MSNBC Panel: 'Shameful' Sessions Putting Too Many Criminals in Prison

When you hear the words "mass incarceration," you know you're about to see a group of liberals complaining that there are too many criminals in prison, and that more should be released back into society. Such was the case on Thursday's MSNBC Live as host Ali Velshi presided over and voiced agreement with an all-liberal panel with Roland Martin of News One Now and Glenn Martin of Just Leadership USA.

The MSNBC host recalled the recent appointment of a new director of prisons, and then got into reciting prison statistics as he set up the segment:

Let's take a closer look at the job he's going to be facing -- mass incarceration in the United States. In the United States, the U.S. population -- the U.S. makes up five percent of the world's population, but accounts for -- look at this -- 25 percent of the world's prisoners. There are currently 2.3 million Americans behind bars and another 5.6 million under some form of correctional supervision. 

Without noting that, in a nation of 330 million residents, 2.3 million prisoners is substantially less than one percent of the population, he then turned to recounting statistics on the race of prison inmates:

Now, it's not evenly distributed. African-Americans and Hispanics make up about 32 percent of the U.S. population -- much more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts. They comprise 56 percent of all incarcerated people in the United States.

Velshi did not mention that crime statistics for decades have shown disproportionately higher crime rates by minorities.

He also did not inform viewers that, since the early 1990s when the prison population was less than half what it is now, there were about 25,000 homicides per years but, after incarceration rates were increased in the 1990s, violent crime plummeted with homicides dropping to around 15,000 a year.

After noting that people in prison have a higher rate of mental illnesses, he went on to compare spending on prisons to spending on food stamps, as if the spending on prisons were unreasonably high.

He then brought aboard both of his guests, and bemoaned that, in the U.S., "we've got way more people as a proportion of our population in jail than any other developed country."

Glenn Martin griped about the Trump administration as he praised the Obama administration for "making clear strides to reduce our prison population," as if releasing criminals back into society were a good thing.

When it was Roland Martin's turn to speak, he derided Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a "relic" and as being "shameful" for wanting to imprison more criminals:

<<< Please support MRC's NewsBusters team with a tax-deductible contribution today. >>>

Jeff Sessions is a relic to a day that should be buried in American history. All he thinks about is locking folks up. We know that has not been successful. And I would hope that folks like Ralph Reed will bring along his evangelical white Christians to stand against Jeff Sessions. I would hope Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, the Koch brothers -- individuals who have talked about criminal justice reform -- will stand up to Jeff Sessions, will stand up to Donald Trump and say this is not the pathway. 

Roland Martin -- who recently complained that O.J. Simpson had been given too long a sentence -- suggested that he supports imprisoning people who have been "heinous" or "very violent" as the recurring MSNBC guest continued:

Look, there are people who are black and who are Hispanic who will say that people who are heinous or who are very violent should be locked up, but, in this country, we are imprisoning people because they can't pay their bail. We're imprisoning people because of low-level crimes. It makes no sense whatsoever, is shameful for what he is doing in the Department of Justice.

Velshi then began complaining about privately run prisons, calling it a "perverse incentive" as he turned to Glenn Martin and posed:

Glenn, we have another issue, and that is the use of private prisons. As an economics guy, there is nothing with a more perverse incentive than private prisons -- right -- because the idea that if you run a prison and your profitability comes from there being more prisoners, is the opposite of what society wants. Society wants fewer prisoners. For-profit prisons want more prisoners.

After Glenn Martin had finished making his own gripes about private prisons, Roland Martin chimed in, earning agreement from host Velshi:

ROLAND MARTIN: But, Ali, it gets worse than that because, first and foremost, we saw the stock prices of these companies rise dramatically after the election of President Trump. But here's the other issue when it comes to these private prisons. We have been using prisons as an economic indicator driving jobs. You talk about what is sadistic, you literally have had communities competing for prisons --

VELSHI: Yeah.

ROLAND MARTIN: -- because they're saying, "Hey, we need the jobs."

VELSHI: Yeah.

ROLAND MARTIN: Well, here's the problem. You build a prison, you need more inmates because they say, "Well, if we don't have the inmates, we have to shut down. That's crazy. 

As Velshi again agreed, he concluded the segment by recalling polling showing a drop in the percentage of Americans who want to be tougher on criminals -- going from 65 percent to 45 percent between 2003 and 2016. Velshi:

Yeah, absolutely right. I'm going to leave you guys with poll -- Gallup poll comparing 2016 opinions to 2003. In 2003, 65 percent of Americans thought the Justice Department should be tougher on crime. In 2016, that has dropped to 45 percent.

Not mentioned by Mr. Velshi is that the same poll from October 2016 found that only 14 percent believed that he U.S. is "too tough" on criminals while 35 percent believed it was "about right." But those facts would have undermined the cozy liberal discussion about America allegedly doing too much to fight crime.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portions of the Thursday, August 3, MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:

3:39 p.m. ET

ALI VELSHI: Let's take a closer look at the job he's going to be facing -- mass incarceration in the United States. In the United States, the U.S. population -- the U.S. makes up five percent of the world's population, but accounts for -- look at this -- 25 percent of the world's prisoners. There are currently 2.3 million Americans behind bars and another 5.6 million under some form of correctional supervision. Now, it's not evenly distributed. African-Americans and Hispanics make up about 32 percent of the U.S. population -- much more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts. They comprise 56 percent of all incarcerated people in the United States.

Now, it's not just that. People with mental illness are one of the most likely demographics in the country to become imprisoned -- 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into a jail suffer from a serious mental health condition. All of this imprisonment is costly. Estimates put the cost of our prison system at $80 billion a year. For comparison, the government spends about $71 billion a year on SNAP or food stamps.

(...)

The reason I wanted to make that point about the statistics is that our problem in our U.S. prisons is not law and order, we don't have a ton of prison breaks ... mental health is actually a massive problem in our prisons. The idea that people go to prison, go to jail, come out, can't get employed and get back into jail, we've got way more people as a proportion of our population in jail than any other developed country.

GLENN MARTIN: You know, President Trump during the campaign said to black folks in America, "What do you have to lose?" Well, this is the answer to that question. What we have to lose is an entire generation of young -- particularly young people of color, folks who have mental health issues, folks who have addiction issues to mass incarceration. If you look at the previous administration, we were making clear strides -- bipartisan strides --
VELSHI: Right.

GLENN MARTIN: -- to reduce our prison population.

VELSHI: Those strides were in terms of dealing with sentencing, not dealing with disproportionate sentences --

GLENN MARTIN: Getting rid of mandatory minimums, investing in reentry programs. I mean, Congress, in the last decade, has invested in the Second Chance Act, which is the idea that when people are coming out of prison, if we want them to land safely and stay out of trouble, we need to help them -- give them jobs, give them housing, education and so on.

VELSHI: All right, Brother Roland Martin, this is actually part of a larger thing that the Trump administration is doing and the Attorney General is doing, telling police, telling attorneys general in states and law enforcement to come down harder, to find the toughest sentence that you can find under law. It may be related to what President Trump said the other day in Suffolk County talking about not being so nice to suspects. There's a law and order nest that has come back into our dialogue.

ROLAND MARTIN: Jeff Sessions is a relic to a day that should be buried in American history. All he thinks about is locking folks up. We know that has not been successful. And I would hope that folks like Ralph Reed will bring along his evangelical white Christians to stand against Jeff Sessions. I would hope Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, the Koch brothers -- individuals who have talked about criminal justice reform -- will stand up to Jeff Sessions, will stand up to Donald Trump and say this is not the pathway. Look, there are people who are black and who are Hispanic who will say that people who are heinous or who are very violent should be locked up, but, in this country, we are imprisoning people because they can't pay their bail. We're imprisoning people because of low-level crimes. It makes no sense whatsoever, is shameful for what he is doing in the Department of Justice.

VELSHI: Glenn, we have another issue, and that is the use of private prisons. As an economics guy, there is nothing with a more perverse incentive than private prisons -- right -- because the idea that if you run a prison and your profitability comes from there being more prisoners, is the opposite of what society wants. Society wants fewer prisoners. For-profit prisons want more prisoners.

GLENN MARTIN: You know, we have a President who ran for office saying he was a business person. Well, if you're a business person, the inspector general put out a report just a year and a half ago showing clearly, not only are we spending too much much money for private prisons, but they don't work. Essentially, people don't get access to rehabilitation, we're spending too much money, they're too violent, the staff there are underpaid in the pursuit of profits, everything about them. Everything about them don't work, and yet here we are doubling down on private prisons as a response to Trump's tough on crime policies.

ROLAND MARTIN: But, Ali, it gets worse than that because, first and foremost, we saw the stock prices of these companies rise dramatically after the election of President Trump. But here's the other issue when it comes to these private prisons. We have been using prisons as an economic indicator driving jobs. You talk about what is sadistic, you literally have had communities competing for prisons --

VELSHI: Yeah.

ROLAND MARTIN: -- because they're saying, "Hey, we need the jobs."

VELSHI: Yeah.

ROLAND MARTIN: Well, here's the problem. You build a prison, you need more inmates because they say, "Well, if we don't have the inmates, we have to shut down. That's crazy. 

VELSHI: Yeah, absolutely right. I'm going to leave you guys with poll -- Gallup poll comparing 2016 opinions to 2003. In 2003, 65 percent of Americans thought the Justice Department should be tougher on crime. In 2016, that has dropped to 45 percent.

NB Daily Crime Race Issues MSNBC MSNBC Live Video Jeff Sessions Ali Velshi Roland Martin Donald Trump


Sponsored Links