Tuesday, October 25, 2016

the last book I ever read (Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, excerpt thirteen)

from Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson:

That Attica had directly, albeit unwittingly, helped to fuel an anti-civil-rights and anti-rehabilitative ethos in the United States was soon clear to people paying attention to electoral politics across the nation. Any politician who wanted money for his or her district had learned that the way to get it was by expanding the local criminal justice apparatus and by making it far more punitive. The tougher on law and order a district was, the more dollars would come its way. As Republican state senator John Dunne put it bluntly, “As a result of Attica, the public attitude is that we’ve got to get tougher. That means we’ve got to put more people in prison. We have not reached the point where as many people as should be in prison, are there.”

Dunne had no idea how right he was about the public’s expectations. Notably, for all of the Rockefeller administration’s nods to prison reform funding in 1972, the following year Governor Rockefeller added to his reputation of being tough on criminals by passing a set of drug laws that were more draconian than anything that had ever before been on the books. Legislation was enacted that, for example, “created mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possession of four ounces of narcotics—about the same as a sentence for second-degree murder.” These 1973 drug laws were subsequently duplicated across the country, in ever more punitive iterations, over the next two decades. By 1978, for instance, Michigan had passed a so-called “650-Lifer” law that automatically gave life sentences to anyone caught with 650 grams of cocaine. And seemingly overnight, any crime—not just drug crimes—could net someone extraordinary penalties.

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