Warning: sanctimonious rant ahead.
The U.S. Department of Justice declared that they will no longer enter into or renew contracts with privately run prisons. Meaning they realize that allowing for-profit businesses to oversee human lives might not be the most humane thing. Most people will glance past this and not care because, quite frankly, who cares about violent felons? Well, I do, because there’s not just violent sociopaths we’re segmenting away from society. I’ve been thinking a lot about the prison system lately. The main mental wrestling involving whether I am more interested in punishment or reform. I think I’ve come to the point where I am deeply concerned with rehabilitation.
“But what if someone rape-murdered your child and pooped on their dead face?” This is always the counter-argument (in so many words) to any attempt at making prison even slightly more humane. The very idea of prison seems to be punitive measures against social deviants. It’s also a sentiment with which I can empathize. Of course I want someone who victimizes me and mine to be punished. I also want to prevent me and mine from being victimized. Which is why I think we’re going about incarceration all wrong. Instead of having, for example, a burglar go to prison and come out with remorse, empathy and skills to not have to go back to burglary, we’re instead getting that burglar who now sees the world as a jungle that requires hyper-violence in order to survive.
There is way too high a recidivism rate for us to think that our current system is worthwhile. The first problem I can think of is that felons are treated as, well, felons after they get out. If we believe our justice system is working, we have to stop potential employers from asking if a person has a felony and using a felony as a method to prevent a person from acting as a normal citizen. If a person “served their time” then we need to treat them as a general citizen after time is served. If we’re interested in “punishing” people, then maybe we should figure out at what point we’re done punishing the person. People who are considered sex offenders have to register and tell all of their neighbors, whether they were arrested for mooning a police officer or raped the mayor’s dachshund. Same category, no differentiation, and both are punished for the rest of their lives.
The biggest problem is that society doesn’t want to treat felons like humans who may have made a mistake but more of a person who is a cancer on society. People in prison are less sociopaths than they are people who just got caught. Yes, of course murderers and rapists should be punished, but we also need to think about how we’re punishing them and what we’re doing to prevent further perpetuation of evil.
“We have to make sure that the consequences are harsh enough to prevent dissuade potential criminals,” is another argument that gets casually thrown around as though it has any meaning whatsoever. The decades that we’ve had this system have proven that no one is deterred from committing a crime because of the potential consequences. We don’t live in The Purge.
Also, we need to acknowledge that not all people in prison are there because they deserve to be. There’s a segment of prisoners who are wrongfully convicted or suffering from mental illness. Perhaps not a large segment, but in punishing felons there’s a bit of punishing innocent people caught up in an over-zealous justice system.
It’s not that I want the prison system to be completely abolished, but I do want massive reform. I would advocate for mandatory educational classes. I would pray for classes that teach prisoners skills that give them a chance at employment once they are inevitably released (keep in mind the word “inevitably” because we can’t keep drug dealers interred indefinitely). I want the punishment to end after prison time is served. I want all people to be treated equally in the justice system. And I want prison rape to not be seen as a joke but a serious problem (no, I don’t think a car jacker deserves to be raped, maybe you do), at the very least knock it off with the hack joke “don’t drop the soap,” is that so much to ask?
If being a self-righteous pontificator is wrong, then lock me up. (It’s not illegal, is it? I don’t want to go to prison.)