Pubdate: Tue, 13 Oct 1998
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Page: A16
Contact:  (c) 1998 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Paul M. Bischke


William Wong's article, "Leftists set to battle the lock-'em-up
mentality" (Opinion Page, Oct. 2), describes a pocket of opposition to
the punishment fever that has swept America since Reagan's presidency.

This punitive mentality has just earned the U.S. a stinging indictment
from Amnesty International for human rights abuses. Our 1.7 million
prisoners give us the world's second highest incarceration rate, a
rate five to 10 times higher than other industrialized nations.

Amnesty International faults American cops and jailers for employing
many brutal techniques for physical subjugation and restraint. Some of
these are tricks of the torture trade learned from the ex-Soviets, who
are still the world's largest jailers. And we continue to impose
severe symbolic punishments for consensual or "victimless" crimes,
especially regarding drugs.

Wong incorrectly assumes that one's disposition toward punishment is a
right-wing / left-wing watershed. If it is, it shouldn't be. The
classic distinction between left and right is that right-wingers offer
no critique of greed; left-wingers do. While right- and left-wingers
alike should have a stringent critique against gratuitous punishment,
America's vindictive attitude is shamefully bipartisan.

To embrace the lock-'em-up mentality, Democrats have abandoned their
former civil-rights consciousness and Republicans have abandoned their
campaign for small government.

Paul M. Bischke Co-director Drug Policy Reform Group St. Paul, Minn.
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Checked-by: Patrick Henry