Monday, October 01, 2007

More on race and incarceration

Starting round 3, Paul Soglin says that he will "try again" to address his problem with John McAdams' study on racial disparity in incarceration. I don't think it's unfair to summarize Paul's position as stating that the problem is poverty so we should just eliminate that. This is, he says, why he supports the Governor's Commission on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. I have blogged my affirmation of that goal. Jesus may have said that the poor will be with us always, but he also rather forcefully suggested that we ought not be indifferent about that.

But the Governor's commission is not about eliminating poverty. It is about the criminal justice system and, if it is presuming that racial disparities in that system are caused within the system, then it's not going to do much about eliminating poverty and, as I have said, may even make it worse if it windups interfering with efforts to control crime in the central city - some of which may have a racially disparate impact.

Changing the question in this way, the good Mayor suggests that the problem with Professor McAdams (and maybe even me) is the failure to believe that traditional anti-poverty programs work very well. He implies that social science has proven that these programs work and that those who do not believe that are properly compared with Kevin Barrett and Ward Churchill.

I am probably more willing than most conservatives to spend money on poor people. But much of what the government proposes to do is to provide for people what their families did not. Sometimes that is the only thing we can do, but the sad fact is that the state is a fairly poor family substitute. So, if we are to spend money, it seems to me that the first presumption ought to be that we spend it in a way that reinforces middle class values, families, and, I am so sorry, the traditional bourgeois morality associated with them. We ought to remember that we cannot redistribute our way to prosperity.

Just what all that means is something that we can debate, but I don't know why trying to distill the extent to which disparities in the criminal justice system stem from bias in the system is inconsistent with that.

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