Melissa Harris-Perry | November 18, 2012
>>> we're back talking about the conditions inside of america's prisons . judge, i wanted to go to you. you said there's a connection between the mandatory minimums and solitary confinement .
>> i think so. it's one of the uninten tended consequences of mandatory minimums . in 1980 there were 4200 inmates serving drug sentences. they now have 97,000. the bureau of prisons is 41% over capacity 55% over capacity in the higher level security prisons where they tend to put people in solitary more often. it's the overcrowding because of mandatory minimums and lengthy drug sentences that causes the increased use and overuse of solitary confinement .
>> you know, you make this point earlier about the sort of class warfare that's part of the war on drugs. you end up with disparities with meth versus other kinds of drugs and with crack versus powder cocaine. we have to remember that correctional officers also often come from very working class communities. it's not a high-paid, well remunerated job. you end up with circumstances as you were saying glenn, if you're a hammer, everything appears to be a nail. you have folks who often don't have a lot of educational opportunities themselves in circumstances that are now overcrowded and solitary becomes the stick with which to try to control an entire population.
>> that's right. my passion for this issue actually began a few years ago when i visited guantanamo to report on the military commissions, was concerned about the detention conditions there. miles away at my own state of connecticut was a super max prison holding people in solitary in conditions thrive al the ones in guantanamo . when we began working on the film, what we heard was this language that the super max was built for the worst of the worse. these are dangerous violent offenders. when you dig in more, the proliferation of prisons and we've had solitary since the early 19th century , but the proliferation of super max prisons in the last two decades, 45 out of 50 states have super max prisons has led to their overuse. you have people who are caught in the system and made to be worse.
>> the fact that juveniles end up in these circumstances and simply put there for their own -- i think this is the one that makes me most appalled because at least in our country, there was for some period of time a sense that the retribution nature of adult corrections was different than what was meant to be the rehabilitative nature of juvenile corrections. that seems to be gone.
>> that changed in the '80s and '90s. the idea of rehabilitation changed and it became punitive. there was so much crime that the public wanted answers. we were angry. in 1988 george h.w. bush brought out the willie horton ads . since that time, no politician can afford to be soft on crime. the use of solitary is in some ways a i am tomorrow of the overcrowd of the prison, if you will, the dumping of all of our social problems , mentally ill , juvenile, gangs. the resentment towards prisoners that leads to the underfunding of prisons . overcrowding, making prisons unsafe and when they're unsafe, people act out. they fight with each other. they end up in solitary. the officers are frightened. let me -- i'll go you one better. in at least one state if an inmate entered the system and they believed he was a gang member , he was automatically put directly into segregation unless and until he renounced his gang membership and informed, i'm talking about guantanamo , informed on other gang members which in some ways could be a death sentence for himself. now, if that's not an issue of segregation, i don't know what is.
>> i appreciate that you brought this -- there's an international politics for this, there's a taste in our domestic politics that emerges. we have both democrat and republican presidents growing the size of the complex. there's also, of course profit. part of the reason you end up with super maxes is because there's profit there. martin, thank you for joining us today. we'll stay on the issue of prisons . we're going to try to pep up just a little. i promise there are at least some solutions to at least some aspects of our prison crisis. we're going to talk about those when we come