Prison Population Soars; Activists Fight Back

The prison population in Massachusetts and Vermont has grown much faster than the population of those states in recent years, according to an investigation by The Valley Post. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of people in state prison in Massachusetts increased by 9 percent, while the state's population increased by less than half of 1 percent.

Between 2003 and 2013, the number of people in state prison in Vermont increased by 10 percent, while the state's population increased by 1 percent.

The New Hampshire prison population has remained relatively stable over the past decade.

The USA has about 2.2 million people in prison or jail. That is a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years. (The nation's population increased 34 percent in the past 30 years.)

African Americans and Latinos are much more likely to be in prison in the USA than white people. That's according to this web page, published by lawyers in Northampton:

www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/raceinc.html

More than 10 percent of the people in Vermont prisons are African American. Just 1 percent of people in Vermont are black.

No other nation on earth incarcerates such a high percentage of its people. As of 2008, the USA had about 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. "England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63." That's according to "U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations," an article by Adam Liptak that appeared in the New York Times on 4/23/2008.

According to the New York Review of Books, "Now and then a book comes along that might in time touch the public and educate social commentators, policymakers, and politicians about a glaring wrong that we have been living with that we also somehow don’t know how to face. 'The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness' by Michelle Alexander [published in 2010] is such a work."

On the book’s web site, she lists groups that work to reduce the number of prisoners in the USA:

www.NewJimCrow.com/take-action

The book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond explains why the average black person is much poorer than the average white person. Rich people can afford better lawyers.

In 2012, a judge ordered John Grega released from prison in Springfield, Vermont, near Brattleboro, after 18 years in prison for a murder that he probably did not commit. The murder happened in 1994 in Dover, Vermont, which is also near Brattleboro. Grega’s lawyer is Ian Carleton of Burlington, Vermont.

As of 2000, there were about 200,000 wrongfully convicted people in prison in the USA. That's according to the book “Actual Innocence” by New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer and two other authors.

Hundreds of prisoners in the USA have been proven innocent using DNA. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before being freed. Seventeen of the people who were freed had been sentenced to death but were freed before the government could execute them. This data is from www.InnocenceProject.org.

About half the people in U.S. prisons are there for non-violent crimes, mostly related to drugs.

As of 2010, there were 665 Vermonters at private prisons in Kentucky and Arizona. The prisoners were sent there by the state of Vermont. The prisons are owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). To boost profits, CCA and other prison corporations lobby for harsher punishment for possession of drugs. These corporations pay their CEOs millions of dollars a year.

While the chances of dramatically reducing the USA's prison population may seem small, in 1989, the chances of Nelson Mandela -- who was then seven years into a life sentence in prison -- becoming president of South Africa were also small. In 1994, Mandela was elected president and one of the world’s most brutal and racist governments was overthrown.

In the United States, 150 years ago, ending slavery and granting women the right to vote both seemed unlikely. Mass movements of ordinary people won justice.

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