Friday, September 9, 2016

Prison Abolition vs. Prison Reform

Today, right now, the largest prison strike in U.S. history is taking place. They're protesting being forced into slavery and the horrific living conditions that have resulted in many unnecessary deaths. In 1971, the inmates at Attica rioted for their rights and to protest living conditions. Since then, things have only become worse for the prison population, especially since the privatization of our prisons.

This is largely because no one is cared about less than prisoners since we can blame them for any of the terrible treatment they receive. Many people even think that prisons should be this terrible because it will deter crime. This, of course, is not true, because people don't commit crimes because they think jail is a good time. Sometimes they commit crimes to keep from starving to death on the street or to get medical care. But maybe we shouldn't solve that problem by making prison even worse.

Check out this amazing comic/infographic thing on The Nib for more information about the terrible state of U.S. prisons. For more information about why prisoners do deserve to get their basic needs met and not be made into slaves, check your conscience.

I do believe that prisoners deserve rights and dignity and not to die from heat exhaustion or be forced to eat moldy food. At one point, prison was supposed to be about rehabilitation. It was supposed to be a place where people went to learn skills and get some kind of mental health treatment so that they could return to society and not feel the need to commit crimes anymore. But it's gotten so far from that purpose that nobody even seems to remember it anymore.

There are people in this country who think that prison should be abolished altogether. No, this does not mean that people will be able to commit crimes willy nilly and nothing will be done. It means seeing crime as a result of ill health, poverty, abuse, etc., instead of seeing it as some kind of fundamental flaw or something that can be fixed with an extended time-out. Even with comprehensive prison reform, prison still acts as a punishment and puts a stigma on every person who goes there.

And I know what you're thinking. What about the rapists and murderers? What about the people who don't or can't feel remorse for hurting people? I'm not about to say that this isn't a problem that needs to be dealt with in the present. I don't think everyone should be released from prison immediately. There may be a necessity for some kind of guarded facility where these people have to stay to protect the rest of society, but as much as I hate rapists, it shouldn't be a prison. It needs to be a decent place where they can have extensive mental health treatment and all their needs are beyond met, not just met to the technical degree where they probably won't die.

And honestly, you can talk about prison reform all you want. But we've done prison reform before. And look where we are now.

What really needs to be abolished is the way we think about crime and the people who commit it. People don't commit crimes because they're bad, because they're hooligans or "thugs," or because they don't "respect authority." That's all a bunch of meaningless bullshit. People commit crimes for many reasons, and the source of it is usually some form of abuse, suffering, poverty, systemic racism, or necessity. These people need help, they need to be cared for. Not punished.

I acknowledge and believe all of this, but I also feel like we're so far off from this point I don't know if humanity can survive far enough to reach it. You have and will see me celebrate the imprisonment of certain people because at this point in human history, it's hard enough to expect people of a certain race or gender to be imprisoned for their crimes. It's hard enough to imagine any kind of prison equity in terms of race or for rapists to actually be imprisoned as they should under our current justice system.

And I understand the desire to see people punished for hurting others. Especially in a society where certain people are let off or straight up coddled and pitied after committing certain crimes, particularly rape. In a society where convicted rapists are treated better than their victims.

I guess what I'm saying is that in principle, I am for prison abolition. But principle isn't always practical. And I'll usually choose principle but my optimism only goes so far.

So for now, I 100% support the prison strikes. For now, I'm fighting for the possibly attainable goal of ending the use of prisons as another way to enslave black people and other people of color. But eventually, absolutely.

Free. 'Em. All.

- Sofie Louise Dam

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