Obama-Simon Video Included Misinformation About Prison Population


The new video of President Obama interviewing David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” includes much distortion or misinformation about trends in the criminal justice system, says Pacific Standard magazine. Obama refers, for example, to the “massive trend towards incarceration, even of non-violent drug offenders.” Fordham law Prof. John Pfaff told Slate that, “Even when the percentage of drug offenders among the state prison population was at its peak, about four out of every five people were there for a nondrug offense.” Jakub Wrzesniewski of the University of California-Berkeley adds that the offenses of the remaining one in five offenders “are rarely limited” to casual drug use.

Obama also refers to the high rate of minorities in prison, saying the incarcerated are “disproportionately Latino and African American.” While it is true that minorities are over-represented in prison, the president is glancing away from the larger issue: a nationwide punitive impulse that transcends racial biases. Wrzesniewski says, “If every black inmate were emancipated today, the prison system would remain outrageously overstuffed, and the overall rate would still be worse than Russia's.” Obama and Simon repeat almost every myth that Pfaff debunks, including that longer sentences have significantly contributed to the problem. Pacific Standard says Obama and Simon avoid “the hardest truth” — that “a lot more violent… even sexually depraved—offenders might…live among us” if prison population were to be cut sharply.

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