The simple truth about why mass incarceration happened – Updated by German Lopez on August 30, 2015, 10:00 a.m. ET


How could US politicians possibly think it was a good idea to incarcerate millions of Americans starting in the 1980s, creating the system of mass incarceration we have today?

It’s a question that gets tossed around a lot nowadays, with varied answers — from claims it was an attempt to control the population to arguments that private prisons created a profit motive for locking up millions of Americans.

But there’s a much simpler explanation: The public wanted mass incarceration.

Chart of percent of Americans who said crime is "the most important problem."

It’s easy to forget now, but the politics of crime were huge in the 1990s. According to data from Gallup, never before or after the nineties have so many Americans said that crime is the most important problem facing the country today.

Americans had a very good reason for these concerns. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, crime was unusually high. The country was still coming off what was perceived as a crack cocaine epidemic, in which the drug ran rampant across urban streets and fueled deadly gang violence. So Americans, by and large, demanded their lawmakers do something — and politicians reacted with mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime policies.

It’s very easy in hindsight to consider this an overreaction — now that we know crime began its decades-long decline in the early 1990s, and now that researchhas shown that mass incarceration only partly contributed to this decline.

But people didn’t know that at the time. They didn’t know crime was about to begin its long-term drop, and the research on mass incarceration was far from conclusive.

Politicians thought crime would get worse, not better

In fact, there were warnings at the time that things were on the verge of getting worse. One prominent concern in the 1990s — based on what turned out to be very bad social science research — suggested that there was an incoming epidemic of superpredators, violent youth who would rob and kill people. This great video, from the New York Times, captures the era well:

In this context, it was expected that all politicians — liberal and conservative — take a tough stance on crime. That’s partly why liberals like Hillary ClintonJoe Biden, and Bernie Sanders supported the 1994 crime law that contributed to mass incarceration. It’s why dueling candidates for governor in the liberal state of New York campaigned on who could be tougher on crime. And it’s why practically every state passed tough-on-crime policies throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

More than two decades later, criminal justice reform is all the rage. It’s an expectation for Democratic presidential candidates to have a progressive criminal justice platform. So the same politicians who caused this problem are being asked to undo what they did in the past. And they face a common question: How can they be expected to solve a problem that they helped cause?

Popular demand for tough-on-crime laws in the past doesn’t in any way excuse the devastation lawmakers inflicted on millions of people through mass incarceration and other policies. But based on voters’ concerns in the 1990s, if a politician didn’t contribute to the problem back then, he or she may not be prominent enough to run for president today. That’s how America ended up with mass incarceration — and the seemingly contradictory Democratic presidential candidates for 2016.

Article continues:

http://www.vox.com/2015/8/30/9223105/why-mass-incarceration

Fed Appears to Hold Line on Rate Plan By JON HILSENRATH And BEN LEUBSDORF Aug. 30, 2015 2:25 p.m. ET


Stock-market volatility and China’s woes fail to alter policy makers’ view of improving job market, economy

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, attending the Jackson Hole, Wyo., symposium, avoided sending a signal about whether the Fed will act to raise rates at its next meeting. PHOTO: JONATHAN CROSBY/REUTERS

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, attending the Jackson Hole, Wyo., symposium, avoided sending a signal about whether the Fed will act to raise rates at its next meeting. PHOTO: JONATHAN CROSBY/REUTERS

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo.—Federal Reserve officials emerged from a week of head-spinning financial turbulence largely sticking to their plan to raise U.S. interest rates before the end of the year.

During the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual economic symposium here, many policy makers signaled that stock-market volatility and China’s woes haven’t seriously dented their view that the U.S. job market is improving, and that domestic economic output is expanding at a steady, modest pace.

Inflation might remain low for longer thanks to falling oil prices and a strong dollar. Officials will continue to keep a close watch on markets and China. But they hope U.S. consumer-price inflation will start inching toward their 2% annual target as the economy’s untapped capacity gets used up, leaving them in position to start raising rates after several months of forewarning.

“There is good reason to believe that inflation will move higher as the forces holding inflation down—oil prices and import prices, particularly—dissipate further,” said Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer in comments delivered to the conference, which ended Saturday.

The Fed has said it will raise rates when it is reasonably confident the inflation rate will rise again to 2%. Mr. Fischer’s comments suggested he believed the economy is closer to that point, although he pointedly avoided sending a signal about whether the Fed will act at its next meeting.

“I will not, and indeed cannot, tell you what decision the Fed will reach by Sept. 17,” Mr. Fischer said.

Article continues:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-appears-to-hold-line-on-rate-plan-1440959106

 

Shooters Quicker To Pull Trigger When Target Is Black, Study Finds – NPR STAFF AUGUST 29, 2015 6:37 PM ET


Shown a realistic human target — not just a silhouette like this one — shooters were more likely to pull the trigger if the target was black, according to an analysis of 42 studies. "Even if you think that you're not prejudiced," says researcher Yara Mekawi, "that doesn't necessarily mean that that's true in terms of split-second decisions that you might make in the real world."

Shown a realistic human target — not just a silhouette like this one — shooters were more likely to pull the trigger if the target was black, according to an analysis of 42 studies. “Even if you think that you’re not prejudiced,” says researcher Yara Mekawi, “that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s true in terms of split-second decisions that you might make in the real world.” Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Are most people more likely to pull the trigger of a gun if the person they’re shooting at is black?

A new meta-analysis set out to answer that question. Yara Mekawi of the University of Illinois and her co-author, Konrad Bresin, drew together findings from 42 different studies on trigger bias to examine whether race affects how likely a target is to be shot.

“What we found is that it does,” Mekawi tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “In our study we found two main things: First, people were quicker to shoot black targets with a gun, relative to white targets with a gun. And … people were more trigger-happy when shooting black targets compared to shooting white targets.”

That is, shooters weren’t just faster to fire at black targets; they were also more likely to fire at a black target.


Interview Highlights

On the kinds of studies they were analyzing

Our inclusion criteria was pretty much that they used what’s called a first-person shooter task. … Participants are generally told that police officers are often put in high-stress situations where they have to make very quick shooting decisions.

And so they are presented with images of targets from various races that either have a gun or have some kind of neutral object. So, sometimes it’s a soda can; other times it’s a cellphone. And what they’re told is, to make the decision to shoot when they see a target with a gun.

Article continues:

http://www.npr.org/2015/08/29/435833251/shooters-quicker-to-pull-trigger-when-target-is-black-study-finds

 

Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to three years in jail by Egyptian court – August 29, 2015 6:25AM ET Updated 9:39AM ET


Jailing of Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste a ‘death knell for freedom of expression,’ says Amnesty

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at Aug 30, 2015 3.30

A court in Egypt has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organization.”

Egyptian Baher Mohamed, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were all handed three-year jail sentences when the court in Cairo delivered the verdict on Saturday, sparking worldwide condemnation of the decision.

Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing. An appeal against the verdicts is planned.

Judge Hassan Farid, in his ruling, said he sentenced the men to prison because they had not registered with the country’s journalist syndicate.

He also said the men brought in equipment without security officials’ approval, had broadcast “false news” on Al Jazeera and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission. Following the sentence hearing, both Mohamed and Fahmy were escorted to Tora prison in southern Cairo, according to Egyptian media.

Article continues:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/8/29/al-jazeera-journalists-sentenced-to-three-years-in-jail-by-egyptian-court.html