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February 14, 2007

The depravity of prison

Shawshank.jpgRegular readers of this blog know that I frequently criticize the deplorable condition of Houston's local jail facilities. Also, it will surprise no one that I don't agree with the governmental policy of throwing wealthy businesspeople in prison for engaging in merely questionable business transactions, and I also am not supportive of the largely futile policy of locking up thousands of citizens for nothing more than a personal drug problem. Not to mention the absurdity of locking up legitimate businesspeople who simply facilitate bettors engaging in online gambling.

One of the primary reasons for my opposition to needless imprisonment of citizens is the deplorable state of many American prisons. Inasmuch as I visit jails and prisons from time to time, I am not surprised by the foreboding nature of this Christopher Hayes post (HT Ezra Klein) excerpting a part of this Human Rights Watch report on prison rape. The story reinforces graphically why imprisonment is a horrifically overused remedy in America's criminal justice system.

Not all prisons in the United States are like the one described in the report. But many -- particularly in the widely inconsistent state systems -- are every bit as bad. And don't think for a minute that all public officials are particularly interested in changing the status quo. Remember when the attorney general of California once suggested a similar fate to the one described above for the late Ken Lay? The deeply ingrained inhumanity of many American prison systems is one of the primary reasons to be vigilant in opposing the demagogues in our society who advocate increasing criminalization and imprisonment of American citizens.

In this timely National Journal op-ed,, Stuart Taylor examines the brutality of America's sentencing laws, noting that a "world-record 2.2 million people [populate] our nation's prisons and jails. Justice aside, there are better ways to spend scarce tax dollars." Meanwhile, Scott Henson reports on the status of current legislative efforts to bring sanity to the Texas prison system.

Posted by Tom at February 14, 2007 4:32 AM |

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