Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

America Locked Up



While enjoying Christmas, good food and drink with family and friends in the warmth and comfort of your home, take a moment to remember the falsely imprisoned. Think about how your own family would handle the grief, because wrongful imprisonment can happen to you.

In a just published book, “Thinking About Crime,” Michael Tonry, a distinguished American law professor and director of Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, reports that the US has the highest percentage of its population in prison than any country on earth. The US incarceration rate is as much as 12 times higher than that of European countries.

Unless you believe that Americans are more criminally inclined than other humans, what can explain the US incarceration rate being so far outside the international mainstream? I can think of the following reasons:

(1) In order to prove that they are “tough on crime,” politicians have criminalized behavior that is legal elsewhere.

(2) Many innocent Americans are in jail.

There is enormous evidence backing up both reasons.

Professor Tonry notes that during the past three decades the number of Americans in prison has increased 700%. Imprisonment has far outstripped the growth in the population. Subtracting children and the elderly, one in eighty Americans of prison eligible age is locked up.

America’s privatized prisons have to be fed with inmates in order to maintain their profitability. Prosecutors need high conviction rates to justify their budgets and to build their careers. Taken together these two facts create powerful incentives to put people away regardless of crime, innocence or guilt.

Consider the case of Charles Thomas Sell as recently told by Carolyn Tuft of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and by Phyllis Schlafly on TownHall (Dec. 13). Mr. Sell, a dentist, has been locked up for almost 8 years without a trial. Allegedly, Sell is guilty of Medicare fraud, but with no evidence or witnesses against him, the virtuous, just, democratic, moral US government tortured Mr. Sell in an effort to make him confess. Now they can’t bring him to trial where he will talk. So Mr. Sell is kept locked up under the pretense that his unwillingness to admit his guilt is evidence that he is mentally incompetent.

Schlafly asks the correct question: “Is there no accountability for this type of government misconduct?” The answer is NO. Mr. Sell might as well be in Stalin’s Gulag or in the hands of the Waffen SS or US captors at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. No one will do anything about the crime that the US government has committed against Mr. Sell.

No one will do anything to help William R. Strong, Jr., another victim of our heartless injustice system. Strong has been in a Virginia prison for a decade on false charges of “wife rape.” Mr. Strong has been trying to get a DNA test, confident that the semen in the perk test is not his but that of the lover of his unfaithful wife. But since Strong was convicted prior to the advent of DNA testing, prosecutors argue that he has no right to the evidence.

Another innocent victim of “Virginia justice” is Chris Gaynor, who my investigations indicate was framed by a corrupt prosecutor with the connivance of a corrupt judge, who intimidated Gaynor’s witnesses by jailing one of them. Only liars were permitted on the witness stand. I brought the facts to light in the newspapers at the time, but the Arlington, Virginia, criminal injustice system did not let facts interfere with its show trial.

Government routinely breaks the laws. So says Judge Andrew P. Napolitano in the current issue of Cato Policy Report and in his book, “Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws.” Judge Napolitano reports on cases of torture, psychological abuse, and frame-ups of innocents that he discovered as the presiding judge. Any American naive enough to trust the police and prosecutors should read what Napolitano has to say.

Torture has become routine in American prisons. The goal of the torturers is guilty pleas and false testimony against innocent defendants. The torturers succeed. Napolitano reports that “fewer than 3 percent of federal indictments were tried; virtually all the rest of those charged pled guilty.”

Does anyone seriously believe that the police are so efficient that 97 out of 100 people indicted are guilty?!

The cherished code, “you are innocent until proven guilty,” no longer holds in America. You are guilty when charged. You will be tortured or abused and threatened with more charges until you agree to a plea bargain.

Diane Lori Kleiman is an attorney who has worked in a district attorney’s office and for the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. She says prosecutors have little concern with real crimes, preferring to target high-profile individuals in order to garner headlines and create a political career for themselves. Martha Steward is a victim of prosecutorial ambition as was Michael Milken, whose false imprisonment created a political career for Rudy Giuliani.

Kleiman says that prosecutors look for high-profile targets. “It isn’t necessarily an issue of right and wrong. It’s an issue of taking the case to trial and getting the publicity. That makes your career.”

The Martha Stewart case, Kleiman says, “is the first time in history where they charged an individual with false statements, without her signing the statement or without a tape recording that she even made the statement. And not under oath.” Kleiman is referring to US history, not Soviet or Nazi history, histories that our criminal injustice system now mimics.

The US criminal justice system is bereft of justice and accountability. It only serves the ambitions of prosecutors. In America, criminal “justice” operates like a Stalin-era street sweep in which hapless citizens instantly became “enemies of the people” simply by being arrested.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions, a book which documents the destruction of the legal principles that protect the innocent.


Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”