Tonight: Inside Our Prisons with Koppel on Discovery Channel

The show not to miss tonight is Ted Koppel's special on the Discovery Channel: Inside Our Prisons on the broken prison system in California. (9PM ET)

While shooting, Koppel spent a number of days among the general population at Solano. His reporting focuses on the inhabitants of H Dorm, where inmates are stacked in triple-deck bunk beds on an old indoor basketball court. Correctional officers are so badly outnumbered that prison officials keep inmates segregated by race and gang affiliation in a desperate effort to avoid friction and maintain control. Even so, Solano still sees three to four race riots a year. Using smuggled cell phones, gang bosses continue running criminal operations on the street from behind prison walls. At the same time, they’re running drug and prostitution rings inside Solano.

If California doesn't come up with a long-term solution, the federal courts likely will begin ordering the release of prisoners.

It costs as much to house a prisoner in California for a year as it does to send a kid to Harvard. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country.

The two hour show is about California, but the same problems exist across the country.

America, Prison Nation.

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    Building prisons...with whose money? (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by SeeEmDee on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 07:52:54 AM EST
    After the orgy of binge spending to build those prisons, it's time to pay the fiscal piper.

    The tax base of the US is not large enough to pay for the Budget, so we borrow money from China (a totalitarian country that imprisons non-violent offenders for political reasons) to build prisons here in the US (which house mostly non-violent offenders of drug laws). In fact, we incarcerate more people than China does...mainly for  possessing, using and selling something made illicit (that used to be cheap when it was legally available and thus provided no incentive for criminality).

    So...how much longer can we continue to borrow money from people who see us as the main impediment to their own geopolitical ambitions, and would like to see us out of the way? Only for as long as they're willing to see their investments p***ed away courtesy of a declining dollar's value. When they decide to pull the plug,  many prisons will have to be emptied, as we simply cannot afford to spend the money to staff and maintain the ones we already have. A fact many States are already coming to grips with.

    Expect to hear more politicians start making noises about being "smart" on crime, as opposed to being "tough" on crime, to reflect the fiscal realities. Anything to avoid admitting they took the wrong path with their DrugWar by thinking they could incarcerate their way out of a problem that never had to be one to begin with. So dumb...

    China only reports the number of (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by JSN on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 11:11:52 AM EST
    sentenced persons in prison and they lock up lots of folks who are  never charged. People disappear (and sometimes reappear) in China and it is very difficult to find out what happened to them.

    Roy Walmsley is the author of the report that gives the data and data sources on international incarceration rates. The report can be found at  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf. His report has been quoted by others who neglect to mention that the various national reports are incomplete and are not directly comparable.

    My view is that persons who are not a threat to the safety of others or to themselves should not be incarcerated. What I think is the problem is that the legislators have seriously overestimated the effectiveness of incarceration as a deterrent and when they find it is not working they increase the length of the sentence. Most of the legislators I know individually are intelligent hard working people but when they get together to pass legislation something goes badly wrong.

    I have no idea how we will pay the construction costs for next wave of prison expansion and they only possible way to pay for the increased prison operating expenses is to transfer funds from education and human services (because that is where the money is).


    Koppel: a reporter's reporter (none / 0) (#1)
    by LonewackoDotCom on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 12:25:39 PM EST
    I'm sure that Koppel - a true reporter's reporter - will dedicate at least half an hour of the show to the fact that a good segment of the CA prison population is foreign citizens who are here illegally. Just you watch: he's not going to let the fact that pointing that out would disturb those who profit from illegal immigration in some way dissuade him from reporting the full truth. No sirree!

    Actual information on immigrants' crime rate (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by janinsanfran on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 12:12:53 AM EST
    Folks might want to look at this report of a recent study.

    "Even as the undocumented population has doubled to 12 million since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent," according to the report.

    That crime drop was true even in cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles or Miami, the report said.

    Considering that illegal immigrants (none / 0) (#10)
    by Pancho on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 08:46:59 AM EST
    have such a low crime rate, why does anyone have a problem with deporting the few that do commit crimes?  Why were they marching in the streets of my city of Waukegan, IL when 287(g) was considered?

    On the pie chart of prison demographics... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 12:35:26 PM EST
    ...Non-violent drug offenders make up the most disturbingly large slice.  Undocumented aliens make up a sliver comparatively.  

    Numbers (none / 0) (#3)
    by 1980Ford on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 04:21:16 PM EST
    Marc Klass (none / 0) (#5)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 01:30:43 AM EST
    Of all the victims' rights advocates, I think Marc Klass is the most sincere and deserves the most respect. Maybe he wanted to kill Richard Allen Davis and who could blame him, but he didn't let that get in the way of what he thought needed to be done. He settled for justice and didn't blame everyone in sight. He was against the 3-strikes law because it was too broad.

    I missed the first of this program and don't know if Koppel got into Mike Reynolds or not, but he, the Republican Party and the prison guard union were the real force behind the law. They used Polly.

    For the politics of it, see Cruel Justice
    Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State

    Marc Klass isn't "soft on crime," no, he just wants less crime, less victims and is able to look at it from every angle and not just from the point of view of selfish revenge. He really cares and it isn't just politics to him.

    His quote at the end of the program was spot on, to paraphrase: "Building more prisons is akin to saying we can cure AIDS by building more cemeteries."

    Data? (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 11:17:41 PM EST
    How many people are really in state prison (as opposed to county jails for shorter sentences) are really non-violent first time offenders who were charged with drug possession only?  At least around here (in New York State) first time offenders like that get probation or at most a few months of county time.  First time offenders of any sort don't get state prison unless the crime is pretty heinous or it's large-scale drug possession.

    In my state (Iowa) there is no mandatory (none / 0) (#9)
    by JSN on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 07:38:30 AM EST
    minimum sentence for drug possession so there are very few prison inmates where the most serious charge is drug possession. OTOH the threshold for the amount of drugs it takes to be charged with drug trafficking is very small. The legislature obviously wanted to severely  punish all drug traffickers even if that meant severely punishing some users as well.

    With a few exceptions the drug sentence can be suspended and the convict placed on probation (in some cases they are incarcerated and then re-sentenced to probation). For mandatory minimum drug sentences a little over half of the prisoners entered on new court commitment and the rest entered because of a revocation or some type of return. For other drug sentences over half of the prison admissions were revocations and returns. A judge often will try probation in cases where there is little risk to public safety and the convict does not have a serious criminal record if they screw up they probably will be incarcerated in jail and if that does not improve things they will be sent to prison.

    The short answer to your question is over half are probably low risk offenders who screwed up.


    low risk or high risk? (none / 0) (#11)
    by diogenes on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 02:35:29 PM EST
    Is a low risk offender with enough of a conviction to get prison time but who is on probation and "screws up" still a low risk offender?

    Public safety and drugs is not a simple (none / 0) (#12)
    by JSN on Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 03:03:43 PM EST
    issue. The drug user is a threat to their own safety but for some types of drugs the threat is small. The collateral damage from drug trafficking can range from minor to devastating. The folks who have suffered severe damage tend to be very hardline on drugs and other deny there is any collateral damage at all. There is no one-size-fit-all answer (there are over twenty drugs in common use) but the legislatures tend to force such answers down our throats.

    The short answer to your question is the BOP does not consider parole/probation violators as good candidates for early parole and they call the shots.