Prison reform is something that has been oft-talked about, yet not nearly discussed enough. There are many people, activists and citizens alike, who are reaching out about the inhumane treatment of prisoners, of the racist judicial system, of the lack of need for private prisons.
Yet not enough of our politicians talk about it. Bernie Sanders, one of the most reform (of the good variety) minded politicians to have recently run for President, didn’t often discuss the need for prison reform.
13th is a film made by the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay. It is also one of the best documentaries and films made in the last year. The film utilizes emotional and logical arguments to set the case for prison reform. It’s an extremely convincing look at what is clearly a broken system.
By far, America produces the most populated prison system. 1 in 3 black men will spend time in jail. 13th gives numerous reasons for this, including the war on drugs, private prisons (and their need to be profitable) and the difference between rehabilitation and just throwing people into terrible cells, left to sit there.
I saw 13th around the same time as the prison episode of Adam Ruins Everything. Both of these mediums are used to discuss facts and problems with our judicial system. Both are incredibly important viewing, and help make sense of the real problems with American justice.
My biggest issues with the prison system are those raised by 13th. Those of mandatory minimums. And prisons locking people away because they need money. And that the war on drugs has cost many, many people their lives because the government feels they can’t be trusted with their own agency, to act as their own agents.
I think the war on drugs needs to end. At least the war on non-violent drug offenders. If you smoke bathsalts and then go attack people, yes, you should be rehabilitated, taken away from bathsalts. But if you smoke weed in your own household, at your own party, hell, if you light up in your own car and aren’t driving, that shouldn’t be a jail-able offense.
In my opinion, only one drug needs to be carefully monitored – prescription drugs. The ones that are easier to get addicted to. That are more dangerous than weed or cocaine. That kill more people each year than either of those two drugs.
My favorite philosopher, John Rawls, believes that people are selfish, that they have their own self-interests at heart. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People can look out for themselves, can take care of themselves. They should be trusted with their own agency, to operate as their own agents.
Mandatory minimums are also a racist law. They were made against drugs people of color use more than whites, and not applied to drugs white people use more than blacks – crack cocaine vs powder cocaine.
It’s another in a long line of racist problems with our judicial system, from the police to the prison system itself. Black men make up less than 20% of the country but more than 50% of the prison population.
Private prisons aren’t held to the same standard as governmental prisons. They can be rundown, feed their prisoners just the worst food, and can arrest a ton of people for petty crimes because they need to fill their prisons. Yes, private prisons provide jobs. But governmental prisons are less full, more quality, and can provide the same amount of jobs.
The government needs to take care of their own prisoners. Perhaps then they would feel less pressure to arrest people for non-violent crimes.
There are better countries than America. We like to pretend there aren’t, but in reality, there are many countries better educated, happier, with a lot less people in prison. Looking at Canada, at Sweden, at Germany, we can see things we should hope to accomplish. The country we should hope to be.
Private prisons are a malady of a corporate run society. When everything, including water, is a product of capitalism, prisons were a natural step. But private prisons aren’t worth it, they treat people horribly, and studies have shown they arrest people only to fill the prisons.
Lastly, rehabilitation versus the current American prison system. Again, there are studies on this subject. Studies I don’t particularly feel like looking up right now, because I’m not getting paid for this and this is an opinion piece. But studies nonetheless. These studies find that rehabilitation has served prisoners better than merely being locked away.
It’s also a bit of common sense. Educating prisoners on why their crime is wrong, changing their opinions and habits, working with them on a personal level – that’s always going to be more responsible, more suited for getting our citizens back into being productive members of society than is leaving them to their own devices. Especially now, when we lack a proper education system for prisoners.
Anyways, this has been a longer post. I didn’t use hard evidence, but you will find it in the Prisons episode of Adam Ruins Everything and in the terrific 13th. So check both of those out.