Please read Christopher Glazek’s “Raise the Crime Rate” in the latest issue of n+1

It’s not very often that I read something that pierces me straight to my core. This week I’ve had the fortune and pleasure of reading two: Mike’s moving, uplifting tearjerker of a post on adult cinema and Christopher Glazek’s latest muckraker in the most recent issue of n+1, “Raise the Crime Rate.”

Glazek’s piece, an indictment on this country’s criminal justice system, is expansive. Here are some highlights:

  • The United States is now the most incarcerated country in the world (not quite a shocker)
  • The United States is the second-most incarcerated country in history (Stalin’s Soviet Union has the distinction in that category)
  • The United States likely may be the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women
  • One in three black baby boys can expect to spend part of his life in prison (unfortunately, not news)
  • The United States spends $200 billion on the correctional system each year, which exceeds the GDP of 25 US states and 140 foreign countries
  • The criminal justice sector inflates local population of prison zones for purposes of congressional districting and social spending; thousands of people are moved from urban districts, which need public money, to rural districts; prisoners bolster the voting power of said rural districts while being unable to vote themselves
  • In short, our prisons are moral “blind spots” absent of justice or compassion, where abuses run rampant. The entire system is founded on racism, classism, and corruption, both historically and presently. Glazek’s conclusion is that we need to abolish our entire system of incarceration and deal with the ensuing ramifications. Whether or not you agree with his extreme position, you cannot shake the damning evidence he presents.

    Like all great muckraking pieces, this essay had me fuming, irate, fist-shaking. For those who know me, I’m no fan of the war on drugs, which is in practice an undisguised racist war on the poor urban class in this country. This is hardly a radical position, especially urbanites who adore The Wire. But it renders me pretty helpless when confronted with the truth that the decrease in crime and correlated increase in safety in New York City (and I assume in other parts of the country) are directly correlated to a whole new set of injustices: those done to our incarcerated population. I’ve always had my doubts and criticisms about our criminal justice system, but those were vague, generically leftist, not wholly-informed biases, and I’d never been presented such condemning evidence; it had never been a priority on top of the myriad of problems facing our country: political corruption, financial chicanery, environment crises, a decaying public infrastructure, a lack of rationality and a profound anti-intellectualism in our civil discourse, a fundamental absence of decency in our treatment of others. Throw this one on top of the innumerable list of shit to fix. I’m feeling pretty gutted right now. What the fuck kind of world do we live in?

    I’m leery, weary, and very aware of the fact that my last two posts are painting me as a holier-than-thou, Mitch-Albom-type eager to criticize the flawed and decaying world around me. I lead a pretty cushy life and can rail against the 1% while patting myself on the back because I’m “in the know” and can be self-righteously upset. God knows that, as an educated, gainfully employed male somewhat comfortably ensconced in the (lower) middle class, I benefit from a whole lot of the injustices done around me. I live in a nice part of Brooklyn (DUFL, what?), I eat lavishly at neighborhood foodie restaurants, and I buy new wing-tipped boots without batting a (shoe) eye. But how much injustice are we, am I, willing to buttress my lifestyle with?

    On a final note, Glazek’s piece really brought to my mind Ursula LeGuin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” If you’ve never read it, please do so.

    5 Comments on “Please read Christopher Glazek’s “Raise the Crime Rate” in the latest issue of n+1”

      • Jonathan H. says:

        This New Yorker piece is eye-opening, especially when it references William J. Stuntz’s “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice” and contrasts our Bill of Rights with the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. From the beginning, this country has emphasized process and procedures over principles, fairness over justice.

        As an educator, this is something that I have had to deal with my entire teaching tenure: the complaints from students over apparent “unfair” treatment, and the demand that all students be treated the same, regardless of individual circumstance. Makes it very hard to differentiate instruction and treat students as individuals.

    1. Diana L. says:

      I wish this article talked more about how we’ve criminalized drug use in low-income communities while completely ignoring it in college campuses and affluent suburbs, where people are just as likely to use and sell drugs. Reagan declared a “war on drugs” when drug use was actually on the decline and then waged the most successful PR campaign ever.

      We’ve criminalized drug use, and then actually made it impossible for those released from prison not to lead criminal lives, because they’re barred from public housing, can’t receive food stamps, and have no prospect of getting a job because they have to check the “former felon” box. The fact that we’re worrying for our collective safety because our process of criminalization actually creates criminals is absolutely absurd.

      • Anthony says:

        Agree with everything you said, Diana. Only one quibble: felons can receive food stamps, medicaid, and other benefits in New York.

        • Diana says:

          Good point, Anthony. I’d be curious which states ban former felons from food stamps, public housing, the right to vote and serve on juries, etc. Someone should make a chart, if it doesn’t exist already.

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