Measured Against Reality

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Prison Nation

I just watched Prison Nation, a National Geographic special on the state of prisons in the country. It started with all the great statistics, how we have 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners, 2.2 million in prison, mostly minorities, mostly young men. Details the problems with overcrowding, racial tension, revolving door prisons, the dehumanization of boredom (and the system itself), and all that great stuff.

Here's some great quotes:

The most effective way to turn a non-violent person into a violent person is to send them to prison.

Several things flow from overcrowding. First is the potential for more violence.

Mixing young kids with hardened criminals is a recipe for disaster.

The rape of prisoners is probably the most frequent unreported crime in America today. No one involved wants to acknowledge it.

In many places, gangs virtually run the prisons.

In some jurisdictions a devil's bargain gets struck, "We'll turn a blind eye to you getting high, as long as you don't riot and as long as you don't kill our officers."

The reason for the explosion of drug use in prison is the mandatory sentencing laws as applied to low-level drug offenders. Thousands and thousands people are locked up for low-level drug offenses.

That kind of intensive segregation from all human interaction makes people crazy. It makes normal people crazy, and it makes crazy people even crazier.

Perfectly normal and mentally healthy individuals when subjected to conditions of complete isolation from ordinary sensory stimulation and social relations will start experiencing symptoms of mental illness... If our goal had been to try to create the conditions that most increase levels of crime and violence, we could hardly have come up with a better method.

25 Percent of all prison beds are filled by the mentally ill.

We know from all the research that the more education you have when you leave prison the better off you'll be, especially if you can get any kind of college education. But there's almost no college education in prison. "You want to take some of my taxes and give some guy, that robbed my kid, a free college education? Why should I do that?" And there's an answer that, and it's that you'll be safer.

The revolving door of justice just seems to be revolving faster and faster in the United States.

Prisoners come out much worse than when they went in. Part of this is that they have so many new criminal contacts.

I think we've really sold the public a bill of goods, saying that the corrections system can make them safe. The corrections system cannot make you safe.

One of the best things is how critical people involved in the system are of it. Current and ex-commissioners, guards, and academics all seem to agree that our system is terrible.

It's a great documentary, I highly recommend watching it if you get a chance. It does a fantastic job of showing the travesty of our criminal justice system for what it is. I just wish we could create a system that works, not the crapfest we currently have. It's too bad that will never happen.


  • The quote about education reminded me of a piece on ?60 Minutes? about two months ago. A philanthropist is funding college education for some prison inmates. It was quite clear that the prisoners who were excitedly discussing philosophy had found self-esteem and a sense of values along with education.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:58 AM, December 10, 2007  

  • Isn't it funny how education can do that? It's also amazing how lack of an education is linked to nearly all societal ills, yet people are still loathe to educate equally. Maybe one day we'll learn...

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 12:19 PM, December 10, 2007  

  • I think that the National Geographic specials are so cool I need some of the information to do a homework about racial tension!!!22dd

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