People Who Are Not In Federal Prison Today

In Group A, we have people who are not in federal prison today:

NSA employees who abused national security apparatus to wiretap their wives and girlfriends in violation of federal criminal law are not in federal prison today.

NSA employees who broke federal law to conduct surveillance on Americans are not in federal prison today; neither are the government lawyers who repeatedly lied to a court about it.

A prosecutor who suborned perjury and then used it to lie to a jury in order to secure a conviction is not in federal prison today.

Masked armed men who raided a house and terrorized and brutalized its inhabitants are not in federal prison today. Of course, it would be hard to put them in prison because they concealed their identity and the government that employs them has steadfastly obstructed and evaded legal efforts to identify them.

In Group B, you have the people who are in federal prison today.

There are about 218,000 of them in some sort of federal confinement. Nearly 50% are in for drug offenses. Another 12% are in for immigration offenses. Of the rest, why are they there? Well, for instance, 2010 statistics show that the United States Department of Justice pursued 68,591 cases, of which 581 (or about .8%) were for official corruption and 115 (or about .16%) were for civil rights violations, which includes both government and non-government defendants.

What do you suppose is the difference between Group A, and Group B?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Nicholas Weaver says

    Don't forget government officials who outright lied to Congress (compare with baseball players who lie to Congress)

  2. Jim Tyre says

    What do you suppose is the difference between Group A, and Group B?

    Um, one group is in prison, the other isn't. Now wasn't that easy?

  3. David C says

    "Well, you know, we COULD prosecute those government employees… but since I'm a government employee myself, I don't want to set that kind of precedent."

  4. Tarrou says

    Is it expected that government entities will treat themselves as strictly as they treat others? Basic psychology and common sense would suggest otherwise. Tribalism and self-serving bias, when coupled with the levels of power found in the government, can have truly tragic results.

  5. Matthew Cline says

    Ooh, ooh, ooh, I know! Group A are Freemen On The Land who refused to contract with an admiralty court! *pulls on tinfoil hat tighter*

  6. Steven H. says


    "Is it expected that government entities will treat themselves as strictly as they treat others?"

    Actually, yeah, I do expect that.
    Actually, I expect that governmental entities will hold themselves to a HIGHER standard than they do others.

    Admittedly, governments have been disappointing me for a long time….

  7. George B says

    Don't forget Harford County MD state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly who raided Anthony Graber's house & charged him with felon wiretapping for recording his own speeding arrest…..

  8. Nick says

    Group B are primarily minorities that are statistically likely to vote for Democrats, Group A are primarily white men that are statistically likely to vote for Republicans.

    Wait…That probably wasn't the answer you were looking for.

  9. says

    @Tarrou – sadly, the government has two very clearly different standards for crimes against citizens and crimes against it. The same goes for its tolerance of crimes committed by it and crimes committed by private citizens. I think it was Walter Williams who made a pretty good point about it – Go print up a bunch of counterfeit money and when you get busted, tell them you were just 'engaging in monetary policy'. There's so many clear examples of this double standard it'd be hard to even begin talking about it.

  10. Stephen J says

    Uh, group A is obviously the A-team. They work as soldiers of fortune, while on the run after being branded as criminals for a "crime they didn't commit" Thanks for blowing their cover you troglodyte.

  11. says

    NSA employees who abused national security apparatus to wiretap their wives and girlfriends in violation of federal criminal law are not in federal prison today.

    Does the NSA only employ heterosexual men and lesbians?

  12. Luke says

    @Nick – You might want to rethink your assertion about group A's voting preferences. Federal employees have a pretty even split between parties. State employees lean democrat.

  13. Sam says

    Does the NSA only employ heterosexual men and lesbians?

    It's entirely possible that only women were illegally wiretapped. It's not probable, but possible, sure.

  14. barry says

    Their employer is the difference.

    I don't think that is exactly it. Group A could have included some Wall St investment bankers and not changed the nature of the question. And there is that 0.8% 'official corruption' in group B.

    There is a culture of corruption-denial, both public and private, and the risk to whistleblowers is still too high to fix it.

  15. Carl says

    Those stats at the end seemed so high that I had to check them, but its true. Also let's not forget that ten times as many people are in state prisons, and three times as many again under probation, parole or some other form of "supervision". These numbers aren't just higher than other Western countries, they are staggeringly higher. If America released half it's prisoners tomorrow… it would still have a higher incarceration rate than Belarus or Uzbekistan, and about three times the rate of civilized democracies.

    Sorry if this seems a bit off topic, but America's astonishingly high prison population always strikes me as a key piece of this whole picture. What kind of state locks up so many of its citizens?

  16. perlhaqr says

    Oooh! Oooh! Is it that the people in Group B are totally guilty, but the people in Group A are are totally not guilty?

  17. says

    @SIV: I may have missed stories about women spy-creeping on men; the ones I read were vice versa.

    The only stories I'm aware of are in the linked article which is drawn from the letter from NSA Inspector General.

  18. Chris Simmons says

    Dammit, @bill, you beat me to it. Seriously, Ken, I thought you had finally granted a guest post on Popehat. Maybe Mr. Balko actually offered you some sort of pony-based remuneration?

  19. Nick says

    @Luke – I meant that white male's are statistically likely to vote R, I guess it's possible that that group A is not as white and male as I think, or that they're an outlier group within white males as you suggest (though I'd suspect that the voting habits of prosecutors and security agency employees tends more rightward than your average govt. employee, given that you're no longer averaging in hippies and minorities at Environmental, Housing, and Healthcare departments).

    I suspect most folks with this thread are overestimating the extent to which Group A is protected rather than just ignored. No one has an axe to grind with them (except the ACLU and hardcore Libs) and no one's ever lost an election by being "strong on national security" (fuck knows how pro-Security State stances means that, but thank you our failed national media).

    Group B on the other hand is drastically D leaning, and we have a whole party who's election strategy revolves around removing them from the voting pool. That it's not politically motivated seems unlikely.

  20. Paul McG. says

    I'd wager that Group B are primarily people who don't vote for either party, because I suspect they very likely don't vote. It is however nice to hear that the Democratic establishment is so strongly opposed to the activities of the NSA, prosecutors, the INS, and DEA. They haven't done a very good job of publicizing that position.

  21. Crusty the Ex-Clown says

    We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions. We granted government the right to make and enforce laws. What we didn't foresee was the natural tendency of any government to judge itself and its agents by their assumed intentions while simultaneously holding individuals responsible for any actions resulting in the slightest infractions, often ignoring the lack of mens rea. This asymmetry, while visible throughout the historical record, seems to have been under-discussed.

  22. Blah says

    I can't be sure, but my gut is telling me the main difference is hats. The masked men's mask-hats were probably a bit much but I'm assuming that NSA employees and prosecutors have quite a few nice dapper head-coverings in their clothing-arsenal.

    Am I right? Is hats the answer? What do I win?

  23. Allen says

    Both groups give the same result as far as the system is concerned: the system works fine.

    If group A were imprisoned it implies that the system has serious problems. Similarly group B not being imprisoned means the system has problems.

    There is nothing wrong with the system citizen.

  24. I was Anonymous says

    It's got to be ponies. It ALWAYS comes down to ponies. Group A is part of the Pony Conspiracy(tm), and as such, are kept out of jail. Group B does not own ponies, and the Pony Conspiracy puts them behind bars.

  25. Shropshire Blue says

    The difference between the two groups?

    Obviously the group out of jail are employees of your king.

    But I thought that 1776 unpleasantness was because you didn't like being ruled by a king.

  26. Justin Kittredge says

    Admittedly I am going to be rather lazy in this comment in pointing out a couple of flaws. I have somewhere I am meaning to go, and will only be putting in a small amount of time to point out a few things, then I shall disappear. The first question I would like to pose is, Is not your dataset incomplete? You point to government employees who have escaped justice. Then you point to large numbers of people who have not escaped justice. To extrapolate proper conclusions you need to know the number of people who have escaped justice for crimes and who do not work in government. This is perhaps an impossible number to find, but it is necessary for the rest to have some greater meaning.
    Also drugs are, well, the evidence and the crime. I mean if murderers kept the severed heads of their victims on their person, in say, a backpack, there would be more murderers in prison. If child molesters or those guilty of other sex crimes kept photo evidence of their crimes on their person, they would be easier to put in jail. The high number of people in jail for drugs, has something to do with the fact that evidence is in great supply in those cases, they own a house full of drugs, or it is in their car, or it is on their person. The connections are easy. Those in jail for immigration, it is the same. Are you in the country? Are you allowed to be in the country? Then proving guilt is rather easy. Between the almost 50% for drugs and the almost 12% for immigration you leave out the 16% in jail for Weapons, Explosives, Arson. Likewise if you are carrying around firearms/explosives illegally I should think you would be easier to put in prison because the evidence is a solid thing you were found with. If all the criminals getting off for other crimes, whether it is a sex crime, murder, corruption, abuses of power, had video evidence on their person of their crimes, it would be just as easy to fill the jails with a greater percent of them. I am not saying we should not pursue justice for all, I am saying the statistics are not as meaningful as they seem at first glance.
    To be fair, I am sure the government would rather not make headlines in terms of government employees going on trial in some procession of public media scrutiny. And also "evidence being classified" where said evidence is the only thing which could convict NSA employees, would also not be justice. Assuming there is any great amount of evidence. Do audit logs equal a strong case? I don't know. But I would rather these issues were taken against the government then statistical number bombs.
    Evidence at hand, is I am sure, a factor in which cases are pursued, to what degree, I do not know.

  27. Dion starfire says

    @Ken The people you mentioned are not in prison simply because they have not (yet) been proven guilty of a crime by a court of law.

    I seem to recall you yourself arguing against mob justice a few times. The fact that everybody thinks they're guilty, and there seems to be pretty solid evidence of that fact (e.g. recorded interviews, official reports) doesn't mean squat until and unless a jury agrees.

    This yet another instance where it sucks to be an honest, non-hypocritical, decent human being.

  28. says

    @Justin Kittredge – Your naïveté is dangerous. You have taken it as a given that drug laws and immigration laws are just, and that violators deserve to be in prison. I disagree, as do most of us around these parts. Drug laws punish consensual acts, and immigration laws value imaginary lines over human lives. Both are bad and wrong, and all those "guilty" under such laws should be immediately released. Doing so would be a great blessing to us all.

  29. Adam says

    A simpler way of saying at least part of what @Justin was saying is that maybe, conceivably, those stats accurately reflect the proportion of crimes actually committed. It isn't naive… Believing the war on drugs is unjust is not inconconsistent with suggesting that 50% of crimes committed are drug-related.

    The more important point is to ask the author to please be careful with statistics. It's really easy to report them in such a way as to "prove" whatever you want, and it does sort of feel like that's being done here.

    Related issues:
    – percentages are conflated (some are for inmates, some are for prosecutions)
    – percentages are compared to numbers, without discussion of the size of the population those numbers are drawn from.

    In the end I suspect the statistics would actually support Ken's point, so playing fast and loose with them, while easy, is counterproductive.

  30. says

    Shropshire Blue (Sep 27, 2013 @5:10 pm) thought "that 1776 unpleasantness was because you didn't like being ruled by a king."

    A lot of people, even those directly involved in 1776, made the same mistake. Neither the particular people nor titles are the problem; it's "the thing itself", the authoritarian attitude.

  31. says

    What about the millions of Americans who lied on mortgage applications to get mortgages they couldn't possibly afford, causing many banks to fail? Not one of them is in jail either.

  32. fred zeppelin says

    George B "Don't forget Harford County MD state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly who raided Anthony Graber's house & charged him with felon wiretapping for recording his own speeding arrest….."

    I Met ol' Butt-hurt at 'some function', and asked him if he was going to arrest me for shaking his hand – he was not amused…

  33. AlphaCentauri says

    @Justin Kittredge
    drugs are, well, the evidence and the crime
    If it were that simple, and we tried to lock up every person who had violated drug laws — say, by possessing marijuana — what percentage of the under-30 population would be incarcerated? Do you think the number of middle-income white teens and twenty-somethings who smoke pot is significantly different than the number of low income brown and black kids who do? Yet the incarceration rates are drastically different. If we can get by alright without incarcerating the wealthier kids, why is it so urgent to incarcerate the poor ones?

  34. Justin Kittredge says

    I don't mind if marijuana gets legalized. And I do not know what percent of the under 30 population would be incarcerated for possessing marijuana.
    You asked me if I feel the numbers are significantly different of white middle income smokers and black or brown smokers, again I don't really know. But part of attracting police attention is not about race directly. If there are a lot of shootings and death happening in the area in which you live, you are attracting attention. If the killings/shootings are due to gangs, drugs and turf battles, then the police are not going to ignore the illegal business and only concentrate on the killings which are a side-effect of dealing drugs. Many many things affect who goes to jail, I do not deny this, but if murders are happening in your area, everyone in your area is going to receive special attention. You could say there are more drug dealers because the area is poor and they feel it is one of their only paths. You could point to education systems which are underfunded in those areas leading to more people making their way eventually to crime. But a big reason police might be all up in your business, giving you extra attention, is if you live in or near an area where deadly violence occurs. Also it is just a bad break for drug users that their crime is one of the few which have physical signs associated with use, twitching, dilated eyes, certain smells, happening to look like you are dying of something.

    None of this excuses racial profiling of any kind if people are harassed based on nothing other then color.

    There was not a lot of shooting and killing in the neighborhood I grew up in. (suburbs outside a major Northeast city, if you care) There was a small number of drug dealers of my age. So did the police ignore my neighborhood because it was mainly white, because the drug dealers were "below the radar," or because there was nothing grabbing their attention and pulling them into the area like shootings and killings?
    When police go into below middle class neighborhoods looking for criminals is it because they seek only to incarcerate poor people of color, or is it because they are supposed to uphold laws and some neighborhoods are breaking laws in a rather loud hard to ignore fashion? Shootings. People being slain. Drug addicts everywhere.
    If you are gonna come at me with "If we legalize everything there will not be shootings" I will say that yes I am against legalizing everything. I am ok with the legalization of weed, it is on its way already, and Ecstasy does sound fun, a mushroom might be nice, but when it comes to all of the many harder substances I am against legalization. I do not want to spout off about parents addicted to drugs being shitty parents, pregnant women taking drugs, birth defects, kids overexposed to drug use at an early age, mental degradation due to drug use, people becoming utterly ruled by addiction to the point of living on the streets or very nearly, or Addiction in general, the transformation from a choice to a physical dependence. Just please pretend I did.

    I am sure wealthy people have access to better lawyers, and escape justice much much more often then poor people. Clearly this is also a factor in who ends up in jail.

    In my first comment I was trying to simply broaden the things considered when talking about the statistics of Group B. Percentages in a report are not comprehensive and I worry people may use them in a way which leads others to draw bogus conclusions. According to the percentages I could argue that the government is waging a war targeting only Males.

    If I was gonna draw a shaky conclusion from the data it might closely resemble "A high percentage of those in jail at any given time had rather obvious evidence against them." Which makes perfect sense and is not all that exceptional of an insight. Claiming the government is out to persecute certain people and let others off scott-free would make a much more interesting statement.

    I think I would have liked to try LSD.

    @Tice with a J
    Please don't make me look things up on the internet. I've looked and seen that 14 months is around about the sentence illegal immigrants face. This fluctuates based on 80 million different things including the other things they do wrong. However this is not eternity. The cases I've perused from the interwebz say they are usually picked up on some other crime initially. The cases I've perused show those sentenced have usually been deported and told to please fuck off and don't come right back into the country at least once before. I was never commenting to argue what laws are just. That would require me to do so much more comprehensive research then I am up for. I was commenting that percentages are junk. And as far as consent goes, to me that is a rather weak foundation. Some guy in withdrawal, his body turning against him, screams out to give him heroin. Best give it to him. He is obviously in complete control. Everyone on drugs is of course in control. In control of their money, their family, their lives, their own mind. So much control it is scary.