It's been a while... I've been asked to distribute this letter as widely as possible. Please help me. Thank you.
Blessings for happiness, Janna
Migdal Haemek, Israel
[Address and Telephone No. deleted]
10 April 2012
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
Shalom from Israel
I am a daughter of an Israeli prison inmate named Jacob Hassan, who is jailed for the last 26 years in Israel, for the murder of his wife, my mother, and of a social worker.
My father, Jacob Hassan, was jailed in Israel near the time when Jonathan Pollard was jailed in the U.S for spying for Israel.
Since my father was imprisoned he has not stop agonizing and repenting for the disaster he had inflicted on two families and especially on us, his own four children. In One day we lost both a mother and a father.
Not even For One moment will I justify my father's actions.
My father's behavior in prison for years has been exemplary and for years he won many certificates of excellence and recognition. For 24 years my father ran the prison laundry wonderfully and the prison authorities made a lot of money while my father managed the laundry by himself.
Since my father was imprisoned he was not allowed to go on vacations, neither for a day nor for a few hours. Even us, his children, who have suffered because of my father's actions wish the prison authorities let him leave the prison for a few hours to meet his grandchildren. In the End of the day my father is still their grandfather. My father's grandchildren can't choose another grandfather.
Many years ago, the prison authorities permitted my father to go on vacation for a few hours. However, although the prison authorities have agreed to let my father to leave on vacation for a few hours, another "family violence committee", whose members are not known, stubbornly refuses to allow my father to go on vacation using several different excuses each time. Therefore without the consent of the "family violence committee" my father could not go on vacation for the past 26 years. Once the committee even claimed that my father would be dangerous to his partner while on vacation; however his partner, my mother, has been buried for the past 26 years…
I had not mentioned that the "family violence committee" is composed solely of social workers, the second victim's colleagues. The chairman of the social workers organization informed, and even organized petitions, that his organization would never agree on letting my father out on vacation. Important to mention that my father doesn't ask to be released out the prison completely, all he wants is to go on vacation for a few hours.
I decided to write to you Mr. President of the United States after the Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed you, at the pressure of Israeli Knesset members, to release Jonathan Pollard. After it was published in the Israeli media that you refused the appeal of Mr. Peres, claimed MK Ronit Tirosh on Israel's Channel 2 broadcast on 10.4.12 that the refusal to free Jonathan Pollard is the vengeance of the Americans, so clearly she said.
I laughed to myself because in regard of my father, who has been regretting his crime every day, hour by hour and minute by minute, the claim of revenge from the "family violence Committee" is denied but in regard Jonathan Pollard there is such a claim towards the Americans. This shoes hoe Israelis know to criticize the other hypocrisy but they are not able to look at themselves in the mirror.
I myself call for the release of Jonathan Pollard, he had been in jail a long time, but if the President of Israel is facing you to completely release Pollard from prison perhaps you will ask the State of Israel to release my father from prison just for a few hours as it is acceptable with many prisoners in Israel.
I thank you in advance.
Daughter of Jacob Hassan
Copy: Mr. Shimon Peres, the president of Israel
- - -
“That was it. And I have been going to prisons ever since,” said Khemadhammo, founder and spiritual director of Angulimala, a chaplaincy organisation that has introduced Buddhism to over a hundred prisons throughout the UK. For his dedicated service to prison inmates, in 2003 Queen Elizabeth II bestowed him with an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), and the following year His Majesty the King of Thailand granted him the ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun Bhavanaviteht, the second foreign-born monk to receive such an honour...
The venerable monk stressed that the best way to change people is by setting an example. ”When we want people to change, we have to be the institution of that change ourselves. I am very fussy about ensuring that Buddhist chaplains all do their best to practice and train themselves, especially to live by the five precepts of Buddhism – abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and consuming addictive substances.”
It may come as a surprise to hear him espouse the value of these precepts that many Buddhists have taken for granted. In particular he ventured how the fifth might be the most important: if you break it, you can break all the rest. A number of inmates he has met committed terrible crimes and had their lives altered tragically just because they used alcohol and drugs.
”I beg you all to take these five precepts seriously. They’ll protect you and they’ll protect others.”
Why do people commit crime anyway? Is it because of anger, greed, or destitution? He argued the punitive approach – based on the principle that if you hurt someone hard enough, then they won’t commit wrong deeds (again) – has been proven it doesn’t work. Often, people emerge from prison angry, having no home, money nor family and thus are ready to commit more crimes. Accepting that one cannot stop governments from pursuing their policies, through the Angulimala project, Venerable Khemadhammo and his team have sought to provide an alternative avenue for inmates to do something ”useful and constructive”. They learn how to meditate, to watch their mind and come to terms with themselves. Since the early ’90s, thanks to an Angulimala initiative, a handful of prisons in England have allowed the setting up of a ”Buddha Grove”, an area open to prisoners from all denominations to do contemplative work in a quiet, peaceful ambience.
The Castle (The Fortune Society)
The Fortune Society works on all phases of prisoner re-entry, including housing, programming, counseling, legislative issues, job training, etc. Four performers who have been incarcerated for a collective total of 70 years tell their stories of deprivation, decent into criminality, incarceration and finally their struggle to rebirth and full and productive lives. Each performance is followed by a talkback with audience. Ordinary people will better understand the reasons for commission of crimes, the details of actual incarceration and the struggle of each released former inmate to build a new life in the face of major obstacles. For those at risk of falling into criminal activity, THE CASTLE will be an informative narrative of what to avoid and what to expect. For those who are released, THE CASTLE will serve as a blueprint that others have followed to regain full and productive lives.
16 Guidelines for Life - Overview
The 16 Guidelines for Life are a set of practical and straightforward tools for developing happiness and meaning in everyday life. It is the first project of Essential Education, a non-profit organisation that aims to help people develop their natural capacity for compassion and wisdom. The 16 Guidelines are featured in a book, 16 Guidelines For Life: The Basics by Alison Murdoch and Dekyi-Lee Oldershaw, first published in 2005.
The 16 Guidelines are not a prescriptive doctrine or a set of commandments. They are offered as opportunities to explore one's own life experiences and to see whether the 16 Guidelines can help to improve the quality of that experience.
The 16 Guidelines are direct and practical tools for making life better. They provide a simple, robust framework for reflecting on the ways we think, speak, act and find meaning in life, and for creating the causes of true happiness and fulfillment.
How We Think:
Thoughts lie at the root of every word we speak and every action we perform. Just as an athlete trains her body, we can train and transform our minds, and in doing so shift our habitual patterns and explore new ways of living: Humility, Patience, Contentment and Delight
How We Act:
Human lives are composed of billions of actions which take place every minute of the day. How you choose to act, therefore, defines and colours the quality of your experiences: Kindness, Honesty, Generosity and Right Speech
How We Relate to Others:
It does not take much effort to see that the happiest people we know are those who acknowledge their interdependence, and who nurture warm and appreciative relationships with the people around them: Respect, Forgiveness, Gratitude and Loyalty
How We Find Meaning:
Your search for meaning will depend on your ability and willingness to explore new and unfamiliar territory. It is a challenge to venture deep into yourself and find out how to create a happy and fulfilling life: Aspiration, Principles, Service and Courage
The 16 Guidelines is also a versatile and evolving educational toolkit, consisting of workshops and resources for all ages. The 16 Guidelines promote mindfulness and wisdom in schools, with youth, in healthcare, prisons, the workplace and the home. Launched in 2006, the 16 Guidelines are already in action in 22 countries worldwide, and growing.
The 16 Guidelines are an initiative of The Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom, an international non-profit organisation. The Foundation aims to help people everywhere to develop their innate capacity for compassion and wisdom in order to live a happy, peaceful and beneficial life.
About the book:
16 Guidelines for Life: The Basics
In this short but profound text you will find all the building blocks you need to create a happy life, both for yourself and those around you. This direct and practical book is based on an international initiative to help people everywhere develop their natural capacity to be wise and kind and it is illustrated with quotes, true stories, challenges and reflections to suit different personalities and situations.
It was originally based on guidelines that the great Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo gave to his people after a radical change of heart from being a military leader to one who instead began to invite spiritual teachers to Tibet, introduced a new legal system, and built schools and temples. These "ideas to make life better" played a crucial part in transforming Tibet from a warlike nation to a civilization known for its peace and serenity. This new book is a modern re-working of ancient wisdom and advice with the aspiration that it will bring about a similar transformation in our hearts and minds.
The 16 guidelines are built around humility, patience, contentment, delight, kindness, honesty, generosity, right speech, respect, forgiveness, gratitude, loyalty, aspiration, principles, service, and courage. Role models are given for each guideline, including The Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Helen Keller, Jane Goodall, Mohammad Yunus, Cesar Chavaz, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Nation, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, Ram Dass, Aung San Suu Kyi, Craig Kielburger, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, and Wangari Maathai.
Sentenced to Serving the Good Life in Norway
by William Lee Adams Time.com July 2, 2010
The seagulls begin squawking at 6 in the morning and the cigarettes cost too much, but Lars, 41, knows there are worse places to call home. On Bastoy, an island 46 miles (74 km) south of Oslo, he and 124 other residents live in brightly colored wooden chalets, spread over one square mile of forest and gently sloping hills. Besides enjoying views of the surrounding fjord, they go horseback riding and throw barbecues, and have access to a movie theater, tanning bed and, during winter, two ski jumps. Lars' neighbors often conceal the reasons they are there, but, as in any small community, word gets around. "I try to be as nice to the pedophiles as I am to the drug dealers," he says. Despite all its trappings, Bastoy island isn't an exclusive resort: it's a prison.
Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, Bastoy's governor and a practicing psychotherapist, describes it as the world's first human-ecological prison - a place where inmates learn to take responsibility for their actions by caring for the environment... Read More
Study Circles for Inmates
March 11th, 2010
In the June, 2009, newsletter of The Dalai Lama Foundation a rel=nofollow href="http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/news12107.jsp">http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/news12107.jsp>; , we announced that for a year the facilitators of Project Clear Light a rel=nofollow href="http://www.projectclearlight.org/">http://www.projectclearlight.org/>; had been meeting with a group of 20 maximum-security inmates at the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas. They had been using Ethics for the New Millennium as a text, and the Study Guide a rel=nofollow href="http://dalailamafoundation.org/studyguides">http://dalailamafoundation.org/studyguides>; as a starting point for their series of meetings.
The work begun by Terry Conrad, and by the inmates at the unit, resulted in a special study guide for inmates entitled Discovering Ethics: A Path to Virtue a rel=nofollow href="http://dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/documents/Discovering-Ethics--A-Study-Guide-for-Inmates.pdf">http://dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/documents/Discovering-Ethics--A-Study-Guide-for-Inmates.pdf>; , which is available for download a rel=nofollow href="http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/studyguides">http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/studyguides>; (PDF) and in printed (bound) form from Lulu.com a rel=nofollow href="http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/studyGuidesPrinted.jsp">http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/dlf/en/studyGuidesPrinted.jsp>; .
The guide, like our other guides, is published under a Creative Commons license which allows modification, addition, duplication, and distribution for nonprofit purposes.
All of the guides are for use with Ethics for the New Millennium, which must be purchased separately. We urge you to purchase conveniently, you may be able to get the book today from a local bookseller. You can order copies online from Amazon.com a rel=nofollow href="http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-New-Millennium-Dalai-Lama/dp/1573228834/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243272307&sr=1-1">http://www.amazon.com/Ethics-New-Millennium-Dalai-Lama/dp/1573228834/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243272307&sr=1-1>; or other online retailers.
Project Clear Light ~ Prison Outreach
For the past year the facilitators of Project Clear Light a rel=nofollow href="http://www.projectclearlight.org/">http://www.projectclearlight.org/>; have been meeting with a group of about 20 maximum security inmates at the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, holding an “Ethics Class” to study “Ethics for the New Millennium” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The first class was lead by inmates that had spent three months in preparation for their role as facilitators. During that session, the facilitators had been using the
Study Guide a rel=nofollow href="http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/studyguide">http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/studyguide>; for Ethics for the New Millennium developed by the Dalai Lama Foundation a rel=nofollow href="http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/">http://www.dalailamafoundation.org/>; realized that a more “prison centric” study guide was needed. In response, a completely new “Discovering Ethics: A Path to Virtue, A Study Guide for Inmates” has been written by the inmates for the next class to begin in June, 2009. By using examples of prison culture, the inmate Study Guide promotes greater participation in the discussions of the Key Concepts presented in each chapter of the Dalai Lama’s book.
A companion piece, “An Ethical Toolbox” is also being developed that sets out the homework assignments for each chapter, again, relative to experiences and situations common to life in prison. Each week the class will receive a task for each Key Concept that will better prepare them for the next weeks’ discussion. During class, the group breaks into four or five discussion groups for each Key Concept. Each group is lead by a facilitator. The role of the facilitators is to keep the groups on task without attempting to teach or dominate the conversation. To better prepare the facilitators, the group is also writing a “Facilitators Training Guide.”
Project Clear Light is currently working with the Foundation to make all of these materials available through The Dalai Lama Foundation web site. For more information on Project Clear Light please contact Terry Conrad CVCA Director, Project Clear Light, or visit them on the web a rel=nofollow href="http://www.projectclearlight.org/">http://www.projectclearlight.org/>; .
Discovering Ethics: A Path to Virtue
Conditions of the Prisoners in Tibet http://www.stoptibetcrisis.net/pr210508.html
Tibetan Solidarity Committee Press Release - May 21, 2008
The nationwide peaceful protests that erupted on March 10 in Tibet has not yet subsided and neither the arrests of Tibetan protesters. It is estimated that Chinese authorities have arrested at least five thousand Tibetans until now across Tibet. According to those who were released after brief detention, Tibetan detainees continue to face cold-blooded and brutal treatment at the hands of the officials and soldiers alike in the prisons.
To avoid outside detection, these arrested Tibetans were not incarcerated in the prominently notorious prisons like Gutsa and Drapchi around Lhasa, but were lodged in make-shift prisons in the outskirts of the city mostly made up of huge warehouses and tunnels. Many of the prisoners have gradually been moved out to unknown destinations with their actual whereabouts now becoming totally unaccounted.
Excessive beatings and resultant maiming of the prisoners, some even having their hands and limbs broken, has been the order of these prisons. While interrogation, the officers resort to beatings and sometimes dig in burning cigarette butts on the body parts of the prisoners. The prisoners are chained at the feet and hands and suspended for a long time with their hands shackled backward, to extract confession for the crimes that they have not done. Particularly in the aftermath of the Lhasa unrest, Tibetan prisoners have been subjected to brutal submission to the questioning of the authorities that demanded from them about the so-called 'ring leaders', 'conspirators' and other accomplices to the unrest.
In some prisons, the prisoners are given food only once in three-four days. And in majority of the prisons, the prisoners are fed with only half a dumpling per day. Whats more, kept without water for days, many prisoners have been compelled to drink their own urine. Many of those injured during the crackdown and thereafter in the prisons due to excessive beatings continue to succumb to their injuries in the absence of any medical care. And the authorities make it sure that the bodies of the dead prisoners are immediately disposed off. Other well-known former Tibetan political prisoners are released as soon as their conditions deteriorates, but most of them have succumbed to their injuries sustained in the prison within short period of their release.
The prisons where the prisoners were held are mostly without any beds and mattresses and the prisoners were forced to sleep on the concrete floor in such a cold weather. The Chinese officers and the prison guards moreover, take on the prisoners for their own whims and beat them up accusing them of letting China's reputation down. Some Chinese soldiers are even reported of using the prisoners as object to test their martial skills.
With many Tibetan prisoners reportedly held in different prisons of Sichuan province, it is feared that many of them might have also perished in the recent devastating earthquake.
In view of the ongoing critical situation inside Tibet, we urge the United Nations and the International community and organizations to the following urgent needs:
To immediately send an independent international fact-finding mission into Tibet
To exert pressure on the PRC government to allow unfettered access to free press in whole of Tibet
To pressure the PRC to end the brutal killings in the whole of Tibet
To immediately release all the arrested and imprisoned Tibetans
To extend immediate medical assistance to those injured Tibetans
To allow free movement of people and provide access to daily needs
- Tibetan Solidarity Committee
From: The Dalai Lama. "Dzogchen: Heart Essence of the Great Perfection" pp. 106-7, Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications. 2000.
How can we exemplify different levels of consciousness in our experience? When the sensory perceptions such as seeing, hearing and so on are active, we are at a level where our state of mind is quite coarse. Compared to this, the consciousness of the dream state is regarded as much subtler. Even subtler still is the state of consciousness associated with particular experiences like fainting, or falling unconscious. The subtlest level of consciousness is experienced at the time of death. The unique approach utilized in the practices of Highest Yoga Tantra is to utilize the subtlest level of consciousness as a state of wisdom that realizes emptiness. This is a very swift and profound approach.
THE TRUE ENEMY
The fundamental philosophical principle of Buddhism is that all our suffering comes about as a result of an undisciplined mind, and this untamed mind itself comes about because of ignorance and negative emotions. For the Buddhist practitioner then, regardless whether he or she follows the approach of the Fundamental Vehicle, Mahayana or Vajrayana, negative emotions are always the true enemy, a factor that has to be overcome and eliminated. And it is only by applying methods for training the mind that these negative emotions can be dispelled and eliminated. This is why in Buddhist writings and teachings we find such an extensive explanation of the mind and its different processes and functions. Since these negative emotions are states of mind, the method or technique for overcoming them must be developed from within. There is no alternative. They cannot be removed by some external technique, like a surgical operation.
It is because Buddhism places such emphasis on eliminating the root of suffering through a process of mental training, rather than relying on principles based on a belief in a divine being or theory of creation, that a number of people have observed that Buddhism is not a religion in the true sense of the word, but, more properly speaking, is a science of mind. There seem to be some genuine grounds for such a conclusion.
我们能如何举例说明我们体验到的不同意识境界呢？ 当像视觉，听觉这类感觉知觉在活跃时，我们的思维处于相当模糊的境界。 与此相比，梦境的意识更微妙。比这还微妙的是像晕旋或失去知觉这类特种体验的意识状态。 最微妙的意识状态是在死亡时体验到。在最高级瑜伽密教经典的修练中，其独特的尝试是把意识的最微妙境界作为实现真空的智慧状态。这是一种快速和深奥的尝试。
佛教的基本哲学原则是，我们所有的痛苦都来自于没有驯化过的思维。因为无知和消极情绪，才有这种野性的思维。对于佛教徒来说，不管他或她是否遵循最基本的媒介既大乘佛教 的尝试，消极的情绪总是真正的敌人，由此必须要克服和消除掉。 只有通过修练思维的方法，这些消极情绪才能被消除。 这就是为什么在佛教的作品和教学中，我们发现这么多详细的关于思维，它的不同过程和功能的解释。 因为这些消极的情绪是思维状态，所以必须从中发展出克服它们的方法或技术。 而没有别的方法。他们不能用像外科手术这种技术来消除。
מתוך ''דזוגצ'ן" של הוד קדושתו הדלאי למה עמ' 106-7'
כיצד אפשר להמחיש את רמות המודעות השונות שאנו חווים? כאשר תודעות החישה, כגון ראיה, שמיעה וכו' פעילים, אנחנו נמצאים ברמת תודעה די גסה. לעומת זאת, התודעה של מצב החלימה נחשבת לעדינה בהרבה. רמת תודעה עדינה עוד יותר היא מצב התודעה הקשור לחוויות מסוימות כגון עלפון או חוסר הכרה. התודעה העדינה ביותר נחווית בזמן המוות. השיטה הייחודית של הטנטרה יוגה הגבוהה ביותר היא השימוש בתודעה העדינה ביותר כמצב של חכמה שתופסת את הריקות. זוהי גישה מהירה ביותר ועמוקה ביותר. צ
העקרון הפילוסופי הבסיסי של הבודהיזם הוא שכל סבלנו נוצר בגלל תודעה חסרת משמעת, ואילו תודעה לא מאולפת זו נולדת כתוצאה מבורות ומרגשות שליליים. אם כן, למתרגל הבודהיסטי, בין אם הוא או היא מתרגלים על פי המרכבה הבסיסית, המהיאנה, או הוג'ריאנה, הרגשות השליליים תמיד יהיו האויב האמיתי, גורם שצריך לגבור עליו ולעקרו. ורק על ידי ישום שיטות לאימון התודעה אפשר לסלק ולעקור רגשות שליליים אלה. לכן, בכתבים ודרשות בודהיסטים נמצא הסברים מקיפים לתודעה ולתהליכי התודעה ותפקודיה. מכיוון שרגשות שליליים אלה הם מצבי תודעה, השיטה או הטכניקה לגבור עליהם צריכה להתפתח מבפנים. אין אלטרנטיבה. לא ניתן להסירם באמצעות שיטה חיצונית כלשהי, כמו ניתוח. צ
מכיוון שהבודהיזם שמה דגש כל כך חזק על עקירת שורש הסבל דרך תהליך של אמון מנטאלי ולא מסתמכת על עקרונות המבוססים על אמונה בכוח עליון או בתיאורית בריאה, מספר אנשים מציינים שהבודהיזם אינה דת במובן האמיתי של המלה, אלא, בעצם, מדע של התודעה. נראה שיש בסיס איתן לטיעונים אלה. צ
U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations
By Adam Liptak (italics mine - JW)
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.
Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes from writing bad checks to using drugs that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.
Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.
The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.
China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China's extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)
San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.
The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)
The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63.
The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.
There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.
Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges many of whom are elected, another American anomaly yield to populist demands for tough justice.
Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.
It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.
"In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States," Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in "Democracy in America."
"Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons."
Prison sentences here have become "vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared," Michael Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in "The Handbook of Crime and Punishment."
Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States "a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach."
The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)
The nation's relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.
"The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it's much higher."
Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.
But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.
People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Whitman wrote.
Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.
Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. "The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism," said Stern of King's College.
Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them "are among the most serious and violent offenders."
Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.
Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.
Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia are also disproportionately represented in those nation's prisons, and the ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.
Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.
"Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are," Tonry wrote last year in "Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative Perspective."
"It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries," Tonry wrote. "Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential."
The American character self-reliant, independent, judgmental also plays a role.
"America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on individual responsibility," Whitman of Yale wrote. "That attitude has shown up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years."
French-speaking countries, by contrast, have "comparatively mild penal policies," Tonry wrote.
Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and national comparisons can be misleading.
"Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas," said Mauer of the Sentencing Project. (Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population; Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at 1,138.)
Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America's exceptional incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.
"As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being victimized" thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul Cassell, an authority on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.
From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and rising in England.
"These figures," Cassell wrote, "should give one pause before too quickly concluding that European sentences are appropriate."
Other commentators were more definitive. "The simple truth is that imprisonment works," wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. "Locking up criminals for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far offset the costs."
There is a counterexample, however, to the north. "Rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years," Tonry wrote last year. "But its imprisonment rate has remained stable."
Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.
Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.
Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville's work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America's booming prison population.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy just what Tocqueville was talking about," he said. "We have a highly politicized criminal justice system."
Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
Amnesty International - Abolish the Death Penalty
Articles, suggestions for action, petitions
Extensive conflict resolution bibliography
"Think Peace" documentary for sale. Has promo clip. "For six days in June of 2006 in Vancouver Canada, 5000 delegates mobilized from 90 countries to do no less than revise the paradigm of peace and take the steps necessary to create a world without war."
I see that both LPP and Ven. Thubten Chodron are listed on PDN.org Networks:
1. Liberation Prison Project
The film "Chasing Buddha" has scenes from Ven. Robina Courtin's prison work with Death Row prisoners.
2. www.thubtenchodron.org/ then go to link: Prison Dharma
A wonderful resource, also with writings by inmates. From the website:
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Comments on Prison Life. By Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron 2003.
During the time he was teaching in New York City in September, 2003, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met privately with a group of former inmates. They told him about their experience in prison and their endeavors to practice the Buddhadharma there. His Holiness later shared his reflections on this meeting when he spoke to the thousands of people attending his teachings at the Beacon Theatre and the estimated 65,000 who attended his Sunday morning talk at Central Park. What he said was similar, though not exactly the same, on these two occasions, and I share with you what I remember (I didn't take notes, nor was I at the meeting).
His Holiness was very appreciative of the meeting and said how touched and saddened he was hearing the suffering that people experienced while incarcerated. He admired their efforts to learn and practice the Dharma in such a hostile and violent environment and said that the cultivation of compassion is extremely important.
He also commented on the injustices present in a prison system designed to punish rather than rehabilitate, a system which brands people as "evil" instead of seeing their potential and the purity of their Buddha nature. The structure of the prison system is in bad need of reform, he said.
Looking directly at the audience, he stated emphatically: "But I am not a citizen of this country, you are. Therefore, you are responsible for changing this system. You need a system that helps both the inmates themselves and society in general." A loud round of applause by the audience followed this statement.
Having done prison work myself for several years -- both corresponding with inmates and teaching Buddhist groups in prisons -- I was very moved by the depth of His Holiness' knowledge of and care for people who are generally feared and therefore discarded by society. His care was not only for the individuals themselves, but for the system in general, in which everyone -- inmates, their families and friends, guards, and prison staff -- is trapped. I wished that all those imprisoned could have heard His Holiness directly and experienced his tremendous compassion for them.
New book of possible interest (not Dharma!):
Criminal Justice Administration: Strategies for the 21st Century / Clyde L. Cronkhite. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 575 p., 2008.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the prevailing criminal justice organizations present in law enforcement, courts, and correctional systems. Using an approach that combines theory with application, this text explores the operations, issues, and practices that administrators within criminal justice face today. The text is divided into three parts, part one explores the historical development and relevance of traditional theories of administration. Part two applies these theories to current criminal justice administration. Part three explores the future of criminal justice administration in the 21st century.
"Hot House," documentary film by Shimon Dotan
Hebrew title: "הבטחוניים"
A look at how Israeli prisons have become the breeding ground for the next generation of Palestinian leaders as well as the birth place of future terrorist threats. Hot House presents a number of Palestinian male and female inmates in the Ber Sheba, Ashkelon, Hadarim, and Megiddo prisons in Israel.
Any ideas on how to heal this mess?
It's been a while... I have been asked to distribute this letter, sent to President Obama, a compassionate plea for an Israeli prisoner by his daughter. Blessings for happiness, Janna
Migdal Haemek, Israel
[Address and Telephone No. deleted]…Continue