Hello everyone, my name is Charles Karim Diggs. I’m at Graterford prison in Pennsylvania. My number is AK7945, Box 244, Graterford, PA 19426. And I wanted to speak to you today, and my little subject is what drives massive imprisonment.
On national news and articles, and the evening news, makes us believe that drugs is driving the arrest of the prison systems across America. I would like to bring another component to your attention. If millions of men and women are underemployed and unemployed, they are forced to create some type of existence within that environment. We can condemn them, by saying that they made bad choices and we’re going to punish them, severely punish them.
The prosecutors have used this economic depression in our society as a reason to demand extreme prison sentences for all crimes. Only when it was portrayed that blacks were selling drugs and making some money, the sentencing for drug crimes skyrocketed. There was no justification to enhance sentencing. Prior to 1984, drugs was mainly solved with county sentences, two to five years [inaudible].
But then when the African-American and Hispanic community started getting really involved in the drug business, if you remember, that’s when the sentence became more and more harsh. For example, in the federal system, you only did a third of your time up until 1984. If you got like 10 years, you would do three and a half, something like that.
But then they- they- I think president Clinton, if not mistaken, they made it. You had to do 85% of your sentencing called truth-in-sentencing. So they use $8 billion as a- as a block grant for the states to begin- to cause their prisoners to do 85% of the sentence. This is one of- this is probably the beginning when you really start having this massive prison influx of poor people in this country.
And so when I came to jail, 1976, there was only 6 state prisons. Now there’s is almost 30. And, uh, you know, you wonder, you know, how’s, why’s all this crime taking place? Well the problem is the prosecutor has the, the charging authority. He charged you with maybe seven different crimes for burglary. So now they have all these charges on you, high bails, the county prisons are overcrowded now with 99- 99% of all poor, they can’t make bail. So they now- they’re building more county prisons.
Now you have the county prisons being overflowed, tax dollars being taken from the schools being put into the criminal justice system. Now the state has to build jails for the guys coming up from the counties. So this is the problem. So now with the mandatory sentences, people are staying in prison more longer than they ever did in the history of this country.
Now the prisons have become literally cemeteries. I’ve had so many buddies die in this prison and all over the state and this, and, you know, everybody has, you know, has to die, everybody has a date with death, I definitely understand that, but it’s the sentences that is causing the prisons to be the last place on earth that a person reside at, and that really not necessary. Many of the crimes, it doesn’t call for guys to have 20, 30, 40 years inside these- these harsh situations that we live under. So it’s the prosecutor that has the, the, the keys to life and death.
And as a result of that, the parole boards, they make people serve more time in prison. They give you setbacks, give you hits. So that builds up the prison population. The prisons have to build more jails and commutation, they cut back on that? Very few men that got life sentences can get out of prison because they have this thing hard-on-crime, public safety, public safety means they err on the side of the public by denying you commutation of your life sentences.
So we have 5,500 lifers in Pennsylvania, 5,500. And they’re letting some of the juveniles out now because of the Miller v. Alabama decision in 2012, but it’s only 500 of them. So the rest of the 5,000, their chances of getting out again is like, you know, it’s like a dream. So my point is that how the- the prosecutor has dominated the entire system. Most of you had governors or ex-prosecutors, you have mayors are ex-prosecutors, and you can see as I’m painting this picture, what’s going on and that’s driving the system.
And there’s one more component that many of the public don’t understand: half of your judges on the appellate courts are ex-prosecutors. So even when the appeals go up, they’re heard by prosecutors and 95% of the appeals we lose them, because you’re still dealing with a prosecution mentality. And the only way that’s going to change if we begin to have people run for office who are not prosecutors, but who are willing to be fair or to at least have people have community-based organizations to work with the prosecutor’s office to make sure they just be fair, to not to seek conviction by any means.
For example, they, they keep a lot of evidence withhold from the defense. 20, 30 years later, like I’ve found, I’ve found new evidence they withheld all these years. Then they want to blame the defendant for not finding this evidence 30, 40 years ago when they had it. So this gives you a picture of how you get mass incarceration in this country.
Thank you for listening to my- a little information here, and I hope I’ve enlightened someone to get more involved in our criminal justice system. Thank you very much.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.