Thanks to TLC and discovery, most people know (or are passingly aware) of the fact that prison sucks. The beds are cement slabs or metal racks with thin mattresses. The inmates are like caged animals, waiting ,pacing, praying to be called to work, or church or anywhere. But there are not enough jobs, not enough staff for work or church or recreation on too many days. In some prisons, inmates have to purchase their own toiletries, and if they happen to be lucky enough to work, the pay rate starts at $.10/hour, and there’s a 25% gate fee in most prisons.
Acknowledging the fact that many ‘free’ Americans believe that inmates are (mostly) those who commit violent crimes, and thus deserve this treatment (which, by the way, they would denounce if it happened at the zoo), this is simply not true. These citizens on the street say that they were innocent until proven guilty. I’m forced to believe that many of the common people in America are ignorant of the reality of prison.
No, I’ve never been to a prison, but a shockingly large number of my coworkers (I work with computers) are former police, military and security guards. One of them used to work at a Medium Security Prison. No, I’ve never been the victim of a violent crime, but I’m not saying that victims have no rights. What I’m saying is that criminals are still people, and we owe something to the nature of humanity to correct our wrongs and prevent them from happening again.
I don’t think that prison is the correct means to that end.
Let’s take a look at why people are in prison. From the Bureau of Prisons, we can learn that of 169,328 inmates (as of May 2nd):
Drug Offenses ...................................... 54.8% Weapons, Explosives, Arson ......................... 10.7% Immigration ........................................ 10.5% Robbery ............................................ 6.7% Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses ............... 4.7% Extortion, Fraud, Bribery .......................... 4.6% Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping ........... 3.4% Miscellaneous ...................................... 1.9% Sex Offenses ....................................... 1.0% Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement ... 0.7% Courts or Corrections (e.g., Obstructing Justice) .. 0.5% Continuing Criminal Enterprise ..................... 0.4% National Security .................................. 0.1%
I’m going to touch on the ones that stand out to me.
Drug Offenses: 54.8%
This DOES NOT mean drug traffickers, dealers and so on consist of 54.8% of the inmates. This number includes all the people pulled over for having a joint in their car, or who were only really screwing themselves over with drugs. This number includes the man who baked a marijuana brownie for his lover with AIDS. I’m against drug abuse as much as anyone else, but looking at the numbers and knowing that of that 54.8%, a good portion are people like you and me makes me think our war on drugs is being attacked the wrong way. The sixteen year-old who buys a gram of crack shouldn’t go to prison, the nineteen year-old who sold it to him should. But that’s not what always happens.
Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping: 3.4%
Compare it to drug and this is freakishly low. We have more drug users than violent criminals? Okay, I’ll grant that a lot of time, people get hooked on drugs in prison (there’s not a whole lot to do and anything that gets you out of your head and cell for a little while is viewed as worth it), and those druggies do a little extra time for their crime. Still, this contradicts what we see on TV, doesn’t it? CSI, Law & Order, and all those shows have mostly rapists, murderers and that sort as their crook de jour. Maybe they should have more druggies…
Sex Offenses: 1.0%
Yeah, that’s kind of low, isn’t it? One percent of 169,328 inmates is around 1693 people. Under two thousand criminals are in jail for the crime which most women I know consider to be the most heinous, evil and down and out worst crime possible. You can only die once, but rape lives on for ever. 2000 people. Maybe I should say something about how this reflects the fact that sex crimes aren’t as prevalent as they were ‘back when.’ The problem is I suspect the problem is that many people who are sexually assaulted don’t report the crime (for fear of duplication of said crime), or are dismissed in court for being ’emotional.’
Now, why don’t I think that rehabilitation works?
Have you ever seen the movie The Great Escape? The Nazis took a whole lot of the US and UK POWs who’d been keen on escape attempts, shoved them into one camp, they called is escape proof, and then 76 of them bust out in a huge attempt that is really shocking in it’s execution. Okay, so the Nazis capture and shoot 50 of the escapees, and only three actually get away, but the point is that when you put all the eggs in one basket, the eggs break and cause trouble.
Put all the criminals in one containment area, lock them up, take away what we consider the ‘basic human rights’ and force them into a strict, solitary and screwed up life. And when they come out of prison, they’re goofy in the head.
You can’t put a bunch of trouble makers in a box and expect them to come out clean, having realized they were wrong and wanting to be better people. Prison is filled with criminals, and while 54% of them are in for drugs, don’t think for a moment that the stronger ones don’t take advantage and invariably teach them how to be better criminals. Why? Because you put them all together, and when you have that many bored people who committed a crime (or who are believed to have committed one), they don’t have a lot to do but talk shop. After all, they have something in common.
When prisons were started, the belief was that they’d deter criminals and make the crime rate go down. This hasn’t been effective, if you’ll note, as we have more criminals than ever, and the numbers are climbing.
No, I don’t have a solution. I’m not sure that rehabilitation is possible, since by the time most people get to prison, they’re already pretty fucked up.
I’d say we should start by teaching the children, but that’s a whole bigger problem for another blog.