Sunday, June 11, 2006

U.S. Prison Study Faults System and the Public

Washington Post

Not only are America's prisons and jails largely failing the 13.5 million adults who pass through them each year, but the American public is also failing the prisons and jails, a bipartisan study group concluded in a report released Wednesday. Politicians have passed laws dramatically increasing the inmate population to 2.2 million on a given day without understanding life behind bars or funding programs likely to help prisoners return home and not commit more crimes, said the private Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons.
To me the problem is directly related to my last post The Political Power of Fear and Why Some Never Want Us To Be Free of Fear

If in an effort to get votes, politicians and the politically active trumpet how they want nothing more than to get scum off the street and they want this in order to protect good people from those out to destroy our civilization, it may be a PR disaster if voters learn they turned around and helped any of those people after they become government "property."

I've actually heard people react with disgust that inmates are able to take free classes while incarcerated. Heaven forbid if an inmate who entered the system without any legitimate job skills or without the ability to read gets a "free ride." And they've said this based on the sketchiest of information.

The gap between get-tough mandates and the reality of the criminal justice system can be devastating to those accused of crimes and to those the laws are meant to protect. That gap widens if programs that help people before they become criminals or if programs that help ex-cons or programs that help victims have their funding cut because the "get tough on crime" people are also "small government" people.

There are so many things we could do through our government to prevent the problems cited in the bipartisan report, but we have to be willing to look at all the complexities of our criminal justice system and all those involved in it. We can't stick to what sounds good in a re-election ad.

We must see all inmates as full human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity even as we keep in mind that any one of them, and any one of us on the outside, could commit acts that all of us find horrific.

We can't limit ourselves to sound bite beliefs like just say no to drugs, get tough, three strikes and you're out. And we have to look at covert ways in which the system is slanted in favor of those who can afford large defense teams over those who can't afford a single defense attorney.

It's better to help at-risk youth than to do nothing unless and until they get arrested, but the funding for programs that help youth is optional while funding for prisons is mandatory.

With more than 1 in 100 of our population incarcerated, we can't afford to ignore this problem.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:14 AM   0 comments links to this post

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