Sacramento County Jail Gets Sacramento Bee Coverage…Almost. An Open Letter to Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Breton

Covered windows in solitary confinement cell area at Sacramento County Jail

By Mark Dempsey

Dear Mr. Breton,

Thanks for covering the Sacramento County Jail November 10. Based on your coverage, and the overall philosophy of American incarceration, I’d suggested this motto for our justice system: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

You mentioned that Sacramento lost a lawsuit because it was mistreating prisoners, but omitted a few details. For example, crime, arrests and convictions have all been declining, yet, as you mention in your article, the jail remains full, sometimes beyond its initial design capacity.

The Decarcerate Sacramento organization estimates 50 percent to 70 percent of the prisoners in the jail are not convicted of anything; they just can’t afford bail. That’s right, it’s illegal to be poor in Sacramento County.

You also didn’t mention that the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. That’s five times the world’s per-capita average, and more prisoners in absolute numbers or per capita than any other nation, apartheid South Africa, Cuba and the USSR included.

Canada is demographically identical, but per capita has only one seventh the incarcerated of the US. So is Canadian crime worse than US crime? Nope. About the same.

California’s voters have recently approved some propositions to counteract this draconian regime, but the fight against that sensible move has included lies from our sheriff, and opposition from Sacramento’s own DA. San Francisco elected a District Attorney to implement those propositions, and now that DA faces a well-funded recall, in spite of the continued decline in crime.

The problem is as much with what happens outside prison as goes on inside, too. The Federal Reserve reports 40 percent of the US population can’t handle a $400 emergency without selling something or borrowing. And the loans–particularly payday loans, and even credit card loans–are at exorbitant rates.

The desperation of a population attacked by creditors, riddled with COVID, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, plays out in the confrontations with police. I have friends who are policemen and women, and I’d like their jobs to be safer, with fewer encounters with desperate people.

But the beatings will continue until morale improves.

It used to be common sense to believe public assistance was a cheap way to purchase social peace. Now, a large portion of the population believes welfare recipients are cheats and frauds.

The politically popular remedy for our social ills has been to cut welfare and food stamps. Not only that, crushing unions, the defenders of labor, has been an ongoing project of our public policy makers.

Frauds and cheats abound among the wealthy. Because of fraudulent loans, an estimated 10 million homeowners lost their homes in the subprime/derivatives meltdown. Who got the bailout? Wall Street, not Main Street.

None of those Wall Street criminals went to jail, instead they paid dimes on the dollar of their loot in fines.

Also politically popular: more policing. Between 1981 and 2017 the US experienced a 42 percent population increase. During that same period, funding for the police had a 187.5 percent increase. The beatings will continue…

George Santayana was right when he said that “Americans are a primitive people, disguised by the latest inventions.”

The blood lust for more policing and punishment is ineffective, but the current system keeps people angry and defensive–sort of like your reporting about jail abuse that ended with anecdotes about how those released are terrorizing the neighborhood around the jail.
But…the beatings must continue until morale improves.

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