The US again dropped in the United Nation’s World Happiness Report, which ranks countries based on six variables: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. The Washington Post reports that “researchers posit the country’s declining happiness is likely due to an “epidemic of addictions,” which includes everything from substance abuse and gambling to social media usage and risky sexual behaviors. “This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the US,” Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a co-author of the report, said in a news release. “The compulsive pursuit of substance abuse and addictive behaviors is causing severe unhappiness. Government, business, and communities should use these indicators to set new policies aimed at overcoming these sources of unhappiness.” In the report, Sachs describes the U.S. as “a mass-addiction society.””
The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a sharp decline in the number of crimes committed by youth: “In California, homicides of juveniles dropped 83 percent — from 382 in 1995 to 63 in 2017, the latest state data show. Youth arrests for violent felonies in the state dropped 68 percent — from 22,601 in 1994 to 7,291 in 2017… The shift in youth crime, if it holds, could drastically alter the justice system in a state that spends $15 billion a year to operate its jails and prisons... The question is, what would the future look like?” asked Albanese, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “If it is a long-term trend, the future is looking more like Canada and Europe in the way they spend money.” Instead of spending billions in taxpayer dollars on the “criminal justice apparatus,” Albanese said, public officials could spend the money on housing, health care, employment training and education. There is a reason education is a fraction of the cost in countries that prioritize public spending in that way, he said. But Albanese and several other experts and policymakers said history offers a lesson in caution. “Too often we find ways to fill the prisons,” he said, referring to the crack epidemic or the current crackdown on undocumented immigrants. “I’m worried about whether that vacuum gets filled with another crime problem, real or imagined.” State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, cited the war on drugs, which resulted in mass incarceration, as the type of policy that could stymie a societal transformation based on record-low crime.”
After Florida voters approved a ballot measure re-enfranchising ex-felons, the Republican-majority Florida state legislature is now pushing forward legislation that would require felons to pay back all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, which threatens to effectively nullify the intent of voters to restore voting rights. The Washington Monthly notes that court fines and fees in Florida are not “limited to restitution offenders are required to pay to their victims. As in most areas of abuse in the criminal justice system, Florida is a leader when it comes to imposing fees and fines on offenders. The Brennan Center for Justice has documented some of those abuses. For example, they reported on “The Hidden Cost of Florida’s Criminal Justice Fees”: In this report, we focus on Florida, a state that relies so heavily on fees to fund its courts that observers have coined a term for it – “cash register justice.” Since 1996, Florida added more than 20 new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants and, at the same time, eliminated most exemptions for those who cannot pay. In addition to court fees, a growing practice in the criminal justice system is to charge inmates and parolees for the “services” they receive: In the last few decades, additional fees have proliferated, such as charges for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, and sex offender registration. Given all of that, it isn’t difficult to imagine that ex-felons in Florida could be straddled with a lifetime of debt, even after they have served their time and/or completed probation.”
Fresh Air interviews Dr. Homer Venters, who spent nine years providing and overseeing medical care to thousands of inmates of Rikers Island, where he witnessed firsthand the effects of violence, trauma, and neglect in the prison system. "Jail settings [are] incredibly dehumanizing, and they dehumanize the individuals who pass through them," Dr. Venters said. Security staff and health staff can stop seeing inmates as people. "They look at them as problems. They look at them as liars, as malingerers."
A new report from the Brookings Institute looks at the ongoing devaluation of housing in black neighborhoods and the links between devaluation, segregation, and diminished opportunities for upward mobility in black communities, finding that “majority-black neighborhoods hold $609 billion in owner-occupied housing assets and are home to approximately 10,000 public schools and over 3 million businesses. We find that in the average U.S. metropolitan area, homes in neighborhoods where the share of the population is 50 percent black are valued at roughly half the price as homes in neighborhoods with no black residents… Metropolitan areas with greater devaluation of black neighborhoods are more segregated and produce less upward mobility for the black children who grow up in those communities. This analysis finds a positive and statistically significant correlation between the devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods and upward mobility of black children in metropolitan areas with majority black neighborhoods.”
Facebook settled five lawsuits brought by civil rights organizations that claimed the platform allowed companies to illegally discriminate against women, people of color, and elderly people in job, housing, and credit postings, and announced that ads hosted on the platform will no longer be able to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, and age.
The New York Times reports on how tobacco companies used the marketing strategies that had proved so effective in selling tobacco products to sell sugary drinks like Tang, Kool-Aid, and Capri Sun to children. “Using child-tested flavors, cartoon characters, branded toys and millions of dollars in advertising, the companies cultivated loyalty to sugar-laden products that health experts said had greatly contributed to the nation’s obesity crisis… “We have a chronic disease epidemic but we don’t understand the vectors very well,” said Laura A. Schmidt, an author of the study and a professor of health policy at U.C.S.F. School of Medicine. “These documents help us understand how food and beverage companies, using strategic and crafty tactics, got us hooked on unhealthy products.”
The Washington Post reports on how the rise of homeless encampments are “changing the face of American homelessness,” and interviews one homeless couple about their lives: “They looked around their tent, which not only held the sum total of their world but also reflected a way of life that has, over the past decade, fundamentally changed the face of American homelessness. As housing costs climb ever higher in booming urban areas, the significant growth in tent encampments nationwide has become one of the most visible signs of the nation’s failure to alleviate widening inequality. In Orange County, Calif., more than 700 people were cleared out of a tent city along the Santa Ana River last year after thousands signed a petition and Anaheim declared of a state of emergency. Seattle, meanwhile, has allowed some tent cities to operate as de facto communities — long-term, regulated, even with phone numbers and addresses. And in the District, the number of encampment cleanups has surged, according to city data, rising from 29 in 2015 to 100 in 2018.”