October 27, 2008
Am I Not Human? America's Prison System
We proudly participate in the monthly 'Am I Not Human?' blogging campaign on the 27th of each month. Our hope is to shine a light on human rights abuses. I'm shining my light this morning on the junkie-like appetite of America to putting our citizens behind bars.
There are more than 2.2 million persons in US prisons and jails, an increase of 500 percent from 30 years ago. A June 2007 report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that the incarcerated population continued to grow in 2006, experiencing its largest one-year increase in six years. The United States now has both the largest incarcerated population and the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, with a rate five times that of England and Wales, seven times that of Canada, and more than 10 times that of Japan.
The sheer numbers alone should be cause for concern. These 2.2 million felons weren't born criminals. What is it about our criminal justice system that results in such large numbers?
Many of us think that racism is one reason for these horrendous numbers.
The burden of incarceration falls disproportionately on members of racial and ethnic minorities. Black men are incarcerated at 6.5 times the rate of white men, and 11.7 percent of all Black males age 25 to 29 are in prison or jail. The US government failed to explain or address these rates in its 2007 report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
As the prison population grows, so does the challenge of providing adequate medical and mental health care. A September 2006 BJS report found that more than half of all prisoners—and nearly three-quarters of all female prisoners—suffer from a mental health problem such as major depression or a psychotic disorder.
In California a federal judge found that medical care in the state’s prisons violated the US Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2006 the judge appointed a receiver to oversee prison medical care, stripping that function from the state government. In September 2007 the receiver issued a report finding that 15 percent of California prisoner deaths were either preventable or possibly preventable. New ideas for reducing prison population floated in California earlier this year.
Enacted by the US Congress in 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) creates a variety of obstacles for prisoners seeking to challenge their conditions of confinement or otherwise vindicate their rights in court. In January 2007 the US Supreme Court issued a decision overturning some particularly restrictive interpretations of the PLRA by lower federal courts.
Often we think of places like Darfur, Haiti or Tibet whenever we discuss 'human rights abuses'. However, these abuses can take place in America ... and the men and women in our US Prison System are human beings ... not animals.
Any thoughts on ways to improve the system of incarceration in America? Are mandatory sentences helping or hurting? Wouldn't it make sense to decriminalize drug use? Put a druggie in prison if they rob or steal ... put them in a hospital if they are addicted. Couldn't we cut our prison population in half if we stopped putting people in jail for being high on drugs?
What say u?