For sex crimes, prison conditions extend beyond prison walls

By Roger Lancaster . . . The criminal justice reform bill, hopefully dubbed the First Step Act, represents a real accomplishment — a positive development in otherwise conservative times. It is all the more remarkable that a reactionary president, who ran a tough-on-crime campaign, is now poised to sign the bill.

But let’s not overstate matters. The bill essentially tweaks an otherwise punitive federal criminal justice system. It represents halting progress at best in efforts to scale back hyper-punishment.

The bill contains many commendable provisions. . . . It culls back some mandatory minimums, notably reducing “three strikes you’re out” from a lifetime penalty to twenty-five years (a penalty that still remains in excess of the effective maximum penalties for the worst crimes in most developed democracies). It enhances awards for inmates’ good behavior. In all, a few thousand people will get out of federal prisons when the bill is signed into law by Trump, and over time a few thousand more will get out of prison earlier than they might have otherwise. . . .

And while penalties for some crimes have become less severe, penalties for other crimes have been becoming more severe: penalties for violent crimes, second offenses, and crimes committed with a handgun. The treatment of undocumented immigrants has become especially harsh. And waves of new laws prescribe harsher sanctions for sex offenders, including offenders whose crimes were nonviolent, noncoercive, and did not even necessarily involve sex.

Mass incarceration is no doubt the most glaring feature of the punitive turn. But the punitive state is not only about prison. . . . sex crimes also have provided a laboratory for the development of prison conditions beyond prison walls: a high-tech system of continuous surveillance and control.

The current news, then, has to be read against the latest number of listings on public sex-offender registries, which have ballooned to more than 912,000 — a 4.8 percent increase in listings in the last year. If sex offenders were a city, they’d rank twelfth in size, just below Austin, Texas.

People on the registries are rendered all but unemployable and unhousable: a pariah caste reduced to a state of permanent social exclusion. These are mostly nonviolent one-time offenders, and their numbers are four times larger than the entire federal prison system today.

Read the full piece here at the Jacobin.

Roger Lancaster is a professor of anthropology and cultural studies at George Mason University and author of Sex Panic and the Punitive State.

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  • This topic has 4 replies, 1 voice, and was last updated 2 years ago by AvatarTim.
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    • #50500 Reply

      Roger you article is good and yes even with myself having a taste of criminal justice and being in jail I was also adviced while in jail it could lead to prison and that is a lot different from a county weekend stay in jail.

      Sure one wants to clean themselve up but how can a SO clean themself up after coming out of prison when they are penelized for the rest of their life at times. Sure memory lingers on if one lets it, but it ways on one’s conscience and not to mention the discrimiation ramifications. While the study of penology is good which is one of the courses one takes in criminal Justice, it seems with this Sex offender thing something is really wrong with America and the Criminal Justice system today or should we all go to the rated PG generation as the movie industry.

      I would just like to know the percentage of people actually getting caught up by betraryal with computer police ethics vs the actual encounter of daily life. While I’m sure we can all understand why college police are on some campasus with actual day to day encounters involving real people in real settings situations its a bit unfathomable for one to break the law of conscience to induce on another in some of this.

      Beaking one’s’ conscience down even in prison or in public trust isn’t a very good principal. Even breaking one’s self esteen is not good. Seems the old saying “Actions speak louder than words” has something missing to it as police and parole boards for rehiblitation want to seem to control the gift of conscience. I still wonder if we all offend in thought and deed or does government miss that part of principal. I wonder what’s getting out of line today in America with the criminal Justice system.

    • #50575 Reply

      I’ve been dealing with a family member’s wrongful sex offense conviction and subsequent hell having to jump all these hurdles that this one-way system has put us through. It is a system designed to sway the ignorant public (and get their votes) and protect the judges, district attorneys, and cops while they leap-frog each other term after term. All at the tax-payer’s expense.

      To say this system is broken isn’t even close. It’s malicious. It’s vindictive. We need rational reform.

    • #50709 Reply

      It is distressing for a lot on the regrestry. My uncle and one of his friends were sent to pruntytown when we lived in WV. While I don’t know a lot of details about it it is suppose to be a Division for Corrections and Rebhablitation. He was sent their in because of a little robbery he and his friend committed while in junior high. It upset the family and even my grandmother had to go and ask the governor for pardon back than.

      Sure my grandmother had her religious belief’s as I’m sure a lot do but she was determined to get her boy out of jail for this robbery. The grocry store was a small produce type fruit market or stand back in the late 30’s and 40’s. Well he wound up in the service going to WAR and I’m sure that relieved a lot of stress by going to fight for our country at that time during WW!! but what is going to relieve the stress of the sex offender or the rehiblitation of this enrounous type of computer justice or vain glory in some instances. Are those to be haunted even after prison life that are dabbed a sex offender today by state law in many of thse ordeals.

    • #50712 Reply

      I’ve some anecdotal evidence of the effects. My twins have a friend who’s rather is in fed lockup for a narc. distibution. He has been granted a 120 day release notice pending…..
      This kid (20) stays with us on college break. He was in tears. Hope goes a long my way!

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