Friday, April 22, 2005

What Passes for Justice is Criminal

In a comment in response to "Is Bexar County Jail..." Anonymous writes:

"to even use the term "corrections" when referring to these officers implies that some sort of "fix" is taking place, when clearly that is not the case in the US prison system. Prisons in the US create criminals, they don't rehabilitate, correct, or otherwise turn "criminals" into productive members of society...Our elected officials keep creating new laws in order to put MORE people into prison, and they make laws to keep them in prison longer. This is really suspect given that more and more prisons are turned over to the private sector as "commercial ventures". Businesses that are running prisons have a vested interest in Putting more people in prison* Keeping people in prison longer...I think the entire US prison system (perhaps the entire "justice" system that doesn't dole out anything remotely related to justice) is despicable"

"Corrections" is actually a euphemism, but that is the official name on their badges, so that is the term I used, despite the fact that precious little "correcting" takes place in "the system."

While simply adding more under-trained, under-paid, under-rotated personnel will make little difference, I still maintain that fewer guards makes the existing staff more afraid, more alienated, more insular and hence meaner than they might otherwise be. While most of the incarcerated are there too long for offences that should not require extended jail time, I am reminded of an observation made by Richard Pryor. Now, Richard was no fan of "the system" but after spending some time at an Arizona state facility while making a movie, he observed that he was "glad we had jails because some of these people are really scary and you wouldn't want to meet them on the street." It is because of the psychopathic and sociopathic individuals that are in prison that the non-violent offenders need more guards to protect them from this very dangerous portion of the population. More supervisory personnel on each tier would make the lives of these unjustly incarcerated slightly less horrific. The role of a prison guard is not simply to keep prisoners from escaping, but rather is principally to protect the inmates from one another. Tragically, after being socialized in a prison for a period of time, the guards tend to become almost as dangerous as the sociopaths, hence the need for furloughs, councelling and rotation.

A "privatized" prison system is indeed an anathema because it creates a profit motive for incarceration. Companies like Wackenhut routinely pour fortunes into political campaigns not simply to get the private contracts being doled out, but also to increase the lengths of sentences and the types of crimes that require incarceration. This is a perversion of justice. Prisons should be expensive to maintain, and should always be a negative cash flow endeavor for the state so that there will always be a disincentive to unnecessarily incarcerate the accused. They should also be well managed, humane and safe for those that have no choice about being there, as well as for those who work in them.

I once worked for an organization that had contracted Wackenhut for "security." They routinely understaffed the facility, their "guards" stole money from the cash registers, vandalized the property and harassed the legitimate employees of the institution. The Wackenhut company double billed the organization repeatedly and threatened to sue if their overcharges weren't paid. Forget the fact that the only "criminals" on the premises were their employees. Paying Wackenhut for "security" was like hiring the cat to watch the canary. We fired Wackenhut and hired our own security guards and the problems ceased. There is not another corporation is this country that has as many thieves, rapists and murderers on its payroll. I wouldn't hire Wackenhut to run a kennel, let alone a prison.

As anonymous astutely observes, prisons are only one portion of a "criminal justice system" that is so named because throughout the entire process "what passes for justice is criminal." Before you decry this as " another liberal advocating the coddling of criminals," you should know that I gradually came to this position after years of listening to sheriffs, police officers, prosecutors and judges who eventually persuaded me that the system was desperately in need of reform. The system discriminates based on education, socioeconomic class and race at every stage of the process. I fear that little progress will be made until more upper-middle-class whites end up as its victims. Unfortunately, this won't happen unless the system becomes even more totalitarian than it already is, so I hesitate to wish for such a thing.

What the ordinary citizen has to ask himself is, "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Regrettably, until "law abiding" people begin to realize that "there but for the grace of God go I," injustice will undoubtedly prevail.

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