6 May 2014
America’s Prisons: The Modern Way to Expand the Lower Class
With prison populations growing at an alarming rate and crime rates on the rise, one has to stop and wonder if there will soon be a prison decorating every town or city. America’s prisons have been called the “graduate schools for crime” and with the recidivism rate, one has to agree that this term was not coined flippantly. It stands to reason: Take a group of people, strip them of their possessions and privacy, expose them to constant threats of violence, overcrowd them onto a concrete block as long as a street, deprive them of meaningful work, and the result is an embittered underclass more intent on getting even with society rather than contributing to it. Take out the word “prison” and replace it with inner city and you have just described the lower class. Could it be that we are treating our prisoners and our lower class the same? In the course of my research, and well known to our legislators, Americans pay a great deal to keep this cycle going at the cost that is far greater to society as a whole. Like most of the government solutions today, they are expensive. What our legislators neglect to inform us of is that it costs approximately eighty-thousand dollars to build one cell. Our legislators depend on the voters wanting a quick fix with little question as to the cost over a long term fix that will take patience and tolerance, yet be beneficial in the long run for society as a whole. They hide the fact that crime is the result of a morally negligent government and people making morally wrong decisions, for which they must be held accountable. The response should be a quick response to such behavior is punishment, which may include restitution, community service, stiff fines or in the case of violent offenders, prison. Let us not fool ourselves into a false sense of safety. Nonviolent and drug offenders are eventually released to society again. After being incarcerated in the overcrowded prisons, with lack of education, very little individual help with changing their situation that got them incarcerated in the first place, they will return to the streets bitter, unrehabilitated and to the same situation they were in before they were incarcerated. This is a powder keg with the match ready to be lit. When it explodes, all of society ends up paying one way or another. I assert that our government and court systems, with the present laws and sentencing policies, have disenfranchise our whole society by creating and expanding a new type of lower class, continuing the old racial prejudices with unfair sentencing policies, and by utilizing tough on crime laws to expand the prison system, therefore perpetuating the illusion that jobs are being created.
First before we can understand the problem today, we need to take a look at how the present ideas of prisons were formed. John Bellamy Foster, a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and the Editor of the Monthly Review reminds us that we need to “remember that prison as a place of punishment is only little more than 200 years old” (1). The first prison system in the United States was built in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The name was the Eastern State Penitentiary and was modeled by the Quakers, the Founding Fathers of our great state. It was based on the fact that a man could reform himself if he was left in solitude and silence to think about what he had done. Each inmate was placed in a cell by themselves and was kept in total solitude. The inmate was to eat, sleep and also work in that cell for the duration of their sentence. The other type of prison was built in New York State and the inmates were to sleep in their cells alone, yet they could eat and work with other prisoners in total silence. Punishment was doled out if they spoke. This gave them time to reflect and have time for thoughts of...
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