Why were people so quick to assume that locking away an increasingly large proportion of the U.S. population would help those who live in the free world more safer and secure? This question can be formulated in more general terms. Who do prisons tend to make people think that their own rights and liberities are more secure than they would be if prisons didn’t exist?
Angela Davis (Why Are Prisons Obsolete?)
Two weeks ago I penned a letter to a federal judge in support of lenient sentencing for one of my brothers. I’m particularly close to this brother because we are so close in age (20 months apart). We attended high school and college together. He’s been incarcerated for the past year and a half while awaiting the verdicts from his state and federal trials. Prior my brother’s ordeal I’ve had almost no personal experience with the judicial system. I’ve always seen it as a black and white issue. You commit a crime, you go to jail. You don’t want to go to jail, you obey the laws. I now know that criminality is completely gray.
People who are apart of America’s prison system aren’t all monsters who need to be locked up and have the key thrown away. They’re people, just like you and I. They’ve just made mistakes. They’ve broken laws which society says are punishable by having your freedom taken away. I recently finished Angela Davis’ eye-opening Are Prisons Obsolete? One thing that I took away from the book is that the way our society views criminalization is skewed at best. We have to ask ourselves that if the purpose of locking up criminals is to keep those who don’t break the law safe then how efficient is the current system? Prisons are filling up faster than we can build them, yet according to statistics crime rates are still rising. The threat of revocation of basic freedoms is not a sufficient deterrent to stopping crime. If the statistics are showing that deterring crime is not the primary reason for incarceration, then what is? I believe the American judiciary system has essentially leased the prison system out to private, for profit corporations.
Just as the privatization of war has corrupted our moral base of our armed forces and the way our country approaches conflict, the privatization of the prison system has changed the way we view and manage criminals. The end game to both the privatization of war and prison is profit. In war no money is made if there is no conflict and in prison no money is made without prisoners. There then comes pressure for the lengthier sentencing from judges in cases which may or may not warrant the time handed out. Its an ethical issue that needs to be examined.
Case in point the recent 28 year sentence levied upon Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. who was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes. The bribes were from developers of juvenile detention centers. The Associated Press stated:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.
Ciavarella, 61, was tried and convicted of racketeering charges earlier this year. His attorneys had asked for a “reasonable” sentence in court papers, saying, in effect, that he’s already been punished enough.
“The media attention to this matter has exceeded coverage given to many and almost all capital murders, and despite protestation, he will forever be unjustly branded as the ‘Kids for Cash’ judge,” their sentencing memo said.
The general public is mislead to believe jailing people is the only way in which those who violate the laws of the land can be punished. The concept of long term jailing is a relatively new concept. Think about movies or television shows you’ve watched (Braveheart, Game of Thrones, etc) and how those people who committed crimes were punished. It wasn’t through long term imprisonments, it was usually carried out through executions that would be considered inhumane today (beheading, hanging, firing squad). Although the “prison approach” is relatively new compared to other forms of punishment we believe that it is the only viable option.
I won’t go as far as Angela Davis in suggesting that prisons are in fact obsolete. I believe they are in fact necessary. There are some people who need to be cut off from society for the greater good of everyone. Do you know how super resistant forms of bacteria form? They are brought into existence when doctors prescribe antibiotics for every little sniffle or cough. A lot of bacteria will die off initially but eventually the bacteria will adapt and become stronger. Eventually antibiotics will have no affect. Prisons are like antibiotics prescribed for every little sniffle. Whenever a situation arises we throw prison at it hoping it will go away. Eventually prisons won’t work anymore. What will we do then?
Today my brother will be sentenced for the crime he committed and I cringe at the idea of him being apart of the Prison Industrial Complex. We need to reexamine the treatment and exploitation of prisoners. Committing a crime shouldn’t automatically revoke your constitutional rights. As I said earlier criminals are still people and they aren’t all monsters. They have families and people who care for them who suffer right along with them. Most people are one bad decision away from where my brother is so his ordeal has forced me to look at criminality and the Prison Industrial Complex from a different perspective.
How do you feel about the privitization of prison? Are you close to anyone who is currently in prison or has served a lengthy prison sentence? Do you feel there is only black and white when it concerns criminals? Also, is prison a true rehabilitation method in criminology?