticamente según la raza, la clase y el género. Para hombres jóvenes Africanos-Americanos – uno en 3 estaba encarcelado (!!!)
- Pero Estados Unidos es un país muy grande y existe una gran variación en el encarcelamiento dentro de él. Para comprender esto, es importante tener en cuenta que no solo tenemos un sistema de justicia penal: tenemos un sistema federal, cincuenta sistemas estatales independientes y numerosos tribunales indígenas independientes.
- Para complicar aún más las cosas, incluso el sistema estatal es una generalización excesiva. Hay dos estructuras administrativas superpuestas: el nivel municipal y el nivel de condado.
- La policía es municipal – cada ciudad, incluso los pueblos mas pequeños, tiene su propia forza policial. Tenemos dieciocho mil diferentes departamentos de policía.
- En cambio, nuestros tribunales y fiscalias operan en el nivel del condado.
- Tenemos prisiones estadales y carceles mas pequenas, que llamamos “jails”, en el nivel del condado. Esto es importante porque los costos del encarcelamiento corren a cargo de diferentes niveles administrativos. En otras palabras, las fiscalías y las cortes no tienen un incentivo financiero para reducir el encarcelamiento, porque los condados no pagan por el encarcelamiento. Mi colega Frank Zimring llama esto “el almuerzo gratis correccional.”
- Otra consecuencia de la fragmentación de Estados Unidos es que los niveles penales y los “sabores” penales se ven muy diferentes en todo el país.
- Por ejemplo, en California, donde yo vivo, las políticas penales son una combinación de leyes y de referendos publicos, resultando en un populismo penal que es especialmente sensible a las apelaciones punitivas en nombre de las víctimas de delitos. El resultado es una maquina gigantesca de encarcelamiento, incluyendo el corredor de muerte mas grandee en los EE. UU, y muchas sentencias muy largas. Un tercio de los presos en california está cumpliendo cadena perpetua, ya sea sin posibilidad de liberación o con una posibilidad muy lejana de liberación. Mi libro nuevo Yesterday’s Monsters es sobre esta populación.
- El noreste es gobernado de una manera menos populista y mas elitista, y por eso las sentencias son menos punitivas.
- El noroeste es aun menos punitivo. Muchas de las reformas que mejoraron la guerra contra las drogas comenzaron en el noroeste del Pacífico.
- El sud tiene un legado trágico de racismo y esclavitud. Muchos de los problemas politicos que todavia son reflejados en las politicas penales en el sud originan desde antes de la Guerra Civil. Durante los años sesenta, la Corte Suprema introdujo algunos estándares de derechos civiles y debido proceso que corrigieron algunos de los peores aspectos de la justicia penal del Sur. Pero todavía las condiciones en muchas prisiones en el sur imitan las plantaciones anterior de la guerra.
- La justicia penal en el suroeste se caracteriza por la hostilidad hacia los inmigrantes de Centroamérica. Muchos de los casos de drogas en el suroeste involucran pequeñas cantidades de marihuana contrabandeadas a través de la frontera. La política fronteriza también conduce a cierta corrupción policial que implica la confiscación de dinero y objetos.
- A pesar de estas diferencias locales, existen algunas características comunes al panorama de la justicia penal estadounidense, y es posible que le recuerden bastante la situación en varios países de América Central y del Sur.
- Ya hablé un poco del legado nacional de colonialismo y racism, pero es importante decir que no se limita al sur del pais. ésto se manifiesta de dos formas. Primero, la policía estadounidense tiende a operar de manera racializada, lo que significa más arrestos y hostigamientos en vecindarios donde viven minorías raciales. En segundo lugar, debido a un legado de privaciones y falta de oportunidades, las minorías raciales están sobrerrepresentadas en los delitos violentos, tanto como perpetradores como víctimas.
- Otra caracteristica es la proliferación de armas legales e ilegales. En Argentina es necesario tener CLUSE para armas, y uno tiene que presentar una solicitud y aprobar exámenes de competencia de salud física y mental. En cambio, en las EE. UU. Es muy fácil comprar armas. Para muchas personas, el derecho constitucional a portar armas alcanza proporciones míticas, algo relacionadas con el legado de la justicia fronteriza.
- Los EE. UU. Tienen una cultura policial de violencia, entrelazada con politicas de arrestos y registros por motivos raciales. Hay un problema especial con abuso de fuerza, especialmente con matanzas.
- Además, hay un legado difícil de corrupción política (incluso a nivel estatal, local y del condado.)
- La trayectoria de encarcelamiento Estadounidiense continuó aumentando hasta la crisis financiera de 2008, que transformó la justicia penal estadounidense de manera importante. Este fue el tema de mi primer libro, Cheap on Crime.
- El desarrollo más importante fue la prominencia de un discurso fiscal, centrado en los ahorros de la justicia penal. Durante décadas hubo un callejón sin salida entre el apoyo conservador a la seguridad pública y el apoyo progresivo a la descarceración. El hecho de que la crisis hiciera que el encarcelamiento masivo fuera económicamente insostenible ayudó a salvar estas diferencias con ideas sobre la parsimonia que todos pudieran considerar. Estos cambios estaban en sintonía con las lógicas neoliberales, y voy a explicar de cual manera.
- La dependencia del discurso del ahorro también permitió la formación de coaliciones bipartidistas entre progresistas que intentaban reducir la maquinaria carcelaria y los libertarios de los gobiernos pequeños que estaban hartos de los gastos de la guerra contra las drogas y el encarcelamiento.
- Estas coaliciones resultaron en una variedad de practicas de ahorro: muchas cárceles fueron cerradas o fusionadas con otras instituciones, muchas políticas consistieron en mas bajas sentencias, especialmente para delitos de drogas, y diez estados abolieron o suspendieron la pena de muerte. La economía de las prisiones privadas también cambiaron: Con la reducción del mercado del encarcelamiento nacional, los empresarios de prisiones comenzaron a invertir en el creciente mercado de la detención de inmigrantes.
- Las lógicas neoliberales se manifestaron también en cambios en la percepción de los presos: en lugar de verlos como responsabilidad del estado, ellos fueron percibidos como “clientes” involuntarios del estado. Las nuevas politicas prestaron atención a categorías de presos previamente invisibles: los ancianos y los enfermos. Además, muchos costos de encarcelamiento se transfirieron a los propios reclusos, lo que en algunos casos resultó en que las personas debían pagar por su propio encarcelamiento.
- No todas las reformas fueron puramente economicas. La indignación pública por la violencia policial, especialmente contra las minorías raciales, produjo algunas reformas de la era de Obama, como la eliminación de las sentencias mínimas obligatorias para los infractores no violentos de drogas.
- Estas politicas federales ocurrieron junto con muchas políticas estatales que legalizaron el uso y posesión de marihuana al nivel del estado.
- El ascenso de Donald Trump, notablemente, dejó algunas de estas reformas en su lugar, al tiempo que cambió drásticamente el ánimo detrás de otras.
- Tengan en cuenta, como dije antes, que la mayoría de las políticas de justicia penal en los Estados Unidos se hacen a nivel local, donde la administración federal tiene un impacto muy limitado. No obstante, hubo rupturas significativas durante el mandato del primer fiscal general de Trump, Jeff Sessions, y el segundo, William Barr. Hablaremos de seis:
- Falsa Conexión entre Inmigración y Criminalidad
- Animando la Lucha contra las Drogas
- Animando la Pena de Muerte
- Interviniendo en la Justicia Local
- Obstrucción de la Justicia contra los Poderosos
- Y quizá la mas significantive, Cambios en la Corte Suprema
- Falsa Conexión entre Inmigración y Criminalidad
- Desde los primeros días de su campaña presidencial, Trump confió en reunir a sus partidarios a través de promesas xenófobas para frenar la inmigración. Una gran parte de la campaña se dedicó a promocionar una correlación entre inmigración y criminalidad.
- Esta conexión es cien por ciento falsa. Existe un sólido cuerpo de investigación empírica, que cubre diversos tiempos y lugares, y todas las investigaciones llegan a la misma conclusión: los inmigrantes cometen menos delitos, en todas las categorías de delitos, que los nativos.
- La falsa suposición de que los inmigrantes son un peligro para la seguridad pública se basa en inseguridades económicas profundamente arraigadas, principalmente de los hombres blancos, de que los inmigrantes aceptarán trabajos estadounidenses.
- Una gran parte de la política de justicia penal estadounidense, como la criminalización de ciertas drogas, se creó para criminalizar los comportamientos de los inmigrantes a fin de mitigar estos temores.
- Además de las políticas xenófobas bien publicitadas, incluida la prohibición de los viajeros de países musulmanes y las separaciones familiares, la administración Trump prosiguió los procedimientos de deportación sobre la base de condenas penales, por lo que la aplicación de la ley de inmigración es la principal preocupación del departamento de justicia.
- Animando la Lucha contra las Drogas
- Cuando fue elegido para el cargo, Jeff Sessions anunció públicamente que los consumidores de marihuana eran “malas personas”, una afirmación fuera de contacto con las sensibilidades bipartisanas de republicanos y demócratas, que apoyaron una tregua en la lucha contra las Drogas
- La administración procedió a revertir las restricciones de la era de Obama y perseguir casos federales contra infractores de drogas en estados en los que el uso y posesión de drogas son legales.
- Pero al mismo tiempo, estados y ciudades continuaron sus politicas regulatorias. Marijuana se legalizo en mas estados, y algunos estados y ciudades decriminalizaron otras drogas tambien.
- Animando la Pena de Muerte
- Como mencioné antes, la pena de muerte ha disminuido en los Estados Unidos debido a la política de la era de la recesión. La administración de la pena de muerte, junto con los litigios, es muy cara. Durante el crisis financiero, muchos estados abolieron la pena de muerte o dejaron de usarla.
- Trump ha sido un admirador público de la pena de muerte desde la década de 1980, cuando publicó enormes anuncios en los periódicos pidiendo la pena de muerte en varios casos, incluyendo el célebre caso de cinco adolescentes acusados de acostar a una corredora en el Parque Central de Nueva York. Lo increíble es que los cinco fueron exonerados por evidencia de ADN, pero Trump continúa hasta el día de hoy argumentando que eran culpables y merecían la pena de muerte.
- Aún ahora, en los últimos días de su administración, Trump y Barr continúan a ejecutar a personas condenadas a muerte en el nivel federal, incluyendo personas con discapacidades mentales y trauma personal documentado y personas que muchos expertos creen que son inocentes.
- Interviniendo en la Justicia Local
- A pesar de que la administración de Trump no tenía jurisdicción en asuntos estatales, Trump intervino, a través de Twitter, en los procedimientos locales cuando fueron simbólicamente útiles para él.
- Un ejemplo fue la muerte de una joven llamada Kate Steinle en San Francisco. Un inmigrante indocumentado fue acusado del crimen. Resultó que había encontrado un arma perdida por un agente del FBI y el arma falló. El acusado fue absuelto. A lo largo del juicio, Trump atribuyó el resultado a los “valores de San Francisco” y lo utilizó para criticar las “ciudades santuario”, que tenían una política de no cooperar con las agencias federales de inmigración.
- Obstrucción de la Justicia contra los Poderosos
- Es instructivo comparar estas políticas punitivas hacia las comunidades marginadas con la obstrucción de la justicia orquestada por la administración Trump en lo que respecta al propio Trump y sus leales.
- Trump usó repetidamente el poder del perdón para excusar a sus amigos y asociados, acusados o condenados por crímenes atroces, más recientemente, Michael Flynn.
- La investigación del fiscal especial Robert Mueller sobre la interferencia rusa en las elecciones de 2016 encontró que los funcionarios de la campaña de Trump eran receptores entusiastas de la inteligencia rusa y que los miembros de la campaña de Trump, incluido el propio Trump, obstruyeron la justicia en este contexto en al menos diez casos.
- Cambios en la Corte Suprema
- Pero quizás el efecto más duradero de la administración Trump en la justicia penal son sus tres nombramientos en la Corte Suprema.
- Neil Gorsuch fue designado para un escaño que quedó vacante durante la era de Obama, pero fue arrebatado por los republicanos argumentando que un presidente en su ultimo año no debería nombrar a un suplente.
- Despues, Trump tuvo otra oportunidad a nombrar a un juez supremo y nombró a Brett Kavanaugh, cuyo proceso de solicitud se vio empañado con una acusación creíble de abuso sexual. Los votos a favor y en contra de su nombramiento fueron de partidos políticos.
- Finalmente, tres semanas antes de las elecciones, falleció la jueza ruth bader ginsburg, lo que les dio a los republicanos la oportunidad de hacer exactamente lo que impidieron hacer a los demócratas al final de la presidencia de Obama: nombrar a una jueza más, Amy Coney Barret.
- El nuevo tribunal es incondicionalmente conservador en varios asuntos de justicia penal. Seis jueces apoyan la pena de muerte y los tres nuevos jueces tienen un historial de imponer largas penas de prisión. En asuntos relacionados con las investigaciones policiales basadas en tecnología, sin embargo, Gorsuch podría votar más a la izquierda que sus dos nuevos colegas.
- El Futuro Penal de la Administración Biden
- Los partidarios de la reforma de la justicia penal se sintieron aliviados con los resultados de las elecciones, aunque están mucho más cerca de lo que se esperaba y el control del Senado aún no se ha determinado.
- Es importante recordar que la justicia penal sigue siendo principalmente un asunto local. Las reformas que apoyan la igualdad racial y erosionan la guerra contra las drogas todavía ocurrirán en los estados azules, excepto que ahora, el aspecto federal de la guerra contra las drogas probablemente volverá a la moderación que caracterizó a la administración Obama.
- Otros cambios federales podrían involucrar recortes presupuestarios a los departamentos de policía municipales, que apoyarán muchas iniciativas locales de desviar los problemas sociales a agencias no policiales.
- El desafío más complicado involucra cambios en la Corte Suprema. Una posibilidad, que no está prohibida por la ley, es que Biden amplíe la Corte y nombre siete jueces progresivos para equilibrar la composición conservadora de la corte. El problema con este enfoque es el riesgo de que el tribunal pierda la legitimidad que le queda, y que una futura administración republicana nombrará a 14 jueces, etc., etc. Pero los partidarios progresistas de Biden lo presionarán para que lo haga, en parte porque se han adoptado enfoques más cuidadosos se encontró con ofuscación y manipulación durante los últimos cuatro años. Sin embargo, si el Senado permanece en manos republicanas, Biden tendrá dificultades para tener éxito con estas nominaciones.
‘Help!’ he shrieked shrilly in a voice strangling in its own emotion, as the policemen carried him to the open doors in the rear of the ambulance and threw him inside. ‘Police! Help! Police!’ The doors were shut and bolted, and the ambulance raced away. There was a humorless irony in the ludicrous panic of the man screaming for help to the police while policemen were all around him. Yossarian smiled wryly at the futile and ridiculous cry for aid, then saw with a start that the words were ambiguous, realized with alarm that they were not perhaps, intended as a call for police but as a heroic warning from the grave by a doomed friend to everyone who was not a policeman with a club and gun and a mob of other policemen with clubs and guns to back him up. ‘Help! Police!’ the man had cried, and he could have been shouting of danger.Joseph Heller, Catch-22
The image above was screen-captured from a cellphone video, which depicts goons from La Familia, a group of pro-Netanyahu goons with ties to the infamous soccer team Beitar Yerushalayim, attacking anti-Netanyahu protester Sedi Ben Shitreet and a Ha’aretz journalist, but you could be forgiven for mistaking them for actual cops. The image below, also from cellphone footage, depicts the Israeli police beating up 71-year-old protester Ami Dayan for no reason whatsoever.
Looking at these horrific images takes me back to 2014, when I visited Israel and first experienced the phenomenon of right-wing goons following peaceful left-wing protesters home and beating them up under the cover of night. There’s something especially vile about this–it triggers my cultural Jewish imagination and takes it to darker times of pogroms and extinctions–and, of course, it creates strong feelings of kinship and compassion with the horrors that BLM protesters experience at the hand of goons like Kyle Rittenhouse and so many of his ilk.
There’s not a lot new to say about this beyond the obvious, but I will contribute this thought: One of the scariest things about fascist regimes is the deliberate blurring of boundaries between government goons and private goons. It’s a two-way process: governmental encouragement and empowerment of private goons, supporting their policies in ways that legitimize them as the executers of oppressive state policy, and obscuring the visibility of government agents as such to appear as private entities and shirk responsibility for violence and abuses of power.
This boundary blur is merely a reflection of corrupt governments in both countries, in which the state is captured by people who pillage and exploit everything for their sole, selfish benefit and care nothing for the public good. It is only natural that the lack of distinction between their private interests and their government goals will manifest in their choice of goons, in the ways oppressive state-sponsored thuggery is performed in the streets, and in the difficulty their victims face in identifying the responsible parties for violence and bloodshed.
I confess to being a bit bewildered by the outrage building around Trump’s recent pardon of his business partner Roger Stone. Not because this is not outrageous–read Robert Mueller’s op-ed about Stone’s direct involvement in the misdeeds that led to Trump’s impeachment–but because Stone is only the last in a long list of people pardoned by Trump. The never-ending parade of horrors may have numbed some of us, but you might still remember the pardon of Joe Arpaio (the “penal cartoon” who ran Arizona jails as spectacles of dehumanization and humiliation).
Trump is not the only president to have used his commutation powers in controversial ways. As this excellent NPR piece explains, both Bushes and Clinton were criticized for misuse of their powers, as was Obama for the sheer number of commutations. What is unique about Trump’s pardons and commutations is that, with a handful of exceptions, they were given to people in furtherance of his own personal interests or to people prominently featured on Fox News. Moreover, Trump has virtually ignored the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, whose function is to parse out the thousands of pardon requests it receives every year and make recommendations to the President. Usually, the President follows the Office’s recommendations, but not in this case, and as Mitch Jeserich and I discussed this morning on KPFA’s Letters and Politics, this means not only that Trump’s business partners and go-betweens are rewarded for their crimes, but also that ordinary people’s petitions are ignored and recommendations about them go unheeded. Trump’s adulation and courtship of celebrities is one contribution to his assault on the rule of law (with the notable exception of Kim Kardashian’s influence on the First Step Act). Combine all of this with Bill Barr’s jockeying of Manhattan federal prosecutors and you’ll find a continuation of the same trends.
One issue that Mitch and I discussed today was the public discourse around Roger Stone’s age and (he’s 67), and the argument that, with the pandemic ravaging prisons, he would be “put at serious medical risk in prison“. Of course age and health condition are valid considerations, but let’s keep things in context. Here’s a breakdown of the federal prison population by age. Close to 20% of them are aged 51 and older. Throw in people aged 46 and above, and you’re at almost a third of the prison population. That’s tens of thousands of people. One person, albeit famous/infamous, is a drop in the bucket, so forgive me if I’m not persuaded by the argument that this reflects sensitivity to public health.
Worried about older people catching COVID-19 in federal prisons? Let them go–not only the ones that are doing time for being presidential go-betweens, but those who are doing time on a Frankenstein-like construction of enhancements and multiplications on nonviolent drug offenses (this is not as much of a thing in state prisons, but it is a huge factor in federal ones).
Speaking of state prisons, the situation at San Quentin continues to be dire. Over the weekend, they’ve seen 204 new cases. Notably, those are 204 positives out of a total of 259 tests, so things are going horribly wrong there. There are also 167 new cases at CCC (reflecting a major testing push), 15 new cases at CCI (hundreds of new tests there, as well as in DVI), 8 new cases at CRC, 5 new cases at WSP, 1 new case at SOL, 1 new case at CAL, and 2 new cases at CHCF (this is particularly worrisome because this Stockton prison houses a medically vulnerable population.)
In short, gentle readers, things are not going well. Stay tuned for updates.
|Theodore R. Davis’ illustration of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate, published in Harper’s Weekly.|
Much has been made in the last couple of days of Nixon and Clinton comparisons to, ahem, the current brouhaha. But as I was prepping this slideshow for a virtual talk at Manny’s, I was struck by the surprising similarities between our, ahem, situation, and the context of Andrew Jackson’s impeachment in 1868. A quick read of this lucid and helpful Wikipedia article will bring you up to speed. It’s a rather obscure chapter in American history; as early as 1896, Edmund Ross commented that “little is now known to the public” about it. After Ross’s book, three more books were written about the impeachment trial: David Miller DeWitt’s in 1903, Michael Les Benedict’s in 1999, and David Stewart’s in 2010. What is palpable in all of them (perhaps most so in Stewart’s book) is the context: a bitter, partisan, no-holds-barred fight between Lincoln’s successor, a moderate Southern Republican seeking reconciliation with the South, and Congress, which sought more sanctions against Southern States during Reconstruction.
Johnson’s unbridled anger at Congress will remind you of someone we know: He actively campaigned against Congress, which included a massive speaking tour to “fight traitors in the North.” This campaign backfired spectacularly when the election yielded two Republican houses determined to thwart his agenda, and when he tried to get rid of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War he inherited from Lincoln and a staunch Unionist. Congress tried to thwart these efforts by passing the Tenure of Office Act, and Johnson, determined to get rid of Stanton, did so nonetheless. Nine of the eleven articles of impeachment revolved around this effort.
Through the prism of 2019, I can’t help but read this story as that of a small man with no hope of filling the giant shoes of his predecessor, conciliatory and sympathetic to a grim racist heritage, determined to spite anyone placing limitations on his power to appoint and discard people as he chose. It might cheer you up (or not) to learn that the Senate came one vote short of removing him from office. It might also be useful to keep in mind that the failure to secure the additional vote came from four Republicans voting against their own party out of concerns that the evidence presented against Jackson was one-sided–and a good reminder that, in order to garner legitimacy for the impeachment process, it is important to conduct a thorough and objective investigation that might assuage the concerns that some of today’s hesitant Republicans about “witch hunts” and “kangaroo courts.” If Democrats want to secure removal in the senate, which for obvious reasons will be an uphill battle, the process has to be fair and also to be perceived as fair.
The wonderful CBS series Madam Secretary, whose fifth season is out, features Téa Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, a Secretary of State in a parallel universe in which responsible adults with nonpartisan interests are at the national helm. It is almost difficult to watch the series against the backdrop of the news; episodes in which the State Department team races to find humanitarian solutions for climate refugees collide with the Trump Administration rescinding English, soccer, and legal aid for migrant children in government custody. In real life, throwbacks to Nixon and Reagan proliferate, dragging us kicking and screaming into the stone age in which the war on drugs was thought to be a good idea; on the show we sign nuclear weapon treaties and command the respect of the civilized world.
Among the many interesting things about the show is its verisimilitude in the face of changing political realities. A moderate Republican President uncomfortable with the isolationist, MAGA-like foreign policy espoused by his challenger decides to run as an independent… and wins. Demographically and ideologically diverse staffer teams come together to find creative solutions for international problems. Lurid scandals do not control the news cycle (or, if they do, we don’t see them.) Consummate professionals in the public eye have happy, functional marriages with happy, well-adjusted children. Oh, and a series of real-life reasonable, accomplished, experienced Secretaries of State–Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton–GUEST STAR in one of the episodes. In short, if you want to escape to an alternative universe, this show’s got your number.
Here’s what is interesting for our purposes: the Secretary of State (an accomplished, well-informed middle-class white woman from an academic background, with a strong record of achievements at the federal level–sound familiar?) prepares to run for President, she is asked by her campaign advisor, Mike B., to turn her gaze toward domestic issues. What’s the first one that comes to mind for her? Criminal justice reform! Inspired by the plight of a poor single mother she meets while on jury duty, Secretary McCord applies her international perspective to U.S. prisons, reminding Mike B. (and the audience) that we have plenty of work to do in that department before we join the civilized world.
If Madam Secretary is the reality we aspire to create on Nov. 2020, what do the Democrat challengers think about criminal justice reform? I’ve started to look at the candidates’ websites and it seems like the criminal justice aspects of the campaigns need to be better fleshed out. I’m not particularly surprised these read like clichés from a public protest; after all, with the laudable and welcome public interest in criminal justice reform came oversimplification and misinformation, and these candidates are trying to appeal to people who think they understand mass incarceration and how to end it. Also, there’s only so much that the federal government can do–most of the U.S. incarceration problem, together with access to court, bail, policing, and reentry policies, happens at the state and local levels. But even with the fairly slim issue lists we do have, a few themes emerge:
Everyone Loves Legalized Marijuana. Pretty much all platforms advocate for marijuana legalization, for the classic Cheap on Crime/bifurcation reason: “let’s stop criminalizing people for smoking a joint so we can spend our energies on the ‘real’ criminals.” Plenty of chatter, also, about “ending the war on drugs”; particularly well informed candidates, like Bernie Sanders, also argues for ending civil asset forfeiture. Nobody, however, talks about legalizing other drugs. The opioid epidemic is discussed as a health problem, but there are no calls for legalization in that respect–only for finding treatment options.
Sentencing Reform. A call to end mandatory minimums and, more generally, pursue “sentencing reform.” These can be seen as a continuation of the Obama-Trump trend (this kind of bipartisan reform was the least disrupted Obama-era trend). Not a single peep from anyone except Buttigieg about death penalty abolition.
End Private Prisons. The candidates uniformly call for a divestment from private prisons, echoing Obama’s largely-symbolic move to stop domestic incarceration of federal prisoners in private facilities. Not a word about the much wider practice of detaining immigrants in private facilities.
Tough on Criminals We Dislike. Democratic candidates are very clear on the sympathies their constituents have for people caught in the system, and therefore know that these sympathies do not extend to certain categories of criminals: cops who employ excessive force, domestic violence perpetrators, and white mass shooters. With respect to these categories, the reform call is reversed: candidates call for strengthening the Violence Against Women Act, to address police reform so that shootings are avoided, and to push for gun control reforms. Warren emphasizes the need to hold white collar criminals accountable.
I am curious to see whether these folks’ fictional counterpart, Elizabeth McCord (will she run as an independent or as a Republican? The show shies away from the possibility that she might become a Democrat) adopts similar principles. It seems like we’ve pretty much settled on what the candidates imagine that their constituents want, probably with considerable justification.
The Washington Post reports this absolutely heartbreaking piece of news:
The Trump administration is canceling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide, saying the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun discontinuing the funding stream for activities — including soccer — that have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” said U.S. Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber.
Since these days things that used to solidly reside in the “needless to say” category need to be explicitly said, I’ll open with this: This is monstrous, gratuitous cruelty. And what is the justification?
Federal officials have warned Congress that they are facing “a dramatic spike” in unaccompanied minors at the southern border and have asked Congress for $2.9 billion in emergency funding to expand shelters and care. The program could run out of money in late June, and the agency is legally obligated to direct funding to essential services, Weber said.
Last week I spoke on a mini-plenary about dignity and austerity. The other presenters addressed issues such as takings, welfare cuts, neoliberal banking, and the like, in which “savings” are synonymous with, essentially, letting go of caring for the world’s (or the country’s) weakest population. Because in criminal justice things don’t operate quite that way, I’ve had to explain that investing money in people in the context of criminal justice is not necessarily to their benefit, and often works to their detriment. The big exception to this statement, though, is rehabilitative programming: the dark side of the developments I discussed in Cheap on Crime (and on the plenary) is the continued trend to deeply cut rehabilitation programs.
Doing so, especially in the context of juvenile populations, is not a wise, “justice reinvestment move”. Beyond being cruel, it is penny wise and pound foolish. Educated, physically active, nurtured children are far more likely to have a “stake in conformity”, to use Hirschi’s term. Are migrant kids deprived of the opportunity to learn the language most prominently spoken in their new country and, for heaven’s sake, to play soccer, more or less likely to desire to be law-abiding, proud residents?
Contrast this horror with another piece of news: San Francisco sets out to eliminate its Juvenile Hall. Readers of Nell Bernstein’s Burning Down the House, as well as anyone even minimally informed with the realities of juvenile confinement in California, will surely welcome this beneficial development, and look forward to a public health model of handling juvenile transgressions.
I see people excited to see Paul Manafort sent to Rikers Island and put in solitary confinement.
1. Rikers Island should be closed down
2. Solitary confinement should be ended.
We must be so principled in our calls for reform that we want them even for our enemies.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) June 4, 2019
I couldn’t agree more. This is one more example of the evils of progressive punitivism, which I discussed in this primer. No matter how many resistance-related hashtags are affixed to these expressions of joy, they are the opposite of revolution; rather than deeply upending the rationales of the punitive state, they consist merely of turning it around 180 degrees. Instead of torturing poor people of darker skin, we’ll torture rich people of lighter skin. This is not reform; it’s tribalism.
I’ve written two pieces on progressive punitivism so far. The first, based on my Not Your Typical Kavanaugh Opinion Piece, shows how some aspects of the #metoo movement feed into the most noxious aspects of progressive punitivism, namely the encouragemenet for people to marinate in victimization as a condition of being heard (forthcoming from JCRED). The second, based on this post, argues that the tendency to demonize everyone involved in failed criminal justice reform (particularly painting well-meaning people as racist) is ahistorical and harmful to the movement overall, and that it is much healthier for both academics and reformers to analyze people on their own terms (forthcoming from LSI). The third piece, which I’m working on now, is for the Punishment and Inequality conference at the University of Bologna. In this piece I try to unpack the intellectual roots of progressive punitivism and come to some surprising conclusions.
It turns out there is very little in the history of conflict and radical criminology that tackles the question, “whatever shall we do with the rich after the revolution?” Admittedly, much of the radical criminology paradigm consists of questioning the connection of crime with class; the oft-quoted maxim from Anatole France’s The Red Lily talks about how ‘[t]he law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.’ To criticize how the law applies to the poor is to implicitly question how it applies to the rich, because criminalization and severity get their meaning from relativity and context. Critical and radical criminologists have highlighted areas in which the rich commit crime with impunity–white collar crime, environmental crime, state crimes, etc.–but save for, say, the post-Enron outrage, there’s been very little to foreshadow the explosion of punitive sentiments on the left that we see today. Perhaps the exception is carceral feminism, which was foreshadowed in Catharine MacKinnon’s writing; she seems to support this aspect of the #metoo movement, opining here that the online outrage and excoriation campaigns we see are an outcome of the incompetence of formal criminal law in addressing sexual harassment. For an even more extreme example of the antecedents of carceral feminism, see this passage from Valerie Solanas’ SCUM manifesto:
SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM. Men in the Men’s Auxiliary are those men who are working diligently to eliminate themselves, men who, regardless of their motives, do good, men who are playing pall with SCUM. A few examples of the men in the Men’s Auxiliary are: men who kill men; biological scientists who are working on constructive programs, as opposed to biological warfare; journalists, writers, editors, publishers and producers who disseminate and promote ideas that will lead to the achievement of SCUM’s goals; faggots who, by their shimmering, flaming example, encourage other men to de-man themselves and thereby make themselves relatively inoffensive; men who consistently give things away — money, things, services; men who tell it like it is (so far not one ever has), who put women straight, who reveal the truth about themselves, who give the mindless male females correct sentences to parrot, who tell them a woman’s primary goal in life should be to squash the male sex (to aid men in this endeavor SCUM will conduct Turd Sessions, at which every male present will give a speech beginning with the sentence: `I am a turd, a lowly abject turd’, then proceed to list all the ways in which he is. His reward for doing so will be the opportunity to fraternize after the session for a whole, solid hour with the SCUM who will be present. Nice, clean-living male women will be invited to the sessions to help clarify any doubts and misunderstandings they may have about the male sex; makers and promoters of sex books and movies, etc., who are hastening the day when all that will be shown on the screen will be Suck and Fuck (males, like the rats following the Pied Piper, will be lured by Pussy to their doom, will be overcome and submerged by and will eventually drown in the passive flesh that they are); drug pushers and advocates, who are hastening the dropping out of men.
What does this radical program of punishment, excoriation, required groveling and ceremonial apologies resemble? Unsurprising answer: Communist China’s criminal law. While criminalization, tribunals, and harsh punishment were part and parcel of the cultural revolution, China didn’t actually have an official criminal code until 1979. The Maoist authorities had drafted one, but Mao believed it unwise to codify a criminal law that later might restrain the party. Still, these notions of criminal law as embedded in politics characterized the eventual legislation. As Donald Clarke and James Feinerman argue in Antagonistic Contradictions: Criminal Law and Human Rights in China, the question of what constitutes a crime was nebulous in the criminal code of Communist China, and highly dependent on the perpetrator’s location on the class food chain. As they explain:
The Criminal Law (CL) does not so much define which acts are punishable as prescribe what the sanctions shall be when relatively severe punishments are deemed in order. The definition of crime is accomplished outside the Criminal Law by reference to political exigencies or generally accepted standards of morality. There is little perceived danger in allowing government officials to impose their own standards of morality, since Chinese state ideology does not accept the legitimacy of multiple standards of morality.
Consider, for example, the provision for analogy (Article 79 of the CL): a “crime” not stipulated in the CL (or elsewhere) may be punished according to the most nearly applicable article. This shows that if rules defining crime are “law,” then the very notion of “crime” is not a “legal” concept; the determination of whether a particular act constitutes a crime is something that must take place outside the CL. Thus, while the CL tells you what punishment to apply for a particular crime, it is often unhelpful in determining whether a crime has been committed. In this respect, the CL resembles the rules for punishment of Imperial China, which stipulated any number of punishable acts in great detail, but also contained provisions allowing for analogy and punishing “doing what ought not to be done.”
The Special Part lists various crimes and their punishments. Pride of place goes to counter-revolutionary crimes, which are defined as “all acts endangering the People’s Republic of China committed with the goal of overthrowing the political power of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system” [but are very rare despite their textual prominence.] . . The other chapters in the Special Part cover crimes of endangering public security, undermining the socialist economic order, infringement of personal and democratic rights, property violation, disruption of the order of social administration, disruption of marriage and the family, and dereliction of duty and corruption.
The Special Part is a relatively skimpy 103 articles. . . One reason for the relative simplicity of the Chinese CL is that the provision on analogy offers an escape hatch in case of imperfect or careless drafting. Another reason is that the CL is supplemented by numerous other pieces of special legislation either specifically criminalizing a certain act or prohibiting an act and providing vaguely that “where it constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility shall be affixed,” without providing any guidance as to under what circumstances the performance of a prohibited act would constitute a crime. Finally, it must be remembered that the CL is as much a political text as a legal one; its drafters were concerned with providing a legal basis for state action, not with worries about due process, and it was designed to be used by judicial and public security cadres with a low educational level. Although the late 1980s and early 1990s have seen a movement among the Chinese legal community to revise the wording of the Criminal Law in an attempt to make it technically more elegant, no revision has yet taken place.
Essentially, what Clarke and Feinerman are describing is a punishment system that relies on the sentiments of the communist order toward the offender to even make the decision whether a crime has been committed. A poor person stole bread? Revolutionary impetus. A rich person stole bread? Class criminal.
One possible (and reasonable) counterargument could be that all criminal codes are, covertly, Maoist “little red books” by virtue of differential enforcement. After all, isn’t a city ordinance that prohibits any person from sitting or lying on a city sidewalk, but yields fines only against poor, homeless people, exactly the same as a “political texts” that “impose [their] own standard of morality”? Well, of course they are. But the difference between these codes and the Maoist criminal code is the difference between covert and overt intent. The Maoist code explicitly declares its intent to focus on counterrevolutionaries.
So what’s worse, a law that purports to criminalize in a neutral, universal way, but is enforced in a way that targets members of a particular class, or a law that explicitly says that it addresses only members of a particular class? There’s something to be said for the latter: at least it’s honest, which means that if we dislike its overt targeting, we can work to change it. Differential enforcement, on the other hand, can work covertly, and remain undetected. But this rationale does not neatly address what happens in the context of progressive punitivism, for two main reasons.
First, the days in which the mainstream public was in the dark about differential enforcement are long gone. The disparities that critical criminologists have been studying for decades–racialized police activity, ideological bias in charging decisions, sentencing disparities for members of different races and classes–are all there in the open. We studied this stuff before it was cool, but now progressive Millennials are born with the Michelle Alexander playbook in hand. They have come of age, politically, against the backdrop of Ferguson; they have been reading excellent journalistic coverage of the criminal justice system and listening to podcasts about miscarriages of justice for years. Honestly, there’s not much difference now, in terms of the progressive consciousness, between laws that explicitly target the poor and laws that are facially egalitarian but differentially enforced. This is good news for criminologists–we’ve wanted everyone to know this forever, and finally, the combination of colleagues with a desire to address the mainstream and journalists who made it accessible has succeeded in injecting the realities of criminal justice administration into the mainstream conversation (this conversation could use a little, or actually a lot, of nuance, but we’ll turn to that later.)
Second, even with an overt policy, there has to be a desire to change it. If lawmakers and constituents are overall pleased with policies that support a particular political order and target people on the basis of their class affiliation, it will be quite difficult to introduce change. Regardless of whether the class/race/gender bias of law is overt or covert, the ability to move it in one direction or the other depends largely upon whether its targets are people that “we” (for whatever value of “we”) like or dislike.
Which leads me to conclude that, even though we can find Maoist, or radical feminist, antecedents to the appetite for punishing the rich/male/white that permeates progressive discourse, its most obvious intellectual and cultural legacy is… conservative discourse.
Conservatives and progressives don’t live on different planets. The American public (as well as the American academic scene) has experienced decades of exposure to punitive ideologies and policies, and these, as well as their legacies, are bound to leave imprints on social movements of all stripes. Criminal justice and punishment scholarship in the United States is steeped in this punitive legacy–and this is characteristic, as Naomi Murakawa, Elizabeth Hinton, and others tell us not only of Nixon and Reagan, but also of Democrat politicians. After all, as Jonathan Simon explains, no politician, of any stripe, wants to be perceived as “soft on crime.”
Decades of being steeped in a program of conservative punitiveness has taught both conservatives and progressives three important lessons. The first is that criminal justice is the only hammer in the toolbox, and therefore each and every problem must be a nail. If that’s how we have been solving the problems of “inner city delinquency” for years, why would we not welcome any bad behavior on the part of the wealthy and privileged with choruses of “lock him up”?
The second lesson is that it is normal to think of criminal justice as a tool for separating communities across identities. I’m sure I tell you nothing new when I remind you that, while 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars, that figure is much higher for particular segments of the American population: 1 in 9 young Black men is incarcerated, and 1 in 3 is under some form of correctional supervision. Racial and class inequalities are found at every turn; in policing, in criminal courtrooms, and in sentencing, to name just a few. Many criminal justice critics, in academia and in the activist realm, treat this overrepresentation not as a coincidence, but rather as part of a systemic project of crystallizing and enhancing inequalities. Is it any wonder that, against a backdrop of “walk all over the poor”, a non-imaginative response is, “walk all over the rich”?
The third lesson, which is perhaps the most painful, is that the quintessential way to get the talking stick in America is to be a victim. Just yesterday we learned that Tricia Meili, the Central Park jogger who was viciously assaulted and left for dead decades ago, is calling for a release of investigation materials in the cases of the Central Park Five, the five teenagers who were falsely accused of assaulting her. We know who did it: the responsible party is in prison, has confessed to the crime, and is tied to it via robust forensic evidence (the only person who is still confused about this is Trump). We have seen footage of the interrogations of the teenagers. Meili is owed compassion and support for her harrowing experiences, as well as admiration for her long recovery process. But why is she an authority on an event she has no memory of? That we award victims an attentive ear on such matters shows how victimization, or more accurately, a spectacle of suffering, is the qualification you need to be an authority on criminal justice in America. #BlackLivesMatter and #metoo have internalized these messages all too well: in the face of victim voices serving the conservative agenda, like the Tate family, Mark Klaas, and Dominick Dunne, is it any wonder that the progressive response is to put victimization and trauma at the forefront of its own struggle?
The problem with these non-imaginative responses, as Shaun King reminds us, is that progressive punitivism is, essentially, a little-changed version of the conservative punitivism playbook. Applauding the incarceration of a reviled man on solitary at Rikers has as much potential for enshrining the practices of solitary, and the conditions at Rikers, as was applauding the incarceration of the people that the progressive movement cares about in identical conditions. We can and should do better than this every day, but that takes imagination, and shaking off the paradigms shaped by decades of criminal injustice doesn’t come easy. Still, we have to try.
Let’s start with the obvious: Like all the other opinion pieces said, we’re dealing with a corrupt mob boss, a culture of lying and obfuscation, a paranoid president who was saved from himself by aides who, selfishly or selflessly, stopped short of doing his bidding. We’re dealing with an administration of enthusiastic recipients of information and illegalities from a foreign power. And, Mueller explicitly places the ball in the court of Congress: I won’t indict, but you can impeach, and you can certainly indict once he’s out of office (the report twice reminds us, explicitly, that Trump’s supposed immunity while in office–which, by the way, is a topic hotly debated by constitutional scholars–ends when he is no longer president.)
All of these things are true.
It takes a bit of time for the emotional dust from reading the report to settle (I spent about nine hours, give or take, on providing summaries of Volume 1 and Volume 2 yesterday.) Some of what I read was news to me, such as the phonemail Trump received while en route to the airport with Rick Gates
17. Page 54: It seems like Trump and Gates were going to the airport, Trump got a call and then told Gates that more emails were forthcoming.
— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019
and the direct hacking of the election systems in an unnamed Florida county)
15. The GRU also directly intervened in the election by targeting election administrators and hacking computer systems, specifically in Illinois and Florida. B/c of redactions, unclear from this version which of these interventions were successful.
— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019
I was also somewhat surprised by Assange’s partisanship. I had been under the impression that he was a “chaotic neutral”, who was just about nonpartisan free access to everything, but in fact he acted because he was interested in a GOP election win.
12. WikiLeaks were not neutral parties, and their collaboration was fostered by partisanship. Assange explicitly said to WikiLeaks employees that “it would be better for the GOP to win.”
— Hadar Aviram (@aviramh) April 18, 2019
But I have to say, the moment I will most remember from this tweeting enterprise is the brainwave I had when I read about Paul Manafort’s dealings with Kilimnik and, through Kilimnik, with Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president. This came into clearer focus when I read about Petr Aven, and especially about Kyrill Dmitriev, and their efforts to insinuate themselves into the Trump transition team.
The whole thing reminded me, in a nauseating way, of a post I wrote here a while ago, about one of my favorite TV shows as a child: Mission: Impossible. Gentle reader, if you’re a person of a certain age, you probably remember the show not as a flashy Tom Cruise movie, but as a series of episodes involving sophisticated U.S. interventions abroad. At the time, I wrote that the show–
evoke[d] a feeling of nostalgia for a past that never was; a past in which good and evil are clearly delineated in the opening sequence, and in which our secret service works for the undisputed good while we all sleep soundly in our beds. A past in which power is never abused, but tempered with talent and an old-fashioned gentlemanly code. A past in which the United States is a benevolent patriarch, deftly and subtly governing its childlike counterparts. A past in which women and people of color play cameo roles in the world of secret service, and women are praised and utilized for their sexual appeal without complain or critique.
The problem is that this past never existed. In the late sixties, when this show aired on American television, the US was already angling toward a questionable and destructive elective war in Vietnam, and was already involved in fixing (not unfixing!) the elections in various foreign countries, not to mention the ones it was yet to fix. Involvement in attempted and successful assassinations of foreign politicians and dignitaries has been, since then, clearly documented. And let’s not even start discussing foreign military interventions.
How comforting it was to live in the Mission: Impossible world, in which these developments could be either disbelieved or explained away as benevolent and necessary. Which just makes the courage of people like Daniel Ellsberg, who actually saw what was what and brought it into the realm of public consciousness, all the more impressive.
How the tables have turned! Mueller’s investigation reveals a sophisticated, ruthless Russian machinery, consisting of both the GRU and private corporations, that is able to manipulate American social and technological vulnerabilities to an astounding degree. The reason I felt comfortable writing in my tweet thread that Russia “procured” and not just “sought to procure” is because, when you put together Mueller’s findings about the direct interference in Florida and the calculations done by Nate Silver et al. a clear picture of successful intervention emerges. The surges and declines in public support for Trump and Clinton map neatly onto the leaked emails, and the leaked emails were obtained via the well-oiled Russian machine.
But what is most shocking about this is that all of this efficiency and technological acumen was put to work not in the service of politics. Or, I should say–not ultimately in the service of politics. And this is what I realized: Gaming the U.S. election was perhaps a step toward solidifying a peace agreement that guarantees Russian control of the Ukraine, but even that’s not the endgame.
Ask yourself: What are the oligarchs in this for? Why so much public-private cooperation? Why are Russian billionaires in bed with American businessmen/politicians?
Because the political aspects of this, friend, are all a sideshow. The things you and I care about–vanishing civil rights, children in cages, starving Central American nations, planetary destruction–all of this is a sideshow. Manafort, with his deep connections in Russia and the Ukraine, is the key to understanding all of this. He is not a stepping stool toward Trump. He, and Kilimnik, and Yanukovych, and Aven, and Dmitriev, they are the lynchpin of the whole thing. This is all about making money. Obscene amounts of money that you and I cannot even imagine. The U.S. election, which has enormous importance for you and me, is just a means to an end. The real game is not played in D.C., no matter how great or influential Trump thinks he is. The real game is played in Moscow, and probably not even by Putin, but by the oligarchs.
And this is the big shocker. That you and I might devote our lives to public policy, to incarceration and criminalization and confinement conditions and all sorts of things like that, which are the whole world to the people caught in the clutches of the system, but ultimately, they, you, and I, are merely playthings in the lives of the obscenely rich. Just pawns to be moved along in order to make money. Their economic hold on the world is so vast that winning the U.S. election is just a means to an end for them.
And this makes me profoundly sad, and angry, and fearful for our future.
Yesterday I read the Mueller Report in preparation for a few TV appearances and created a Twitter thread condensing the entire report into about 180 tweets. Many people emailed and said they found it very useful. Here are the links to the thread:
I will provide analysis in a separate post.
Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement of a death penalty moratorium drew critique from supporters of capital punishment who argued that Newsom employed his executive power in a way that flies in the face of what the people of California want (which is, by a small majority, the death penalty to stay.) In the last week I’ve had to debate this issue on TV and on the radio with a few commentators, some more erudite than others, and even though the pace of public appearances was rather frantic, I made a mental note that I need to take the counterargument more seriously and think about populism more deeply.
Oh, and let’s talk more about this on April 9 at 7:30pm at Manny’s. Here’s the link to the event–I hope to see many of you there.