Friday, October 28, 2011

The American Prison System

I just about never agree with anything the evolutionist posters have to say at EvC -- (Evolution versus Creationism forums) -- but I have to say this one caught my attention and my sympathy. He makes prisons sound like exactly the wrong thing to do to anybody if you really care about rehabilitating them, and what he's described is something I've been vaguely aware of anyway but never really gave much thought.

Some people have to be punished, sure, at least kept out of society, but the system as it now stands isn't accomplishing anything desirable for the prisoner or the society or the taxpayer. A great deal of the punishment isn't anything mandated by law anyway, it's just the natural consequence of the way things spontaneously play out in the system, or in fact a product OF the system -- I'm thinking of the inhumanity of the prisoners to other prisoners and the inhumanity of the prison staff to the prisoners, and in general, perhaps, the simple nonthinkingness of everybody at all levels of the system, the inability to empathize with the prisoners, to grasp the reality of their experience. Is the hardness of staff a consequence of cynicism engendered by dealing with the criminal mentality, or something that has some completely external source -- some attitude engendered by the way the problems are conceptualized perhaps, which includes the lack of attention to the questions of whether any of it does anybody any good. The prison system sounds like some sort of Alternative Universe, peculiarly irrational, peculiarly cruel.

The discussion in the political arena tends to get stuck on the concepts of lenience versus punishment in the abstract without much attempt to understand what exactly that turns out to mean in reality.

I often get emails lauding Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's methods and I haven't been critical of those emails, though I haven't particularly felt good about them either, just haven't thought them through, haven't asked some pertinent questions about them. What's his recidivism rate for instance? If you treat human beings like dogs, how does that do anything for society?

Sure, there are some ugly characters who end up in prison, but it sounds like the vast majority of first offenders are far from hardened criminals and why should they be treated this way? Especially since many are turned into hardened criminals by their experience in the prisons.

Read farther down the thread too, where Rahvin the one who wrote the Opening Post describes what happened to a member of his family, and see if you think that is how any human being should ever be treated, let alone a woman who was suicidal and trying to get away from someone who was trying to stop her. Think about the way they talked to her, what they assume about someone who runs afoul of the system whatever the reason.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

Someone of course brought up the work of visiting prisoners that various Christian ministries and churches do. They are anti-Christian at EvC for the most part so what they say about the motives and effects of such visits is just the usual accusatory stuff, but it did make me think about how there are services prisoners need AS WELL AS THE GOSPEL that Christians could think about providing. Help when they leave the prisons for instance, as getting assimilated back into society is just about impossible for the vast majority of them and many kinds of help are needed. Reform of the prison system itself is probably something for those who have some sort of credentials, but of course God could equip anyone for the work He called to that purpose, and simply getting involved at whatever level of the problem could be a help.

Things to think about.