Thursday, March 01, 2007

Prisons: A Waste of Effort?

This piece was originally written by me in 2002 for an english class. I believe that it still holds true.

Throughout history all major civilizations have used some form of punishment for lawbreakers. The most common is incarceration. An individual would be isolated from his/her community as punishment for a crime. These individuals were also looked down upon by society. They were branded as the lowest of the low; individuals to be regarded as animals. In today’s American society there are sub-cultures that use these individuals as role models. For some, surviving a prison sentence is a right of passage. An ex-convict is thought to be “cool” or a “man”. It is typically the largest group in our society, the lower class, who views these individuals with respect. Youth of this group often choose to emulate a brother, uncle or cousin who has served in prison. Prison is no longer a deterrent. After the Vietnam era, law enforcement has been viewed with disgust; a new deterrent must be found, be it lethal consequences or merely toughening our prisons.

During the Vietnam War, Americans began to view law enforcement as vile. No longer were they heroes or role models. They were seen as no better then thugs. This view has been passed on from the individuals growing up at the time to the current youth, their children and grandchildren. This view also caused it to be unpopular to be a police officer and so in some cases the quality of officers has diminished. Many retired police officers view the current law enforcement as children. Not because of age, but because of the maturity and quality they possess. Not only did the Vietnam era perpetuate this “fight ‘the man’” philosophy it promoted seeking a free state of mind; be free of rules, free of laws, free to indulge. These ideas have slowly seeped into our society along with the “accept everyone” and “it’s okay, it’s not their fault” ideals. In today’s society police officers are still looked down upon and criminals are being looked up to. Youth feel they need to avoid the police and that laws must be disobeyed. Not that it’s okay to break them it is the “right” thing to do. These ideals must be corrected. Correctional officers will agree that prison does not work. They see the same criminals repeatedly, and new ones everyday. A Riverside county employee noted that Riverside county central jail processes approximately five thousand prisoners a month. Jail time is no longer a viable means of deterrent. We must change the current system or expand capital punishment. The only option left would be a more effective means of punishment, like execution.

First, expanding lethal consequences would act as a greater deterrent than prison. Enacting a bounty on individuals such as gang members would dramatically cut the amount of gang activity. The ethics of such a system will be questioned but is it ethical to let such individuals victimize the general populace. Some psychologists agree that this personality type will only respond to a “violent” punishment, something prison is not. The justice system must “speak their language”(Barbara Bertrand, interview). Many of today’s youth have grown up surrounded by these individuals and would agree with this system. The ideals of our parents do not work. The system would be strictly regulated. To qualify to be on a bounty sheet the individual would have to be a repeat offender with a minimum number of convictions. The amount of bounty would be decided be number of total convictions and rank of that individual within the gang. The bounty hunters would then have to take an accepted course in firearms training to avoid the injuring of non-targets. They would have to be licensed in order to buy bounty sheets and hunt gang members. They would have to renew their licenses every six months in order to maintain hunter standards. In order to collect the bounty they would have to take the individual to a central location, for identification and execution. With today’s capabilities regarding DNA testing and other forensic sciences no mistakes would be made. To most, this would seem to be an immoral way to solve the problem. No other methods seem to work. Training against gang involvement, education and teacher intervention, have proved futile. Crime rates are on the rise (CA DOJ, Adults Under State and Local Supervision). Gangs continue to spread and take over more and more cities. For those against capital punishment, which is more immoral, removing a few useless individuals from society or allowing them to take over our streets and hurt innocents?

Others might argue about the fairness of such a bounty. To make the bounty fair, those on the bounty sheets would have to opportunity to remove themselves. They would have one year to remove all identifying marks, move at least five hundred miles from city of residence, abstain from all contact with former fellow gang members and hold a job for ten to twelve months. Upon completion of these conditions; they would be removed from the bounty sheets. A return to criminal behavior or failure to complete all requirements would result in an issuance of a permanent bounty sheet. No second chances would be given, no probation. Another objection to this program would be funding. How would the bounties be paid? By having the hunters pay dues and “buy” bounty sheets funding could be accomplished with a minimum of government assistance. To some individuals this program would still be unacceptable. The final alternative is to modify the current systems. Prisons are only a deterrent to those who couldn’t deal with the other prisoners. To people who frequent our prison system this is not a problem. They deal with the same threats when in the general population. The threats are not as condensed perhaps, but they remain. Prison merely takes a criminal’s normal lifestyle and compresses it to the size of a few city blocks.

In prison an individual has three square meals a day, television, a library, schooling, weight lifting, a warm clean place to sleep and interaction with other humans. Most honest individuals don’t have this amount of comfort. The only threat to their safety or unpleasantness comes from other prisoners. People aren’t afraid to be in jail, they are afraid to be surrounded by other prisoners. The Discovery Channel had a special on prisons; one part was on the competitive weight lifting between prisoners. The lead lifter could lift over six hundred pounds in a dead lift. The individual was serving a sentence for robbery and rape. It would be impossible for an average woman to fight off an attacker that can lift over six hundred pounds, a few times the body weight of the average woman (Discovery Channel, “Supermax“). Instead of correcting criminal behavior the prison system is making it easier for them to commit crimes. To toughen our prison system would involve several steps. First instead of regular meals the prisoners would be served an oatmeal like substance with all the nutritional needs of the body. The prisoners would be healthy but the food wouldn’t be pleasant, it should be bland and uneventful. The next step would be to remove television and weight lifting. Prisoners should not have a way to pass the time or get stronger. Prison is meant to be unpleasant. Prisoners should also be kept from forming groups inside prison. Correctional facilities currently track groups/gangs inside prisons. These records should be used to keep prisoners in the same group from socializing. To further randomize socialization the prisoners should be rotated every six months to keep prisoners from forming bonds. This would cut down on gang formations inside prison. For the final step to making our prison system unpleasant enough to deter furthers criminal acts. The violent offender would be sent to a tent city in unpopulated areas. A county in Arizona has adopted this and found it effective. Making prisoners uncomfortable is the most effective way to keep them from returning. No longer would prison emulate the criminals’ normal daily life it would be exceptionally unpleasant. Their rights would not be violated. They would be healthy and taken care of. The public would merely no longer go out of its way to make them comfortable. Our prisons would also need less funding, there would be no television or expensive weight equipment to maintain of purchase, and food costs would be cut. Chain gangs could also be used for ditch digging and road maintained etc. Prisoners would be treated humanely and prisons would need less funding.

The Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire and The Greek city-states all fell because they accepted corruption and criminal behavior. If the system is not changed, if we accept this behavior, our society will crumble around us. We must make the consequences unpleasant or lethal.

Works Cited

Supermax. Discovery Channel. Discovery Network. 10 Feb 2002

California Department of Justice Statistics. California Dept. of Justice. 2 Feb 2002

Bertrand, Barbara. Interview. Personal interview. 12 March 2002