With a prison population of over 2 million people at any given time, the United States incarcerates more individuals per capita than any other country on the face of the planet. This incarceration rate has resulted in over 70 million adults having a criminal record in the United States today.
Let those numbers sink in for a minute. Approximately one in every three adults is saddled with a criminal record in this country. A country that houses more than 20% of the total number of incarcerated people around the world despite having only ~4% of the world’s population.
What could be the cause of such staggering numbers? Could it be that Americans are more prone to criminality than individuals in any other country?
Or could it be that there is something fundamentally wrong with the criminal justice system in the United States?
Given that the State of Arizona has attempted to turn me into a criminal on multiple occasions over the years for no reason other than exercising my right to remain silent at suspicionless roadblocks setup along state highways inside the country, you can probably guess which explanation I find more compelling.
With these troubling statistics in mind, an increasing number of individuals and organizations have started taking notice. A journalist for one such organization contacted me earlier this year for an interview regarding my experiences with the Stonegarden program in Pima County. A federal grant program that pays local law enforcement deputies and officers overtime to be at the beck and call of their federal handlers in Customs & Border Protection (CBP).
While on Stonegarden deployments, Pima County sheriff deputies are tasked with conducting zero tolerance patrols for CBP purposes in areas targeted by CBP agents. Since at least 2012, this has included sheriff deputies being stationed at limited scope federal immigration checkpoints to provide a general law enforcement presence.
Over the past six years, this program has been responsible for doling out more than $10 million in overtime to participating sheriff deputies, sheriff deputies who are in turn highly incentivized to please their federal handlers under the program.
Since I’ve been travelling to and from work through one such roadblock on a regular basis for years, I’ve had a front row seat to the evolution of these joint roadblock operations for quite some time. I’ve also become a frequent target of retaliation at this roadblock by Border Patrol agents and sheriff deputies collecting overtime under the Stonegarden program.
Several months ago, journalist Jesse Alejandro Cottrell came out to Tucson to investigate the Stonegarden program in more depth with an emphasis on how the program undermines criminal justice reform efforts in Pima County. One of his stops along the way was an interview with me. The podcast he put together regarding the Stonegarden program is available below:
70 Million: One
jail story at a time: Locals Divided Between Diversion and Border Security – Jesse Alejandro Cottrell