Prison sucks, lets talk about alternative sentencing options

In January, Jared Kushner held a meeting with a group of people who advocated for the criminal justice system to be reformed. A thing I found very interesting was something that was said by Donald Trump when talking about recidivism rates in America: “We can help break this vicious cycle through job training, very important, job training, mentoring and drug addiction treatment… We’ll be very tough on crime, but we will provide a ladder of opportunity for the future.” I found this to be interesting because studies show that being “very tough on crime,” especially when it comes to harsh punishments, does not effectively deter crime.

Daniel S. Nagin wrote in his “Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century” essay that this was very much the case. The belief that “ Punishing criminals deters crimes—in fact, the harsher the punishment, the more it will deter crime”  is a belief that needs to be eradicated in our society. The fact is, many people that receive the outcome of this belief end up getting the worst of what the justice system has to offer.

One of the current exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum is “Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System” in which various artists came together and showed different aspects of the justice system in America. The first part of the exhibit you see when you walk in is by Mary Patten, Panel (2014), where you see four screens projecting a re-enaction of the “Roundtable on Prisons and Psychiatry” conversation held between Michael Foucault, Howie Harp, Judy Clark, and R.D. Laing.

In this conversation, they discussed a variety of topics such as the use of medical practices within prisons and how they use these practices to subdue inmates. “The lives of the people I work with in the prison movement were determined from the time they were born. It was determined that they would end up in a series of institutions, it usually started off in youth homes, often times with a stop over in a mental institution, and ended up in the prison. The basic conditions that will determine you ending up there, have to do with poverty,” Judy Clark noted. According to Clark, the people who work in these institutions are taught to hate those who they are treating, housing, or guarding. It is important that these professionals are part of the solution that helps inmates and patients get better, not further complicate these issues.

Within the prison system, there are some very oppressive methods used to control and subdue inmates. Judy Clark noted that behavior modification in particular, was used to psychologically terrorize inmates who do not accept the oppressive conditions inside. This method began as a reform under the assumption that people are in prison not because they cannot sustain themselves out in the real world, but because of maladjustment. Because they credit this to inmates being maladjusted, the belief held by people who work in these institutions is that inmates should be readjusted and the way they go about readjusting inmates is a major problem.

Within the prison system, professionals contain inmates through the use of “attack therapy.” This works by a group of inmates focusing on one specific inmate and basically scream at the persons bad practices that been vocalized in front of the group. If inmates in this group do not accept their role, they are thrown into a strip cell. The end result of this type of program is that the prisoner will follow the rules of the prison and when let out, they will follow the rules of society no matter what. Clark asserted that this teaches “pure capitalistic ethic.”

According to Michel Foucault, the problem with prisons have been posed in terms in which are theoretical and practical at the same time and I wholeheartedly agree.

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