Fortress New York

18 Oct 2011

Other than a few communities in upstate New York that are worried about free labor for their winter carnivals,  it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking the recent study by the Poughkeepsie Journal, also published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which shows a 22% drop in the number of state prisoners over the past 11 years. Here are some numbers:

  • A 62% decline in the number of people serving time for drug crimes today compared with 2000.
  • Nearly 7,700 fewer black people incarcerated in state prison in 2011 compared with 2000.
  • Among the 50 states, New York charted the biggest drop in its prison rolls from 2000 to 2010.
  • In 2000, the most common top crime for which inmates were incarcerated was third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance—with almost 10,000 people sentenced. That’s now down to about 3,000.

At first blush, this seems to be a positive step in the drawdown of the “PIC,” or Prison Industrial Complex, and it has a lot of experts very happy, as well.

“The drop itself is really quite extraordinary,” said Michael Jacobson, director of the Manhattan-based Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit center for justice policy research. “This is very intriguing stuff and encouraging,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has criticized sentencing policies as racially biased and counterproductive.

What’s causing it? According to the Journal, the trend is the result of, among other things, better drug treatment programs and the ongoing challenges to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. So far, so good. The report then goes on to cite lower crime rates, especially in New York City:

There, aggressive “stop-and-frisk,” zero-tolerance and computer-driven anti-crime programs have been employed, some say, with remarkable results.

Granted, “stop-and-frisk” is highly controversial, with “600,000 people…frisked in 2010,” and “90 percent of them minority,” but, says the article, “there’s little doubt of the city’s mighty contribution to the state’s prison reversal.” A lot of studies have been done of this particular “mighty contribution,” and they all find pretty much the same thing, which can be seen here and here.

One thing the Journal article does not mention, though, is the increasing use of the city’s SkyWatch platforms, 2-story mobile towers that allow police to watch an entire area of the city from one spot. The towers are made by FLIR Systems, Inc. According to the company’s web site,

SkyWatch™ mobile observation towers provide a high level platform for an array of surveillance options. Every portable tower includes the basics for the comfort and safety of the officer inside through adjustable heat and air conditioning, tinted sliding glass windows and comfortable seating. And no matter the application, only one person is required to set up and deploy a unit.

There are 2 models of tower: the Frontier, which is designed for military deployment, and the more basic Sentinel.

The SkyWatch Sentinel facilitates a completely customized surveillance platform. This unit provides the additional line of sight and command and control capabilities necessary to high-level, impermanent security ventures. Compared to a mobile force, the SkyWatch Sentinel provides constant deterrence with nearly unlimited location flexibility. The SkyWatch Sentinel is ideal for commercial and civilian security operations.

Jeremy Bentham, who first created the idea of the Panopticon in the 1700’s, would undoubtedly be very proud.

So here’s another “mighty contribution” that the Journal article failed to point out. What with all the corrections officers on the streets, who have the power to stop anyone at will, and the strategic placement of guard towers on various corners of the city, New York may have simply realized that, instead of sending people to prison, it’s a lot cheaper to bring the prison to them.

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2 Responses to “Fortress New York”

  1. Priscilla R Says:

    whoa, the mighty eye is upon us . . . or them. Great post.


  2. It is refreshing to hear these positive stats. But if 70% of world’s opium (think heroin) comes from Afghanistan and we have 160,000 troops there , why aren’t we fighting the war on drugs(instead of this alleged and fake terrorism) by napalming the poppy fields? Seems we need to keep making felons out of people to support 5 million jobs in the criminal justice “industry”. In Miami, they let several dope holes operate so they can harvest a hundred or two hundred people to keep the system supplied with “clients” every Sat and Fri night. If we are serious about social effects of drugs, why don’t they shut down the dope holes?


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