Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
On the heels of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin tragedies—and in light of more recent injustices like the fatal shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an unarmed Mexican national whom Pasco, Washington, police officers saw fit to shoot multiple times despite his apparent surrender—there’s plenty of reason to despair the sorry state of our criminal-justice system and the havoc it wreaks on the lives of too many innocent victims and their families.
But these days, there is some reason for hope. In the wake of so much cop-on-civilian violence, we’re beginning to hear a national rallying cry for criminal justice reform—and not just from protestors and progressives, who have been leading the charge for decades, but also from unlikely allies, including the Koch brothers and Newt Gingrich. This is an issue that unites the ACLU and Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks. And given this broad-based enthusiasm behind fixing our criminal justice system, it’s time we paid attention to a critical component that’s been missing from the conversation: the crisis in our nation’s local jails.
Although we hear plenty about increasing rates of mass incarceration within state and federal prisons, we hear much less about the role played by local jails. This silence should be startling, as there are 11.7 million local jail admissions every year in the United States—twice as many as there were twenty years ago—compared to 631,000 state and federal prison admissions. The problem looks especially stark—and constitutionally troublesome—when you consider that, at any given moment, some three-fifths of the 722,000 prisoners in America’s local jails have not been convicted of the alleged crime for which they’re being detained. Many, in fact, are simply too poor to post even a small bail to get out while their cases are being processed.
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.