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How a heavy police presence in high-crime neighborhoods hurts democracy

By a huge margin, the United States incarcerates a larger portion of its population than other developed nations. The comparative numbers are staggering, so before I get to the main argument made by Yale political scientist Vesla Weaver Tuesday at the Humphrey School, here are a few of the comparative numbers from the International Center for Prison Studies. Listed next to the nations below is the number of number of people in prison in each country per 100,000 population:

  • United States: 716

  • Russia: 502

  • Canada: 114

  • France: 102

  • United Kingdom: 96

  • German: 83

  • Sweden: 70

The U.S. incarceration rate declined over the last three years, but before that it increased for 35 consecutive years, Weaver said. In addition to those who are currently locked up, 16 million ex-felons are out of prison in the United States. Thirty percent of young males have been arrested by the age of 23, Weaver said.

The U.S. prisoner and ex-prisoner population is overwhelmingly disproportionately African-American. And the prisoners (Weaver likes to describe those who are or have been incarcerated as “custodial citizens”) are overwhelmingly drawn from predominantly black inner-city neighborhoods. That’s not much of a surprise, but Weaver offered one striking statistical illustration.

The highest incarceration rate by a Chicago neighborhood is in the predominantly black neighborhood West Garfield Park, and the incarceration rate among residents of West Garfield Park is 42 times higher than the highest incarceration rate in any predominantly white neighborhood, she said.

In the absence of a more thorough study, none of the above proves that racism per se is the explanatory factor, although many laws and policy decisions contribute to the racial breakdown of the prison population. But in her talk Tuesday, Weaver focused more on the impact of this situation on the functioning of democracy in America.

At the most obvious and direct level, the U.S. practice of canceling the voting rights of felons, coupled with the unusually high level of incarceration, removes a large (and disproportionately black) number of  citizens from the rolls of potential voters. The numbers are big enough to affect the outcome of many close elections.

Vesla Mae Weaver
Vesla Mae Weaver

(I asked Weaver after her talk whether the U.S. practice of depriving ex-prisoners of their voting rights for long periods after they leave prison was common around the world. No, she said. In fact, many countries allow convicted felons to vote from prison while serving their sentences, in the belief that this reduces the long-term impact of the inmates’ removal from and alienation from society. But she said it is extremely rare, outside the United States, for ex-felons to be deprived of their votes after release from prison.)

But the explicit suspension of voting rights was only the tip of Weaver’s larger argument, which is the subject of her forthcoming book “Policing Citizenship: America’s Antidemocratic Institutions and the New Civic Underclass,” which relies heavily on interviews that Weaver and her co-author Amy Lerman conducted in the high-crime/high-police-presence neighborhoods.

Not just among those who are arrested but among their families, friends and neighbors, the heavy police presence in those neighborhoods causes residents to see the police as the embodiment of the government and creates a fear of and hostility toward the whole idea of government in ways that undermines any aspiration they might otherwise feel to participate as citizens. It creates a common desire among young black men in such neighborhoods to keep their heads down, not be noticed and stay off the grid in the belief that getting noticed leads to getting at least hassled if not arrested.

Part of the theory behind a heavy police presence in high-crime neighborhoods -- the zero-tolerance-for-crime approach, the focus on cleaning up graffiti and fixing broken windows -- was to give the law-abiding citizens of those neighborhoods confidence in the police and a willingness to engage with the government in ways that might even help them break out of the cycle of poverty.

But Weaver’s interviews with residents of some of those neighborhoods suggest the policy is backfiring, that residents – especially in neighborhoods where police engage in a high-level of stops and searches of young men and especially in neighborhoods where a high portion of those searches do not find any contraband and do not result in arrests – create a mistrust of the police and an unwillingness to engage with the government.

“The stability of democracy depends on the losers, or least powerful, to still believe they can enter the contest, to still abide by the same system rather than seek to subvert it,” Weaver said. But her interviews convinced her that the opposite is occurring.

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Comments (21)

Drugs

I'm curious if Weaver talked about the proportion of the incarceration that is due to the drug war and how that compares to other countries. I'm also curious how much of the 'stop and frisk' approach is drug prevention and how much is related to actual violent crime. If we stopped focusing on the more victimless crimes, we'd be better off in many ways.

Stop 'n' Frisk

Stop and frisk has little relation to violent crime. The Supreme Court has held (Terry v. Ohio) that law enforcement can "stop and frisk" a person (ask for ID, pat them down for weapons) if they have a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that criminal activity is afoot. In other words, if a police officer can string together the proper words, he/she is allowed to stop you and pat you down.

So yes, stop and frisk is more about drug crimes, especially minor possession offenses. The idea seems to be that the recreational users will be deterred from their victimless indulgence if they think they may be subject to an arrest any time they are out and about. I think we know how that has turned out.

One consequence of the practice has been a dysfunctional court system. Defendants in some cities (New York, especially The Bronx) can wait for months or years for their misdemeanor marijuana possession cases to be called for trial. Often, prosecutors end up dropping the case. This would seem to work out fine, except for the extended legal limbo the defendant has been in.

Drugs

Legalize pot like other states and watch N Minneapolis become a place of pride instead of a Gestapo presence.

black victims

There is more black-on-black crime than there is black-on-white crime. This means in a high crime area there will be more black victims than white victims. If I were a black female with small children living in a high crime area I would feel much safer with heavy police presence, because it would lower the chances for me and my children becoming victims. Law enforcement decisions shouldn't be made on the basis of percentages of blacks or whites incarcerated, but on who is most vulnerable.

If you were a black female

If you were a black female you most likely would have a more nuanced view of this, since it would be your brother, cousin, boyfriend who is being stopped and frisked for no reason at all.

I thought that

law enforcement decisions were supposed to be made on the basis of guilt and innocence.

And I don't think that the black-on-black crime rate is 40 times as high as the white-on-white rate.

I agree that the war on drugs has become a war on Americans, and that is a major part of the problem. I don't think that Americans are ten times as likely to use drugs as Swedes.

Another feedback loop is recidivism: incarceration has been shown to make the commission of crimes more likely.

It's a great insight

…and I'd like to see more about it. I, too, have wondered why we seem to go out or our way to generate hostility toward the society in general by treating every criminal (unless it's a truly white-collar crime) as persona non grata. Years ago, the notion that one paid one's debt to society in prison, and that, once released, you were essentially being given another chance, a "do-over," to start a second, better life, was reasonably widespread and also reasonably popular, or at least it was widely accepted. That no longer seems to be the case, and Ms. Weaver has come across some consequences that deserve some serious thought from economic and political leaders.

Creating a permanent underclass, with no investment in the society, is a prescription for doom.

Re-enfranchisement should not be automatic

If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-... ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ].

The fundamental reason for racial disparities in criminal convctions is not racism, btw, but the fact that 72 percent of African Americans now are born out of wedlock. If you grow up in a home without a father, you're much more likely to face poverty, to do poorly in school, and to get in trouble with the law -- whatever your skin color is.

pseudofacts

Correlation does not imply causation.
The rich are more likely to cheat on their income tax and commit other major financial crimes.
Does this mean that being rich makes one a crook?
I'll leave the more likely explanation as an exercise for the readers.

What?

I must be missing something here. A high police presence in high crime neighborhoods hurts democracy so we want less of a police presence in these neighborhoods? Based on the following from our own 4th Precinct I would imagine the police have their hands full dealing with the basics - like responding to serious crimes. I hardly think "cleaning up graffiti and fixing broken windows" is much of a priority.

I would certainly love to talk to some of these people in this neighborhood who want less police. Seriously?

April 23 - April 29 (1 WEEK ONLY)
Mpls. 4th Precinct (Sector 2 ONLY)

ASSAULT:

Assault 3---Significant Bodily Harm

19XX 25th Ave N Tuesday 4/23/13 0845hrs 13-122547

Officers responded to the report of an Assault on a school bus. V1/female, 14 yrs, stated she got on her school bus & a couple stops later, the bus driver picked up S1/male, 13-15 yrs, who attends the same school. The bus drove off before S1 was seated & V1 put her hands up so he wouldn’t fall on her as he lost his balance. S1 then grabbed V1’s hair & pulled on it. S1 also twisted one of V1’s arms while she screamed. V1 went to school, but later went to a medical center & learned that her wrist had been fractured. Both V1 & S1 are in 8th grade at the same school, but she couldn’t remember his last name.

Assault 3---Significant Bodily Harm

7XX Humboldt Ave N Wednesday 4/24/13 1221hrs 13-123662

V1/female, 30 yrs, was assaulted by 3 known suspects & suffered a broken nose. The main aggressor was S1/female, 34 yrs & she was assisted by S2/female, 16-17 yrs, her daughter. V1 was transported to the hospital by her family. Suspects fled in a blue minivan. The report did not indicate a motivation for the assault.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon

49XX Aldrich Ave N Thursday 4/25/13 1838hrs 13-125422

Officers responded to the above location in reference to a Person with a Gun call. V1/male, 42 yrs, stated that AP1/male, 38 yrs confronted him with a shotgun after he accompanied a friend who attempted to collect rent money from AP1. V1 does not know AP1. AP1 pointed the shotgun at V1 while V1 was standing in the front yard of the above address. Officers recovered the shotgun & V1 positively ID’d AP1 as the party who pointed the shotgun at him. AP1 was booked in HCJ for PC Assault 2. V1 was not injured.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon

26XX Broadway Ave W Thursday 4/25/13 2300hrs 13-125942

Officers responded to the hospital to interview the victim of a stabbing. V1/male, 24 yrs, was initially very uncooperative & told officers to leave. V1 was being treated for stab wounds & eventually shared that he was at Broadway & Thomas Aves N. when unknown S1/male, 15-16 yrs, pointed at him & told 3 other males “That’s the guy.” V1 knew he was outnumbered & left the store. At the above location, the suspects caught up with him & V1 decided to strike S1 in the face. V1 was then hit in the back of the head & in the face several times by S1. S1 swung at V1 with a knife & V1 was able to grab the knife & break it, but also sustained stab wounds to his hand. Suspects fled on foot & V1 ran to the hospital. V1 suffered a stab wound to his arm & several defensive wounds to his hand. Injuries were non-life threatening.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon / Discharge Weapon

26XX Dupont Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 1311hrs 13-127740

Officers responded to the report of shots fired. Several people in the area told officers that 2 males, 25-30 yrs, walked up the sidewalk at the above location & started shooting. V1/male, 37 yrs, was struck in the leg & was taken to the hospital by a resident of the address. Officers checked the scene for shell casings & did not locate any. Officers believe the shooters must have had revolvers. V1’s wound is non-life threatening & he does not believe he was the intended target.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon

36XX Penn Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 1851hrs 13-128127

Officer was working off-duty at the above location & heard a gunshot. Officer exited the store & heard 6-8 more shots, then observed a male run into the lot & fall by the squad car. V1/male, 28 yrs, had a bullet hole in his thigh. V1 told officer that he was 3 houses north of the gas station when he was shot & that there were 2 males, 20-30 yrs, with guns. According to V1 these males are gang members & they shot at him because he is a member of a different gang. V1 informed officer that he was shot in the arm about a week ago. V1 was transported to the hospital via ambulance with a non-life threatening wound. Suspects were GOA.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon / Discharge Weapon

41XX Bryant Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 1900hrs 13-128532

Officers responded to the above address on a Damage to Property call & met V1/male, 40 yrs, who stated he heard gunfire & later found a bullet went through the front of his house. V1 was not injured & did not think the shot was directed at him. Officers recovered 2 shell casings & took photos. No suspect info.

Assault 2---w/a Dangerous Weapon / Recovered Gun

13XX Irving Ave N Monday 4/29/13 2205hrs 13-130890

Officers responded to a Person with a Gun call & V1/female, 41 yrs, indicated that AP1/ male, 24 yrs was standing outside with a gun. Officers observed AP1 with a can in his left hand & what appeared to be a handgun in his right hand. AP1 ran from officers & was later apprehended. A loaded handgun with live 9mm rounds in the weapon was later recovered from the area where AP1 fled. A “Show-Up” was conducted & AP1 was positively ID’d as the party who threatened victims with a gun. AP1 was booked in HCJ for PC Assault 2. No injuries.

ROBBERY:

ROBPER (Attempt)

12XX Humboldt Ave N Tuesday 4/23/13 2200hrs 13-123952

V1/male, 16 yrs stated he was walking home from the bus stop on Plymouth & Humboldt Ave N when he heard footsteps behind him. When V1 turned around, he was punched in the nose by one of 3 unknown males, 17-18 yrs. V1 stated the males were wearing dark hooded sweatshirts with the hoods up. V1 heard one suspect say “take his phone.” V1 turned & ran home. V1 had a small cut on the center of his nose. There was no loss.

ROBPAG

8th Ave N & Oliver Ave N Wednesday 4/24/13 1730hrs 13-125041

V1/male, 15 yrs, & V2/female, 16 yrs, were Assaulted & Robbed by 3 juvenile males who followed them after they exited an MTC bus. V1 was punched from behind & pushed into a chain link fence where he fell & dropped an i-Phone. A suspect recovered the phone & V2 jumped in, in an attempt to prevent the suspect from keeping it. V2 struggled with the suspect & was punched in the back of the head by a 2nd suspect. V2 was knocked to the ground & suspects pulled at her backpack. V2 struggled to keep it, but V1 advised her to let them take it, so she let go. Suspects fled on foot with the backpack & i-Phone. V1 suffered a large abrasion on his back from hitting the fence & a bruise to his cheek & eye from being punched. V2 suffered small scratches to her hand. V1 can ID 2 of the suspects as students who attend the same high school.

ROBPAG

32XX Queen Ave N Wednesday 4/24/13 2015hrs 13-124169

V1/male, 11 yrs, stated he was shooting hoops on the basketball courts in Cleveland Park with his phone playing music. V1 was approached by 2 unknown males, 14-17 yrs, who asked if they could have his phone. When V1 told them no, S1 pulled out a handgun & cocked it. S1 said he was going to count to 3 & at the count of 2, V1 handed over his phone. Suspects then fled on foot & V1 ran home. V1 was not injured. The phone does not work for making calls, but can be used to download music. It’s valued at $100.

ROBPAG

Colfax Ave N & Dowling Ave N Thursday 4/25/13 2107hrs 13-125613

V1/male, 53 yrs, stated he was approached from the rear by 5 unknown males, 14-17 yrs, as he walked down the street. One of the suspects asked V1 if he had a dollar & when V1 stated he didn’t have any money, a suspect hit V1 in the back of the head with an unknown object. V1 fell to the ground & felt he dislocated his shoulder as he used his arm to break his fall. Suspects took a can of ice tea V1 had & walked away. V1 refused medical attention, as his sister, RP1, was going to take him to the hospital. V1 stated the back of head was slightly hurt, besides his dislocated shoulder. The ice tea was the only loss. Officers checked the area for the suspects without success.

ROBBIZ (CVS)

24XX Broadway Ave W Friday 4/26/13 2125hrs 13-126877

Officers were dispatched to a Robbery of Biz in Progress & learned that 2 males, unknown ages, with masks & guns, robbed the store. OT1/female, a pharmacist, stated unknown S1, wearing a black bandana, pointed a gun at her & demanded she open the safe. S1 pushed her & told her to hurry or he would blow her head off. OT1 was nervous & entered the code incorrectly (twice). When OT1 was finally able to open the safe, suspects took bottles of Oxycodone from inside. Suspects were observed on store video leaving the front of the store with the loss & entering a white sedan with damage to the rear driver’s side door & a sunroof. It should be noted that suspects pointed their guns at other store employees, demanding Oxycodone, but the employees could not help them. The loss included 15 bottles of Oxycodone with different dosages & number of pills in each bottle. No injuries. Numerous squads arrived but were unable to locate the suspects.

ROBPAG

15XX Irving Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 1800hrs 13-129140

V1/female, 18 yrs, reported that she was Robbed at Gunpoint by known S1/male, 18-19 yrs. V1 stated she was in her vehicle listening to music in the above area when S1 entered the car & pointed a handgun at her. S1 demanded her phone & took it from a holder, then left the area on foot. V1 stated she didn’t report the incident immediately, as she thought she would be able to get the phone back from S1. Value of the phone is unknown. No injuries.

ROBPER

26XX Knox Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 2300hrs 13-128858

Officers responded to a Robbery of Person call at 51XX Humboldt Ave N & met V1/female, 15 yrs. V1 stated she was invited to a house party earlier in the night by a friend, S1/male, 18 yrs, who is her ex-boyfriend. V1 stated there were several people at the party when she arrived. V1 stated she was drinking heavily & the lights went off. V1 stated several people held her down & pulled her pants off, leaving her underwear on. The lights came back on & she was able to put her pants back on, but her cell phone was missing, along with her keys. V1 was not sexually assaulted. V1 was given a ride home by an adult female. V1 stated there were approx. 12 males in the basement & she did not see who took her phone & keys. The phone is valued at $500. One of the suspects also took V1’s eyeglasses.

ROBPAG

36XX Colfax Ave N Saturday 4/27/13 2349hrs 13-128648

Officers were dispatched to the area of 36th & Bryant Ave N on the report of a fight involving 40 people. When officers arrived, Dispatch aired there was an ambulance on the scene for someone who had been hit by a vehicle. Officers did not observe anyone who had been hit by a car, but a male stated his boyfriend was just assaulted by a group of males & needed an ambulance. V1/male, 25 yrs, stated he was outside & started walking towards the fight where 5 males accused him of calling the cops. Suspects began to assault V1 & one took his i-Phone. V1 had a laceration above his eye, but did not want medical attention. V1 was advised to go to the hospital on his own if he did not want to be checked out by ambulance personnel. The phone is valued at $300.

ROBPAG

30XX Penn Ave N Sunday 4/28/13 0820hrs 13-129030

Officers were flagged down by V1/male, 38 yrs, who stated he was just carjacked at the CVS parking lot. V1 stated he was driving his wife’s car when he was approached by 2 unknown males, 20 yrs, & one of the suspects pointed a .45 at him & took his car, while the other suspect drove away in the car both suspects were originally in. V1 stated he chased the vehicle for several blocks. A video recovered at the scene does not match the story V1 provided. It should also be noted that V1 does not possess a valid DL & should not have been driving a car. No injuries.

ROBPER (Attempt)

37th Ave N & Bryant Ave N Sunday 4/28/13 1800hrs 13-130433

V1/female, 15 yrs, stated she was riding an MTC bus on 4/27/13 at approx..1700 hrs, when 3 male suspects, 15-18 yrs, began talking to her. Unknown S3 asked V1 to use her phone & V1 stated no, before putting it back into her bra. S3 continued to ask to use the phone, but V1 stated no, as she suspected he would steal it. V1 stated a fight broke out among the 3 suspects & other males on the bus & the 3 suspects fled the bus before police arrived. On 4/28/13 at 1800 hrs, V1 was walking in the above area with a friend when the same suspects ran up to V1 & knocked her to the ground. S3 attempted to reach up V1’s shirt to get the phone, but V1 held onto the phone, refusing to let S3 get it. V1’s friends attempted to pull the males off V1, at which time one of the suspects grabbed the friend’s purse & ran away. Victims were too frightened to call 911, but V1’s mother brought her daughter to the 4th Pct for the report. V1’s mother had Facebook names for the suspects. The phone is valued at $200. V1 was not injured.

WEAPONS:

WEAP---Carry a Weapon w/out a Permit / Narcotics Violation

51XX Knox Ave N Tuesday 4/23/13 1715hrs 13-122730

Officers executed a search warrant at the above address following a Narcotics investigation of AP1/ male, 34 yrs. Officers located Narcotics & a loaded .40 caliber handgun. AP2/ male, 28 yrs, is a convicted felon & was booked in HCJ for PC Weapons. AP1 as well as AP3/ male, 33 yrs, were booked in HCJ for PC Narcotics. All evidence was property inventoried.

WEAP---Carry a Weapon w/out a Permit / 5th Degree Domestic Assault / Recovered Gun / WT

30XX 6th St N Thursday 4/25/13 2315hrs 13-125770

Officers responded to a Domestic Abuse in Progress call & could hear the sound of someone moving around on the side of the house. Officer observed S1/male, 21 yrs, crouched down with his hands under the wooden porch in a neighboring yard. S1 fit the description of the suspect & officer ordered him to show his hands at gunpoint. S1 fled & officer gave chase. AP1/ male, 24 yrs, was observed standing on the porch at this address. Officer continued to chase S1, but lost him & then helped maintain a perimeter until the search was concluded. S1 was not located, but a loaded handgun was recovered from under the porch where S1 placed his hands. It was learned that AP1 had 3 misdemeanor warrants out of Hennepin County & he was booked in HCJ for same. V1/female, 22 yrs, stated that S1 is her ex-boyfriend & she completed Domestic paperwork.

WEAP---Carry a Weapon w/out a Permit / Warrant

34XX Newton Ave N Monday 4/29/13 0856hrs 13-130046

Officers were dispatched to an Unwanted Person call at the above address. AP1/male, 32 yrs, was found to have an outstanding warrant out of Hennepin County & was taken into custody. A loaded handgun was recovered from the immediate area where AP1 had been sitting. AP1 does not have a permit to carry a weapon & was booked in HCJ for PC Weapons & the warrant.

Racism is systemic

Racism is not just prejudice -- it's prejudice plus the power to enforce the prejudice, and it operates through systems. Including ones that are in theory color-blind. Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow makes this all very clear in the context of incarceration rates, and I recommend it.

So when Roger C says the fundamental reason for disparities in convictions is not racism, he is incorrect. The reason is not prejudice, but it is systemic racism as to how the broken windows theory is applied to neighborhoods dominated by blacks and Latinos.

The most compelling stat is this: "African Americans are not significantly more likely to use or sell prohibited drugs than whites, but they are *made* criminals at drastically higher rates for precisely the same conduct... studies suggest white professionals may be the most likely of any group to have engaged in illegal drug activity in their lifetime, yet they are the least likely to be made criminals." (Alexander, page 197)

If the police were interested in intercepting drug users, they would be busting college dorms and other campus haunts. But they aren't in any significant numbers.

Minnesota Nice? Think twice...

I do wonder, if Dayton's recent hostile, negative reception in Shakopee had been one of a black audience response venting in a similar manner, would it have been listed; consistantly labeled as a high crime area and so 'classically' received?

Other Options

It seems like adding a higher police presence to a high crime area, would be an obvious solution. I can understand the objections though. I'm curious about alternative methods. Do we have any other tried and true options? Perhaps Weaver has mentioned something in her book, but I haven't read it.
My fear is that if we lessen the police presence in an already high crime area, we would see even more crime. We'd also see longer response time to calls for help. I'm guessing we'd see assaults turn into homicide.
But I don't have any data. Has this been tried somewhere?

Tried elsewhere-it's called Newark

From http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137518416/newark-budget-cuts-mean-less-pol...

REED: It was 162 officers who were let go, out of more than 1,200. And NPR obtained internal crime data for the city for six and a half months since the layoffs took effect. If you compare those statistics to the same time period last year, murders are up 52 percent. Car thefts, 33 percent. Robberies, 16 percent. And the number of shooting victims saw a 66 percent increase. During all this, cops performed about 4,000 fewer arrests.

Thanks Pat

That seems pretty bad. I'm curious if Weaver, or any of her fans, have a response on this.

Pretty bad, indeed

I thought her issue was with a heavy police presence that concentrates on minor crimes, such as possession of a small amount of drugs, or loitering.

It should be automatic

I have to disagree with Mr. Clegg.

If you've done a crime so serious that parole is out of the question, then it's a non-issue, and I can't say that I have strong feelings about denying the franchise to people who are currently in prison, and seem likely to spend the rest of their lives there.

I'd have to know more, and it would be a more nuanced conversation, if the focus of the discussion were people now in prison who had a reasonable expectation of parole, and whose crimes were of lesser severity, so that, if things went according to plan, they'd be returning to society. I can think of circumstances (our draconian drug law enforcement of the past generation, "three strikes" laws, and similar situations) where I'd be OK with at least some current prisoners exercising the franchise while still in prison.

Once your "debt to society" has been repaid, however — you've served your time, made your restitution, if it's called for in the sentencing — and are no longer a prisoner, then it SHOULD be automatic that your civil rights are restored. It should NOT be on a "case by case" basis, which allows far too much room for some prejudicial civil authority to get in one more level of punishment. You committed 'x' crime. You were convicted and sentenced. You've served your time and are being released by the state. Ergo, your civil rights are being restored forthwith.

Without that restoration, we're creating our own version of India's infamous "untouchable" class — people at the very bottom of society, with no rights, unable to own property, etc. Not only does creating that sort of underclass fly in the face of both the Constitution and the spirit with which it was created, it is, as I said previously, a prescription for a doomed society. Without rights, those people have absolutely no stake in the success of society, no reason to keep on anything approximating the "straight and narrow," and no reason to respect the institutions of civil authority. We'd be creating our own domestic terrorists.

To my knowledge, there's no secret island to which we can send convicted felons we simply don't want to deal with any more. Except for the most serious offenders, who won't be getting out at all, most criminals eventually have to re-enter society, and we have to figure out how to live with them, just as they have to figure out how to live with us. That so many DO end up going back to prison is more than some sort of "criminal mind set," it's a reflection (and a poor one) of the way our society deals with criminal behavior, and the puny ineptitude of our "rehabilitation" efforts while those people are in prison. Be that as it may, however, I'm simply saying that restoration of civil rights should NOT be up to the discretion of some parole officer or other civil authority. It ought to be automatic upon one's release from prison.

It's what they do

If the extra police are used mainly to stop and frisk randomly or racially chosen individuals (as in NYC under Giuliani), then it is starting to look like occupation by a foreign army. It's true that NY's crime rate dropped, but it also dropped in other cities that did not use aggressive police tactics.
On the other hand, if the extra police are used in community outreach functions, then it can be productive.

The other number that hasn't been given much attention here is the -duration- of incarceration (the length of sentences). Here again, our sentences are longer than in the civilized world; providing postgraduate education in criminal methodology.

Felons and voting rights

A few years ago, I saw a film at a local "fringe festival" type event that addressed the issue of voting rights of felons. The subject or name of the film was "The last time I voted was in third grade." It was about a young man who looks up his third grade friend after many years and learns how his friend last voted for class president in third grade. The reason was he had been convicted of marijuana possession in Ohio which carried a felony penalty. The friend either had a long wait for his rights to be restored or may be it was never, I forget. But the point was to show how complicated it is for an ex-felon to have these rights restored because every state has different laws for when and how you can get your civil rights restored. Apparently in some states you can never get them restored. And the restoration must be with the state which imposed the conviction. If you are convicted of a crime in say Ohio, you can't move to Minnesota and vote because Ohio must restore your voting rights.

This is a problem which highlights our screwed up voting and election laws. Is there a federal right to vote? I think not. The "Voting Rights Act" only established the right to an "equal right" so that your federal right is only the right to have equality not the right to vote. Why shouldn't there be a single law and procedure throughout the land for individuals who have served their time and paid their fines be restored to their civil rights? This strikes me as something which ought not be handled in a such a confusing patchwork way.

Meanwhile, we have scores of artificial "persons" or entities called "corporations" who routinely commit crimes and remain unapprehended and punished. To paraphrase the old saying "why does crime really pay? because if it pays, no one calls it a crime."

I disagree...

I have to respectfully disagree. Our crimes have punishments attached, and after the punishment has been served you've paid back your debt to society. Full citizenship rights should be restored at that point as you don't owe anyone anything at that point and are once again a full member of society. By creating more barriers and hoops to jump through, (along with the possibility that your request to have rights restored can be declined) you are just denying rights to someone who has already paid back their debt for whatever they did. You shouldn't have to prove to anyone that you've turned over a new leaf or are now a model citizen.

If you did the crime, and did the time, you're back to being a citizen. It's hypocrisy to demand a certain character level be achieved to get your rights back when there's no test for them in the first place. There are plenty of terrible, scummy people out there who haven't committed a felony and get to vote already. The rights of citizenship shouldn't apply to just to people with a certain moral character as approved by a small subset of others. For better or for worse, we're Americans and endowed with these rights. Having these review boards to decide whether or not someone can have their rights back, after someone has already served their sentence is just a way for one group of people to keep another group down.

Suggested syllogistic sophistry...

High police presence are used in high crime areas

Republican Convention - not too long ago- used high police presence

Republican Convention was a high crime area...