Saturday, November 30, 2013
Crazy 1946 inspired me to write this article with his comment yesterday in response to Crane’s post, The Woman Who Moved During Count. He said,
I’m sitting here in utter confusion (ok, that’s not unusual, but…) and wondering why we call it a “Justice System”? Is treating a person like an animal in an effort to break their spirit considered “justice”? What possible benefit to the rest of society could come from creating a person that develops a hatred for those that enforce the rules of society because of the way they are treated after they make a mistake? I can’t help but be angered when we hear of our fellow humans being treated worse than our laws permit live stock to be treated…. and to think, we do this while calling our selves civilized…
When I took criminal law in law school, I was taught that the legitimate goals of imprisonment were punishment, rehabilitation and deterring others from committing crimes. The emphasis was on locking up violent offenders for long periods of time. Nonviolent offenders usually were not sentenced to prison unless they had prior convictions. Therefore, the majority of prison inmates had been convicted of violent crimes.
The idea to rehabilitate prisoners by working through their addiction problems, teaching them skills to make an honest living, and helping them reintegrate into the community after serving their sentences was a wonderful idea. Getting their addictions under control and setting them up with a job that paid a living wage, a place to stay, and a support group led by a competent counselor was a great way to prepare them to support themselves and accomplish something positive in their lives. Rehabilitation was based on the Golden Rule. Treat a person with respect and they are more likely to respect themselves and treat others with respect. Train and set them up with a skilled job that paid a living wage and a support group to help each other through rough spots seemed as perfect a solution as is humanly possible to turn convicted felons into well adjusted and productive citizens.
Unfortunately, the programs, training, jobs paying a living wage, places to stay and community support required lots of money to have any chance of success and the federal government was more interested in using the War on Drugs to lock people up, specifically black males, for most of their potentially productive years. Rehabilitation was mocked and dismissed as a costly and impractical liberal solution to solving crime. Convicted offenders were demonized and legislatures cranked out statutes increasing sentences. Programs in the prisons were eliminated and inmates were released into their respective communities after serving their sentences without any assistance. The situation they faced was literally sink or swim. No surprise then that recidivism rates increased as institutionalized prisoners could not survive in a hostile environment without job opportunities and no way to support themselves financially without committing crimes.
It doesn’t take a weather man to tell which way the wind blows.
The dire situation got much worse when corporate America realized there was a lot of money to be made reinstating slavery by replacing state run prisons and operating them on a for-profit basis exploiting the prisoners as slave labor. Aided and abetted by politicians eager to reduce, if not eliminate federal and state governments by privatizing their activities and selling off their assets to reduce debt, corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) began contracting with various states to house their prison inmates. Amazingly, the corporations insisted on and many states agreed to so-called lock-up quotas requiring states to pay penalties if they failed to send enough people to prison to keep the prisons full.
We need to get our priorities straight. The grotesque return to the exploitation economy that created and sustained the antebellum South is extremely alarming. Greed is not good. Greed is evil. Slavery by any other name is still slavery. Exploiting human beings for any reason is morally and ethically unacceptable. If you think about it, people who profit from exploiting others actually represent a greater threat to humanity than all of the serial killers put together. Two words: Human trafficking.
Exploiting prison inmates for slave labor is not far behind.
Corruption in the form of financial kickbacks to judges for keeping prisons full of inmates, whether they deserve to be in prison or not, has already happened.
A couple of years ago, for example, two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of accepting kickbacks from the developer of a privately owned juvenile detention center for sentencing over 3,000 children to draconian prison terms.
Kids for Cash is a documentary about the case produced by Robert May. It recently premiered at the DOC NYC Festival and will be released early next year. Here’s Robert May answering questions after the premiere.
Fred says, “Check it out.”