Prison reform, whichever way you mean that, has always meant to ME going back to a more objective and dispassionate way of looking at things.
Regardless of what the Bible or Torah might say the U.S. is NOT basing its justice system on an eye for an eye. I know there are many people who take a great, tribalistic pleasure in contemplating the pain and suffering of a condemned criminal, especially when the crime was a heinous one.
I submit that this attitude is a selfish one; it has nothing to do with the classic Liberal Enlightenment values that this country was founded upon.
Let me pause to ask the more reactionary of readers to calm down and take a deep breath and stop preparing to shove words in my mouth. I do not think that EITHER major side in this debate is framing things in the right terms.
There is a war between people who want to make each day of a criminal’s sentence HURT. What would Jesus say about that? What would Buddha or Krishna say? What would Hillel think about it? The other side SAYS they want to rehabilitate the prisoner and that harshness in the environment only makes the PERSON more messed up and likely to remain a committer of crimes and a danger to, or at least destabilizer of, society. But the result seems to be coddling and pampering and again we see a criminal who becomes a MORE irresponsible member of society.
For these people ARE members of or society, we cannot disown them the way irresponsible parents do when they pretend that the horrible children they raised do not reflect upon them.
The People, for in the U.S. it is said WE are the Sate, have the right to protect its citizens. The State has a DUTY to reduce the incidence of crime and keep criminals from harming life, limb or property. But how best is that end served? Mollycoddling rapists and telling them that if not for their mean daddy they would be a good person, and then recommends that rapist be set free? Or do we have a prison system designed to humiliate and break a person’s body and soul, so that when released they are debilitated in proportion to their crime? To me the first breeds arrogant, contemptuous new crimes and the second breed desperate angry new crimes, for do not forget just how “blind” justice can be when self-involved humans are in charge. “We must do the best we can with what we have. “ – John Paul Jones
As far as I can see, any approach that does not recognize the both the right of the People to protect themselves and their society AND the right of the CITIZEN prisoner to be treated, not only humanely, but with an implicit admission that ANY human system is fallible, and that it is better to err in mercy than in harshness. We also need to take a practical approach to the management of day to day prison life.
Regardless of stupid excesses promulgated by ignorant or irresponsible officials it is NOT in line with founding principles to deny that AT NO TIME DOES A PRISONER STOP BEING A CITIZEN, just like you and me in their essential Constitutional rights. (I think we have gone too far in abrogating this over the decades; the only crime that should deny a person their vote are felonies involving elections or voter rights and, the only crimes that should deny a citizen the right to bear arms are violent crimes of a felonious nature. That said, it should be obvious, to anyone who hasn’t drunk the PC Kool-Aid that a violent criminal who has only used his hands should NOT be allowed carry a gun any more than the one that killed with a gun.
What DO I think our prisons should look like? How long should sentences be? What rights to medical care does a prisoner have? Well Virginia, let me share with you MY vision for justice and rehabilitation in America.
Any right that does not allow a prisoner to harm others CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY OR DILUTED IN ANYWAY! How is that for simple? It might be needed that a prisoner be kept in solitary and controlled with very positive means, as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs but, like Lector he does not lose his right to ANYTHING that cannot be used to cause harm or escape. If a prisoner does cause harm or escape it is because the sate failed for logistical reasons, not because they failed to strip the prisoner of enough rights.
If you put a stupid psychologist in charge of a mental ward would you expect the patients to get well or worse? Well PC correct mentality is about the dumbest there are.
If you put a sadist in charge of people who are violent and lack self control would you expect them to become centered, grounded and reasonable?
Obviously neither approach will work, we need to take the good parts of both concepts and trash ruthlessly all ideas that are proven to not work. One way to do this is to…
A. stop thinking of a convicted prisoner as anything but a special class of CITIZEN, as viewed by the State
B. Understand that the People’s right to CONTROL the ability of the prisoner to harm others is ABSOLUTE.
C. Understand that in the interest of preventing future crimes by the convicted Citizen when they are released the People have the right to FORCE prisoners to submit to education and non-coercive or invasive psychological therapy. Obviously it is wrong to make a person take mind altering chemicals; equally it is silly to think that a prisoner who refuses his meds should not be put under tighter control.
D. (this is the one that will have the conservatives howling to the moon) The standard of comfort, access to media and information and medical care should be at a level consistent with mid-line Middle Class folk. Food should be at the same standard and religious accommodation for established faith diets, i.e. kosher, Halal, Vegetarian should be accommodated on a one for one basis with the mainstream food in terms of quality and abundance. A person cannot be expected to GROW in human terms and be the Citizen you WANT him to become if you dully his senses and sap his vitality.
What all these points add up to is the recognition that ONLY issues that are important are to protect society from criminals and to return those criminals to society as unlikely to reoffend as possible.
I have always felt that the people who are big on harsh prison conditions really just wish they could execute anyone that is convicted of an offense deserving prison time to profound is their abandonment of that persons capacity for a human future. Of course the other side seems to think that if you just treated him “fairly” and if you “gave him trust” and hired him to be your communities youth organizer Charles Manson would be fine on parole. To me both sides have little to add to the situation but more toxic results. How about we get over trying to use the State to inflict revenge and realize that once a “threat to society” is convicted and sentenced there is no NEED to nor MORALITY in getting off on making them “pay.” OF course if you want to talk about CIVIL restitution, that is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, I see no problem with making someone try to restore balance that they have destroyed.
I hope by now you all can see I am no soft-headed PC fool nor a self-righteous seeker of counterproductive revenge on the unfortunates of society. I am a moderate citizen who believes that the principals of justice held dear by our founders STILL apply and IF ACTUALLY IMPLIMENTED, would work far better than the senseless mélange of toxicity and lenience that prevails in America today.