Jails Do Not Offer Justice by Mären Reynolds

American jails and prisons do not deliver justice. Instead, they deliver revenge and create a toxic social environment. They hurt every human with any connection to the “cage,” and create more problems than they solve. They carry not only a high monetary cost, but they are a drain on the human heart and soul. Other countries have found healthier ways to improve the safety of society by creating humane and ethical housing practices, and we can too. We need to start facing our societal failings now, by controlling our own desires for revenge, in order to address what true justice looks like. 

Jails and prisons hurt all of the humans that are connected to them, not just the people put in them. People we lock in cages suffer from unfit conditions for supposed societal purposes. How can we justify conditions and treatment like this? In the meantime, people in prison, and their loved ones who depend on them, are left suffering; alone to worry and make an extra effort in an already demanding world. For example, children lose their fathers or mothers. My own mother was in and out of jail throughout my childhood, and that helped to sculpt my miseducation and disdain for the system we are currently under. I have also seen it affect others much worse, and it is still affecting most of us today in many negative ways. Many of my childhood friends who grew up being raised on visitors day are now transient, or housed in public jails themselves. It’s often a cycle, producing a perpetual pattern of harm. Having never been shown the stability of family, or compassion from a society that punishes, they grow up to repeat cycles laid out before them. Prisons are one of the contributing factors in the destruction of the family unit in America. If we compare incarceration rates and family stability among the working class from the 50’s until now, it shows a decline in family income and stability that directly correlates to the rise in incarceration. Right now in American 2.3 million people are incarcerated. As of July 2018, America imprisoned 655 people per every 100,000. The only country to come close to that is El Salvador, with just over 600 per 100,000 people.

We know that most people in prison are nonviolent and therefore, we should question why they are are held for so long. And for those who were harmed, prison  places a burden on survivors of abuse or assault. It instills a further sense of false satisfaction and security that they are receiving justice, when they are only carrying out revenge. Revenge does not offer actual healing.

Furthermore, it’s not just prisoners who are impacted by our failing judicial system, but also prison staff and guards. They suffer needlessly because the job description does not prepare anyone for the duties they will be burdened with. I would imagine it’s heart- wrenching to cage humans and watch the cycle of violence repeat I’m guessing it might be damaging to the mind, too. Dehumanizing even. If feelings are not enough for you to consider alternative measures, then maybe the cost to taxpayers might. This is because it would be cheaper to end mass incarnation and replace it with  rehabilitation efforts. It would carry an initial start-up cost to overhaul our facilities and refine our techniques, but the long term benefits would far outweigh the price of investing in our future.

We have it in our power to follow the example of other nations and improve conditions for prisoners. An example of a more humane way of rehabilitating people while  keeping others safe while doing so are Scandinavian prisons. Scandinavia sets a good example of humane treatment others should follow.

We have a responsibility to ensure that needs are met for everyone. This can be done by rehabilitating people who act in ways unwanted in our society. We can  stop packing them into cages controlled by people just doing a job, and offer prisoners assistance from people trained to help people heal. We can slow the rate of recidivism and new offences through footsteps taken over time. This would include humanely treating and housing people who have committed crimes, and creating better access to family rehabilitation and support services before inmates are released. We can further slow generational patterns of harm by ending the jailing nonviolent offenders, and our support of for-profit prisons that demand such offenders be arrested.

We must also look to systemic causes and not seek to blame individuals solely for the social problems we see being played out in individual behavior. And we must look to systemic solutions that get at root causes. One such way to approach this is transformative justice. We should invest more resources into transformative justice programs so we can focus on real solutions that bring actual healing and change.

If we take the time to understand all the ways our judicial system is failing, then the logical outcome is to hold the system accountable and to stop seeking justice through a flawed system of revenge. In the New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander makes a solid argument that America’s prison system is a new form of Jim Crow. This racist system takes advantage of people in order to make profit and creates a permanent caste system for those black and brown people who are caught up in it. We need to end for-profit prisons and ensure that prison laborers are fairly compensated.  Furthermore, we should stop locking up people with mental illness in prisons where they are left to suffer and be further abused, many never receiving the proper treatment they need.

Moreover, we have to stop calling the police to mediate every little thing that may irk us, and demand that our elected public officials address the laws and loopholes that keep us from improving safety in our communities through healthy means. Over and over, I see people upholding a corrupt system and repeating harmful practices in the name of justice, but I’m starting to wonder if anyone has taken the time to understand what justice really is. Even among the political Left, I see continuing support for a harmful system we are trying to get away from.

I believe it’s time to make jails as we currently know them obsolete, and for our country to drastically change its  incarceration practices. “Making America Great Again” starts with making her people healthy.o do that, we have to start being kind, treat others humanely, and start listening to those affected most. That includes those we deem “unfit” for society. Because when we really look at it, they are often the most vulnerable and traumatized people themselves. They often live in poverty, are abused, have mental illness and/or substance use issues, are marginalized, and are targeted and profiled in our society. Instead of locking them into a box where they will likely endure further abuse, why don’t we find a way to help them heal and create a systemic transformation that helps our entire society? The focus should be on helping people, not punishing them or further harming them. High recidivism rates prove we are doing a terrible job at rehabilitating prisoners.

We cannot accept this or support it. We cannot let our fears or anger drive our policy about these important matters. Let’s transform how we treat people who commit crimes, and help people improve themselves so that our communities can function. The cycle of harm must end with us.

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