Following Up on the Obama/Simon Interview
MeanMesa would like to add a few points to the conversation.
Although we may be accustomed to seeing the President when he is addressing the latest manufactured "Congressional crisis," it turns out that Barack Obama is also a thoughtful, insightful and politically innovative "idea guy" when he is simply speaking about his interest in certain social issues. Because there is a very low possibility for "if it bleeds, it leads" television "red meat journalism" with such occasions, this remarkable interview has received relatively low exposure -- less than it deserves.
If you haven't had a chance to watch it, you can see the whole interview here: VIDEO - Barack Obama Interviews The Wire Creator David Simon About Criminal Justice Reform. The video is courtesy of YOUTUBE with a duration of 13 minutes. [MeanMesa has never seen "The Wire" because Short Current Essays Galactic HeadQuarters can't afford cable. Read more about "The Wire" here - The Wire/WIKI]
If, on the other hand, you think Barack Obama is a "Muslim ISIS spy" or a "deep jungle African cannibal," you should probably stop reading here. MeanMesa applauds the work this remarkably intelligent and effective President often, and this post will offer no exception to that trend.
|Barack Obama and David Simon [image - iphone logic]|
To introduce a background for this post we can examine a few of the things the President said specifically about incarceration rates, sentencing, recidivism and the enduring social and life disruption occurring for people caught convicted under the existing drug laws.
This post will introduce an alternative educational "investment plan" which might actually begin to bend the "school to prison" track which feeds the constant stream of young people into the judicial system the President is discussing. First, take a quick look at these excerpts of the transcript of the interview.
[Excerpted. Quotations are attributed to this source. Read an entire transcript of the interview here - SALON]
Obama: And we’ve seen reductions in violent crime in most big cities in America, in some cases precipitously, partly because I think there was an awareness we were so invested in street-level drug transactions we were losing focus on what was really important, which is that people wanted to be safe. On the other hand, what we know is that a consequence of that was this massive trend towards incarceration, even of non-violent drug offenders. And I saw this even during the period that you were reporting and then starting to write for television. I saw this from the perspective of a state legislator, this, just, explosion of incarcerations, disproportionately African American and Latino. And the challenge which you depict in your show is, folks going in at great expense to the state, many times trained to become more hardened criminals while in prison, come out and are basically unemployable. And end up looping back in.
Simon: Permanently a part of the other America, they can’t be pulled back. Nobody incarcerates their population at this level. And to look at it when I came in as a police reporter, the federal prison population was about 34% violent offenders. When I left as a police reporter 13 years later, it was about 7%. So these were less violent people getting longer sentences, of course there was the elimination of parole and good time, all you had was good time, so people were staying in. And you’re absolutely right, they come out completely tarred, they can’t vote, they can’t participate in their communities, they’ve lost track of families, families have been destroyed, communities have been upended. And if it was this draconian and it worked, then maybe we could have a discussion that said what we’re doing is working –
Obama: ‘The trade offs were working.’
Simon: Yeah: ‘It’s terrible and we’re losing a lot of humanity, but hey, it’s working.’ But it doesn’t work. It’s draconian and it doesn’t work.
Obama: I’ve been looking at, because it’s part of the fallout of what you describe: As the economy’s recovering, unemployment is coming down drastically. But one of the puzzles we have is we still have low participation rates among the population in the aggregate, but when you break down why people are not getting back in the labor force even as jobs are being created, a big chunk of that is the young male population –
Simon: With a felony history.
Obama: With felony histories. So now, where we have the opportunity to give them a pathway towards a responsible life, they’re foreclosed, and that’s counterproductive.