Voices of Justice Now: Prisons are bad for everyone.

Final FEMINISTING POST.jpg
Jeremy Bearer-Friend is a Visiting Fellow at Justice Now and a Leadership Academy Fellow with Young People for the American Way. An educator at heart, Jeremy has taught within public schools, private schools, home schools, after-school programs, museums, colleges and prisons.
Prisons are bad for everyone–not just for the people in cages within them, not just for the children who have lost their parents to them, or the social programs who have their budgets cut because of them.
Prisons distract us from the root causes of violence and ultimately exacerbate the deeply entrenched challenges of racism, sexism and transphobia facing our communities.
Over this past week, Justice Now posted on how prisons operate as a form of population control and gender oppression. In response to this rise of mass incarceration and the disturbing trend of “gender responsive� prison expansion, we have developed the following platform for gender justice:
1. Reduce imprisonment: Decarcerate by reducing the number of people in prison and closing prisons.
2. Support communities, not prisons: Strengthen families and communities by reducing barriers to family reunification and allocating resources towards community-run infrastructure.
3. Foster non-harmful responses to violence: Participate in critical dialogues and movement building to increase our communities’ and networks’ capacities to end all forms of violence.
We challenge you to reconsider the assumption that prisons make us safer, and invite you to consider new ways to address the root causes of violence. Together, we will work to imagine a world without prisons.

Join the Conversation

  • Jabes1966

    All of those sound like great solutions, but why offer them only to women?
    Also if prisons are a system of gender-oppression, then it stands to reason it’s oppression of men (who have many many times the number of drug-possession only incarcerations).

  • http://mailto:enroninvestor@yahoo.com ForbiddenComma

    “Foster non-harmful responses to violence: Participate in critical dialogues and movement building to increase our communities’ and networks’ capacities to end all forms of violence. ”
    What exactly does this mean, anyway?
    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, how should the society respond?
    Should we dialogue with them, help them get in touch with their feelings, and explore their root causes for their anger, and then let them go on their merry way?
    And should we do this before or after your partner’s funeral?
    Reform prisons, yes. Release nonviolent drug offenders, yes.
    But until we can think of a better way to handle violent criminals who are a danger to society (and I have yet to see a real alternative proposed by Samhita), we have no choice but to use prisons, no matter how much they offend our delicate, Ivory-tower sensibilities.

  • open_sketch

    I don’t see anything in that article that indicates that this plan is for women only. Women are used as an example because of the fact that black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population, not because the plan only applies to women.

  • ed

    80% of them are imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses.
    A major step necessary to reduce the harm caused by the current prison system is popularizing a more enlightened view of addiction. Addiction is well-accepted as a disease by the medical community, but popularly viewed as a punishable moral failing.
    When, in a large minority of people, socially-acceptable levels of drug and alcohol use result in a diseased brain, it’s easier for us to say “that was a weak person who deserves to be punished” than it is to say “that just as easily could have been me.” Awareness about addiction and changes in attitude need to happen on all levels of society and on all sides of the political spectrum.

  • http://www.saskmp.ca Tanya

    How about if we stop putting people in jail for drug offenses period? The drug war is evil any way that you look at it and we would all be better off if we legalized’em.

  • VeggieTart

    While I agree there’s a big problem with the number of people in prison and the prison industrial complex, they do serve a purpose. There are some vicious and violent people in this world, and I’d rather they not be walking the streets. Someone who has held up a store, has shot someone, has raped a woman will not be served by “dialogues” and “movement building.”
    But I do agree that nonviolent drug offenses and mere possession of marijuana should not be subject to mandatory minimums. Drug use should be treated as a health problem. Marijuana should be legalized, regulated, and taxed.

  • Mina

    “‘Foster non-harmful responses to violence: Participate in critical dialogues and movement building to increase our communities’ and networks’ capacities to end all forms of violence.’
    “What exactly does this mean, anyway?
    “If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, how should the society respond?”
    The idea seems to be that the society should have a prevented the rape in the first place.
    I’m reminded of how some other people out there claim that abortion shouldn’t be legal, women and girls who need abortions shouldn’t have had unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and if only society offered more access to birth control and more support for childrearing then *no one* would want an abortion in the first place…
    “Reform prisons, yes. Release nonviolent drug offenders, yes.”
    Right on!

  • Lear

    Justice Now :
    “No more prison for rapists”
    ?

  • open_sketch

    I wholly support the idea for abolishing prison sentences for rapists. The only place for those scumbags is six feet under.

  • r0cket-

    Yeah I dunno–I can’t really take this seriously.
    Prison reform is an admirable goal, and one we can probably all get behind. Ditto rethinking our drug laws. And probably we all agree that a healthier society would produce less violent crime. But come on–this “strengthen communities to eliminate prisons” formulation is verging into underpants gnome territory. And, frankly, the stories you’ve presented so far do nothing to convince me of the soundness of your agenda. I mean, women having to wear panties in prison does not really suggest that prisons ought to be abolished.

  • Alice

    Well, open_sketch, I have heard libertarian writers sincerely assert that the criminal justice system should only punish violent crime two ways: corporal and capital. The idea does have appeal, but again, I question the pragmatics of carrying out capital punishment fairly.
    I think a lot of attempts at crime reduction are overly one sided: they focus almost enteirly on the perpetrator. But really, there are actually at least two people you can be certain will be at the scene of a violent crime: the perpetrator and the victim/s.
    Marines tend to be harder to successfully, violently victimize than the average, is all I’m saying. Does that suggest anything on how we can make crimes harder to successfully pull off?

  • http://whyihatefunfaq.blogspot.com/ Sera

    Jabes, the justice system does not discriminate against men. Men commit more of the offenses that people get jailed for and are let off the hook for many of them every day because the lawyers and judges are other men who hate women just as much. Duh.
    ForbiddenComma,
    That paragraph was a fancy way of saying to fund social welfare and build stronger community networks. Many crimes are less common in neighborhoods where everybody knows each other and nearly all crimes go down when people have their needs taken care of.
    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, you should be given free counseling and whatever else you should need in preparation for your partner’s funeral. However, so much money and so many resources are going towards imprisonment that getting help as a rape victim is pretty damn hard.
    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, you should be given an opportunity to genuinely heal rather than feeling satisfaction in having wreaked your vengeance by putting them in jail.
    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, you would not be required under any scheme ever proposed by any prison abolitionist to personally administer therapy, as your paragraph seems to suggest.
    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, rather than sending them to jail (from which they will most likely be released an even angrier and more violent person), we should try to treat them in any way possible. Rather than increase the odds that they will go to jail for a while, come out, and then rape and kill again, this approach might actually prevent future rapes instead of delaying them.
    If someone rapes you and kills your partner, they should be temporarily detained while they are being studied and counseled. While they are being detained, they should not be subject to rape, torture, indefinite sentences with indefinite goals, slave labor, or any of the other pointless and unconstitutional punishments of our current prison system.
    If someone rapes you and kills your partner, there was probably a factor or a combination of factors in their life that caused this to happen. We could spend a fortune imprisoning them, but why not put that time and money towards correcting social injustice and eliminating the power structures that oppress some people to the breaking point while making others feel entitled to rape and kill?
    If someone rapes you and kills your partner, odds are very high they’ll go on their merry way no matter what, either after jail time or because they never got caught.
    Personally, I dropped out of the Ivory tower and I’ve been raped and brutalized myself on numerous occasions. I think that your attempts to cast prison abolition as a movement of the delicate Ivory Tower set are sort of offensive. My experience is that poor people and people of color who are actually familiar with violent crime are the ones most likely to agree with me that prisons are stupid.
    Veggietart, see above.
    Mina, didn’t you say in the last post about this topic that you agreed with prison abolition as a distant goal, after society had done the work to make prisons un-necessary? I’m confused that you’ve gone back on this stance in the past couple of hours.
    I have never met an anti-abortionist who actually wanted to address the root causes of unwanted pregnancy. Any attempts to do so end up being misguided excuses to bash women. All the people I have met who want to address the root causes of unwanted pregnancy have been pro-choice. You are describing a viewpoint that is hypocritical and virtually nonexistent in order to equate all people who think society should address the root cause of anything with it. Ew.
    Lear: The idea is no more prison for anybody.
    Rocket, do stories of prison guards routinely raping prisoners or allowing them to be raped, enforcing slave labor, putting people in psyche-shattering isolation, and engaging in torture make you think prisons should be abolished? Does the fact that those who get sent to prison are more likely to commit crimes again than those who are not sent to prison FOR THE SAME OFFENSES make you think prisons should be abolished?
    Alice, actually victims are always blamed for lack of self-defense, provided they are female. But it is nice that you’ve noticed the annoying tendency of our media and government to focus exclusively on individual perpetrators because it’s easier to label one person as dangerous than it is to address the fact that our society is mass-producing violent criminals.

  • RZilch

    HELP!
    i usually understand most of what goes on here at feministing. this whole “gender-responsive prison” idea is really confusing and vague.
    frankly, i don’t understand why this is a gender issue. if prisons are universally bad then the ‘gender-responsive’ aspect should be a moot point. right? if so, shouldn’t we fight prison expansion in a gender-neutral manner.
    on the other hand, if we consider prisons to be a reality we must deal with in the short term, isn’t “gender-responsive prison” better than … “we-don’t-give-a-shit-about -your-body (or its unique parts) prison”?

  • http://mailto:enroninvestor@yahoo.com ForbiddenComma

    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, rather than sending them to jail (from which they will most likely be released an even angrier and more violent person), we should try to treat them in any way possible. Rather than increase the odds that they will go to jail for a while, come out, and then rape and kill again, this approach might actually prevent future rapes instead of delaying them.
    Ok.
    How should we treat them so that they don’t rape and shoot again?
    I am not being facetious. This is the central problem that you and Samhita willfully ignore. We can do what we can to create the socialist utopia that you envision, but even that will not be enough to 100% prevent violent crime. And thus, we are left with the problem of what to do with the mugger, the rapist, the murderer.
    Don’t get me wrong. I do think that the current penal system is disasterously broken, as it stores felons in harsh conditions instead of trying to rehabilitate them for their eventual release.
    But none of your arguments address the concept that we have to take violent criminals off the streets, one way or another, for the good of society.
    Unless you are actually saying that we should not punish rapists and their ilk, in which case your arguments run counter to all the posts on this site about sexual assaults in the news, where Jessica and others properly decry the fact that the rapists are not getting enough prison time.
    I know that it feels good to denounce prisons, since they’re so icky and yucky, but you have to realize that the end result of your argument is the release of every last rapist currently in prison.

  • Alice

    If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, you should be given an opportunity to genuinely heal rather than feeling satisfaction in having wreaked your vengeance by putting them in jail.
    I suspect that you’re profoundly underestimating the healing powers of vengeance. Do you have any evidence to back up the claim that vengeance is counter-productive, or even non-productive, towards the mental health of victims?
    But it is nice that you’ve noticed the annoying tendency of our media and government to focus exclusively on individual perpetrators because it’s easier to label one person as dangerous than it is to address the fact that our society is mass-producing violent criminals.
    Actually, I was noticing that armed, combat-competent (in the sense that front-line infantry are combat-competent) people are far less likely to be victims of successful crime. I say “successful” crime in particular, because the benefits don’t only apply to not being the target of crime in the first place,* but also to getting out of a violent crime unharmed even when you are the target.
    Considering the powerful aversion many felons seem to have towards targeting victims they even suspect might be armed, one must wonder how many of them would avoid crime completely if they knew that everyone was armed.**
    But yeah, that thing you said, also. It wasn’t my point, but I agree with it as well.
    *In 1986, 60% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. 40% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed. ~ James Wright and Peter Rossi, “Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms�, New York: Aldine, 1986
    **Every day, 550 rapes, 1,100 murders, and 5,200 other violent crimes are prevented just by showing a gun. In less than 0.9% of the time is the gun ever actually fired. ~ National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics, BATF estimates on handgun supply

  • Megnificent

    Good job, Jeremy Bearer-Friend! I am a 2008 Young People For Fellow and I love the support that the organization gives to young progressive activists. They listen to our ideas and offer advice without being condescending or completely hijacking our efforts and doing the work for us. I truly believe that if we place Fellows in every progressive branch and in every powerful community based or national organization, we can bring about total change in this country in a massive way.

  • Alice

    ForbiddenComma
    It is possible, in principle, to rewrite neural pathways in living brains using various techniques currently theorized on. Sufficiently advanced application of this technology would allow for rewriting the parts of a rapists personality that cause/allow them to commit rape. The most crude application I can think of would be to just hammer down their aggression to pathologically low levels, which is even presently possible with drugs, but this would make them incapable of moving against or resisting anyone, even when doing so would be desirable. More advanced applications would be more subtle, obviously.
    Some people object to this sort of thing reactively, but note that it does have the exact same goal and, when successful, effect as counseling and therapy, which is to cause some desired mental change in the subject. Such techniques would basically be as scalpels to the comparative sledgehammers of modern psychology, and wouldn’t be any less compulsory for offenders in the system envisioned by Justice Now, so maybe they’re banking on that sort of thing.

  • Lear

    My neighbor two doors down stole a bunch of things from several of my other neighbors. That neighbor is in jail now & I’m glad he’s there – it means I can go camping without worrying about him breaking into my house … true story.
    Prison isn’t always about vengeance. Sometimes it’s about putting people where they won’t do any more damage to the rest of us. If prison guards do bad things to prisoners (& I’m sure they do …), well I might wish it wasn’t that way, but I’m still glad those people aren’t walking the streets free…
    Sometimes it is just about vengeance. I’d support alternatives in those cases. I also think it’s a waste of money to lock up drug users who (at worst) are only harming themselves , not harming others.
    I’d suggest “Justice Now” might want to pick a smaller, more focused battle – then they might be able to win one.

  • Farhat

    I’d suggest “Justice Now” might want to pick a smaller, more focused battle – then they might be able to win one.
    I suspect they may not want to win. Just get some press time and publicity.

  • spaceninjamonkey

    Wow Samhita, I’m really disappointed in your post.
    Yes, there are lots of bad things about prisons, and yes, it would be nice if there were no need for them, but that’s besides the point.
    Prisons are only bad when
    1) You imprison the wrong people (nonviolent drug offenders)
    2) You treat people in prisons in such a way that they are worse off to society once they get out (what your post referred to), or in clearly inhumane ways such as the death penalty
    3) You have sentences that are NOT LONG ENOUGH, with rapists getting out in 4 MONTHS instead of life in prison, for example
    This is a complex situation, and imagining a lovely, warm, and fuzzy picture of a world without prisons is all good and well, but frankly, quite useless at this point.
    The “War on Drugs” is the BIGGEST problem here.

  • Crotchfire

    Here’s what we all agree upon:
    The prison system needs fixing. Nonviolent drug offenses shouldn’t merit incarceration.
    I’m dramatically oversimplifying, I know, I know.
    The rest, well…
    It’s all well and good to say that we should redirect resources from keeping people incarcerated to counciling and psychological therapy.
    …but clinical psychology is still a relatively new field (only about 100 years old, making it one of the youngest of the sciences), and any good psychologist worth his/her salt will tell you that different things work for different people. We have not yet created a foolproof rubric for evaluating and fixing everyone’s mental/social problems in a quick time frame. Many people are indeed helped by psychotherapy, yes, but depending on how deep-set those issues are, it can take many years to fix them. The resources required to provide for personal psychiatric/psychological counseling for every violent criminal in the United States would be immense.
    I’m not convinced such a program wouldn’t require more resources than our current prison system.
    But even if you DID institute such a program, the sum total of our clinical psychological knowledge just isn’t enough yet. We DON’T know how to fix every psychological problem… nor am I even convinced that we know how to fix the majority of them. Maybe in another fifty-hundred years, we might know enough to institute such a program on a grand scale.
    Also, maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else here just a touch creeped out in an Orwellian kind of way with the idea of all this “counseling”?
    I like the prospect of making prisons obselete by fixing our culture.
    Before casting aside any broken thing, it’s really worthwhile to be sure that we don’t really need it.
    I’ll try and find some prison abolitionist literature to see if I can find convincing arguments… but I confess, I’m highly skeptical.

  • Medical Student29

    Please show me a randomized study proving that we can “psychologically reprogram” rapists and murderers.
    Oh there’s plenty of bullshit theories out there, but almost no data.
    If you can show me studies proving that there are psychological programs that eliminate the chance of a rapist/murderer re-offending in the future, then and only then will I consider letting them out of prison.
    Until then, they can rot in their cells.
    Unfortunately, we dont have any “clockwork orange” therapies at our disposal. The onus is on you to PROVE that these methods work before we let these animals back out on the streets.

  • kenyatticee

    I have to say a big hell yea!!! to crotchfire, medical student29 and all those commenters that are highly sceptical of ‘prison
    abolitionist’s arguments. In order for me to deal with being raped and my partner murdered, ‘therapy’
    would have to make me almost catatonic to not mind that the monster who did this is walking around on the street because he is not ever going to prison. Instead he will be going through some kind of hug therapy and a deep delving into his background to find out why he is a monster.?!?

  • Mina

    “Mina, didn’t you say in the last post about this topic that you agreed with prison abolition as a distant goal, after society had done the work to make prisons un-necessary? I’m confused that you’ve gone back on this stance in the past couple of hours.”
    Oops, I should have been clearer. I was thinking more of working to make prisons unnecessary, not of getting a 100% success rate at it. Like working to make unwanted pregnancy less common but not expecting to have a 100% success rate.
    “I have never met an anti-abortionist who actually wanted to address the root causes of unwanted pregnancy.”
    I have. He wanted to outlaw abortion to deal with the remaining women and girls who’d still want abortions after access to contraceptives and childcare were improved.
    “f someone rapes you and kills your partner, they should be temporarily detained while they are being studied and counseled. While they are being detained,”
    In other words, imprisoning them…
    “they should not be subject to rape, torture, indefinite sentences with indefinite goals, slave labor, or any of the other pointless and unconstitutional punishments of our current prison system.”
    …just not in the current style of prison.
    “I know that it feels good to denounce prisons, since they’re so icky and yucky, but you have to realize that the end result of your argument is the release of every last rapist currently in prison.”
    Either that or not abolishing prisons until after every last rapist currently in prison’s already dead of old age or whatever?

  • Torgrim

    Punishing someone in order to get retribution is simply primitive and disgusting. The purpose of the punishment has to be to rehabilitate the offender and prepare him/her to return to society.
    A convict must be given a realistic chance to return to a normal life. Being imprisoned will usually reduce a person’s ability to take control over his/her life. Then it is important to give the person a gradual transition back to society. In the case of someone serving a long prison sentence, he/she can be moved to an open prison after some time. And there must be some sort of post-release follow-up program. We can’t just release people and forget about them.
    Long prison sentences should be reserved for the most serious crimes. We need to expand the ues of alternative reactions such as community service, dialogues to resolve conflicts and gain understanding, and open prisons.
    Those convicts that “can’t be released because they are a danger to society” should probably not be in a prison at all, but rather in a psychiatric institution.
    I think the US prison system is completely broken because of the terrible conditions, and the _ridiculously_ long sentences.
    I live in Norway. The maximum sentence here is 21 years in prison (but you will actually serve less than 15 years), and is usually reserved for murder. Doing time in a norwegian prison has often been described as a vacation. Yet, the level of crime here is almost non-existant compared to the US. Why is that?

  • gls

    I completely agree with everything Torgrim just said.
    In Germany the maximum sentence is 15 years, and this is reserved only for murder. Our incarceration rate is only a fraction of yours, and (because or despite of that) as well is or criminality rate, especially concerning violent crimes.
    Please, get over the idea that incarcerating is the key to a secure and healthy society. It’s just not.

  • VT Idealist

    I thought I’d chime in with my 2 cents of the prison system. My brother spent a little over 2 years in Vermont’s maximum security prison for various offenses, including sexual assault.
    Over all, I’m very impressed with how the VT prison system runs. The prison tries to accomplish 2 things – punishment for crimes (loss of freedom) and rehabillatation to make the inmates into useful members of society – with the emphasis on actual rehabillatation.
    During his prison sentence (2 concurrent 5 year sentences), he was given the oppurtunity to enter into the sexual offender rehab program, with the reward for sucessful completion being the possiblilty of a shorter sentence. The program entailed group and individual therapy sessions, working on empathy for other people, reasons they committed crimes, and basically how to be a decent human being.
    Family members and other support people were sometimes asked to join in group sessions. The idea was to help explain attitudes about women and family and to try to break the abuse cycle. This part, although uncomfortable at times, was useful for myself as well.
    After he completed the program, my brother was granted parole and released from prison after serving a little over 2 years. Upon his release, he was ordered to out-patient therapy once per week. During this time, he commented to me that going to prison has been the best thing for him.
    On a side note, transitioning back into society wasn’t entirely easy. To be released from a VT prison, you need to have a place to live unless your sentece is maxed out. VT used to have FSU housing, apartments newly released prisoners could live in for 60 days rent free, with the idea being that this will give them enough time to find a job and a permanent place to live. Because of budget cuts, this housing is no longer available. Between myself and his girlfriend we came up with the money and found him a place to live (one of those places you rent by the week). I do not know what people without families do.
    Within a week of release, he had a job at McDonald’s working in the grill and over the last few years, he worked himself up to manager.
    Prison can work as a tool for society if used correctly. I think that is what this article was trying to get at. To be usefuel, prisons need to focus on rehab as opposed to punishment.

  • Salad

    Prison reform is admirable, but I have trouble with one of the solutions Justice Now is putting forward– Social welfare.
    Don’t get me wrong, helping disadvantaged communities is great and should be done out of compassion not just damage control. But how does that curb the anti-social and violent behavior of middle or upper class offenders? Surely there are criminal individuals who would never be subject to these programs because they wouldn’t qualify. Then we have to acept the truth that some people don’t commit crimes because they’re poor and desperate.
    I know that more poor people are imprisoned than others. That needs to be addressed. A large part of it has to do with the war on drugs– it’s a lot easier to catch the crack head on the street than the posh coke head in their home.

  • sojourner

    So here is my question for Sera et al,
    Counseling and rehab might be useful for rapists, murderers etc. What do you suggest we do with the Enron guys? Yes, I know very well that corporate criminals are not even the tiniest percent of the prison population, but I am still curious to no how you would want to deal with them. Do they deserve to rot in prison or not?

  • Ismone

    Um, the reason it is a gendered problem, for those who are asking, is right up there on the poster—incarceration of women has increased tenfold (more than it has increased for men!) with no concurrent increase in crimes committed.
    Gender-specific programs are problematic, as earlier posts in this series have mentioned, because among other things, they prevent women from getting the training they want (high-paying, but unfeminine occupations such as electrician, auto-mechanic, etc., which are readily offered to men in prisons but not women). So yeah, it is a problem with serious gender implications. Geez. And this whole community outreach thing can build safer communities where crime is less likely to happen, more likely to be reported, and where neighbors are more likely to help eachother out because they fell ownership, pride, part of the team. I don’t think rapists shouldn’t be incarcerated, but I do think they should be treated in order to lower their risk of recidivism.
    Right? We want to focus on the perp., not the victim. In fact, even for people incarcerated for life (and rightfully so) I support those therapy-based programs that get them to own up to what they did and see things through the victim’s and victim’s family’s eyes. I do think people can truly repent. That doesn’t give people back their loved ones, or undo the harm done to victims, but it is an important transformation. If a person gets to the point where they understand the enormity of their crime, and suffer for it, they become a better person. Doesn’t mean they should be released, but I think it has intrinsic value.

  • r0cket-

    Also, maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else here just a touch creeped out in an Orwellian kind of way with the idea of all this “counseling”?
    I am. I also feel like, reading between the lines here, if you’re talking about preventing 100% of crime through counseling and extreme early intervention, you’re really talking about some very rigid cultural norms, backed by a government that would literally kidnap and brainwash people who violated them. Which is, of course, problematic. Humans are quite complex, and it’s very difficult, on an individual level, to predict whether people will commit crimes. That’s one of the advantages of our current system–we allow people to be weird, so long as they don’t engage in criminal behavior. A purely preventative model would not offer that benefit, and would likely ensnare all manner of people who never would have committed a crime in their lives.
    Also, I kind of think that, more than anything else, you’re just demonstrating ignorance/daffiness by suggesting that the solution to the abuses in our prisons is to turn over our entire criminal justice system to the mental health profession.

  • open_sketch

    I think, though, that once a person commits a crime that harms society and other people, they constrain the ability of others to “be weird” and do or be anything other than “normal”, especially in the case of hate crimes. Rights only apply until your rights affect the rights of others, so I wouldn’t worry too much about rigorous conditioning for criminals to prevent them from offending again. I don’t care if they need to torture a rapist half to death; if it “fixes” him, I’m all for it.
    On top of that, a certain amount of conditioning and social sameness is required to create a just society, unless you’d like to defend misogynist’s beliefs as being as legitimate as believe in equality.

  • Ladyface

    “…reading between the lines here, if you’re talking about preventing 100% of crime through counseling and extreme early intervention, you’re really talking about some very rigid cultural norms, backed by a government that would literally kidnap and brainwash people who violated them. Which is, of course, problematic. Humans are quite complex…That’s one of the advantages of our current system–we allow people to be weird, so long as they don’t engage in criminal behavior. A purely preventative model would not offer that benefit, and would likely ensnare all manner of people who never would have committed a crime in their lives.”
    Right on. I find all this discussion of psychological reprogramming to be more disturbing even than I find the current prison system. YES, the current system has big problems, and YES it is imperitive that they are addressed and corrected, but turning everyone into psychological clones is a far scarier answer than prisons. At the very least, it raises the question: who gets to decide what is “normal” psychologically? And besides that, how is it really any different than the Victorian practice of giving lobotomies to “abnormal” people?
    This is also not to mention the fact that while there are many criminals who are criminals because they are mentally ill or because they are addicts, and while many people in prison could benefit from psychological counseling, *some people commit crimes because they choose to commit crimes.* Not everybody who engages in deviant behavior, violent or otherwise, does so because s/he is mentally ill. Some people just make a choice to do it. And in these cases, a prison cell, not a therapist, is more appropriate. Sad but true.
    I do agree that giving communities support and attempting to address the root causes of criminality in society are positive steps. However, any kind of psychological reprogramming, whether you call it that or give it a more touchy-feely doublespeak name, is sick and dangerous.

  • adminassistant

    Rocket-
    Yes.
    “Also, maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else here just a touch creeped out in an Orwellian kind of way with the idea of all this “counseling”?
    Yes.
    My brother was convicted as an accessory to a violent crime. Both he and the actual perpetrator were both equally sentenced to 3-5 years. The convicted perpetrator- a woman- was released after 1.5 years, my brother is still there, going on 5 years now. Both the prosecutor and the judge agreed that the woman was the major executor of the crime- her lawyer didn’t even refute it and she plead guilty to the crime. The only people we blame are the parole board and his “therapists” who consistently, for three years now, have denied him parole, despite letters from community leaders, his family, his teachers and the VICTIM who refused to testify against him.
    His “counseling” consists of a faith-based alcoholism program where he has to write fictional papers with story lines about what it would look like if he were to start drinking again. He is forced to pray in “therapy,” he is forced to go to “group” where the prisoners recreate their crimes and pray for forgiveness together. “Personal Therapy” consists of confessing your crime to your “therapist”, and when my brother told his “therapist” that the judge and the lawyers didn’t actually convict him of the crime, only being an accessory, he was “flunked” because he “arrogantly denied that he was a violent offender and has no remorse.” He had to take all his classes again, which resulted in another year of incarceration for not passing “therapy.”
    We blame the system, because the prisons aren’t the ones calling the shots. The system doesn’t reevaluate the community-appointed parole boards with no judiciary training or skill, or the therapists who’s agenda is to keep their jobs any way they can which includes “flunking” prisoners who don’t pass therapy, and they aren’t reevaluating prison guard training programs which employ thousands of people who have lost their jobs because their company moved overseas. My brother is incarcerated in Michigan, where the auto industry has been replaced by the prison industry. So don’t tell me that counseling and therapy are the answer to our problems.
    For some AMAZING stats that support many of the arguments above, see: http://www.motherjones.com/news/special_reports/prisons/atlas.html
    and
    http://www.drugwarfacts.org/prison.htm

  • http://moderatelyinsane.blogspot.com Sailorman

    Interesting comment, adminassistant. I know a few similar stories.
    The entire concept of prisons isn’t necessarily horrible. It’s how the U.S. has chosen to implement them over the years that is really problematic.
    But that’s the framework we’re in. It’s obvious that things like “counseling” or “social services” or even “education” can also be implemented poorly. Often, they already are.
    First and foremost the abolitionist movement needs to present some specific solutions. But say it has done so:
    Do those solutions rely on a level of perfect implementation that is unrealistic? Is there any reason to believe that our country and our government is going to do a great job of “reducing barriers to family reunification?” Of “allocating resources towards community-run infrastructure?” Does anyone seriously think our government will “participate in critical dialogues and movement building to increase our communities’ and networks’ capacities to end all forms of violence?”
    Solutions are one thing. Solutions which are based on a fantasy country (“They could work, if only everyone were different!”) not so much.
    More to the point, framing such a movement in terms of prison is insensible. If you’re talking about a broad scale reorganization of the U.S., do you really want to prioritize the prison system?

  • http://www.squidybug.com r0cket-

    And besides that, how is it really any different than the Victorian practice of giving lobotomies to “abnormal” people?
    Right. I mean, the history of mental health practitioners trying to normalize or “cure” people against their will (or even with their cooperation) has some really, really vile moments. Prison may suck, but shock therapy, lobotomies, hysterectomies, and ridiculous drug cocktails probably suck worse (not to mention the abuse that occurs within those facilities as well). So it’s not at all clear that putting those folk in charge of things is going to be much better. Also, as I mentioned before, I have a hard time seeing how this wouldn’t require a lot of prescreening for “undesirable” traits, childhood intervention, etc, which tend to be rather heavy-handed and even destructive. Like, I agree that the focus (and funding) should be shifted away from imprisonment for non-violent offenders, and that would have a trickle down effect on violent crime too, but there’s a big gap between those effects and a thorough enough elimination of violent crime that one could reasonably do away with prisons entirely.

  • Ismone

    Sailorman,
    When you talk about prioritizing the prison system and reorganization, I think you’re falling into that old “well, there are worse problems, so lets not fix this one.”
    Imprisonment, particularly of nonviolent drug offenders, has increased poverty dramatically by disrupting families. And the vast majority of prisoners in most systems (CA, the fed. system) are nonviolent drug offenders. So that is a big deal. And the increase of incarceration, particularly of poor and/or minority women–also a big deal, particularly in those communities. I think prisoner’s rights need to be fought for very hard because they are so unpopular. But that does not mean that I don’t also support urban renewal, improving the educational system. This ain’t an either/or. And the reforms support and enhance eachother.
    Plus, as a feminist blog, if gender-essentialist treatment of women prisoners means that they are less able than male prisoners to be able to obtain well-paying jobs, that is a big deal.
    And wrt to counseling, I hear what you’re saying, adminassistant, and that really, really sucks, that your brother’s counselors are IDIOTS but I do think counseling in prison can have some good effects if done properly and if it creates empathy. (Not in the clockwork-orange aversion therapy way, but in the getting people to own up to their shit kind of way.) Yes, people choose to commit crimes, but you can make that choice less attractive if you can get them to think about, and care about, the impact their choices had on others. Right now, a lot of those victim-impact programs are optional, and perhaps they should stay that way, but I do see them as positive.

  • keshmeshi

    “If someone rapes you and shoots your partner, how should the society respond?”
    The idea seems to be that the society should have a prevented the rape in the first place.
    I’m reminded of how some other people out there claim that abortion shouldn’t be legal, women and girls who need abortions shouldn’t have had unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and if only society offered more access to birth control and more support for childrearing then *no one* would want an abortion in the first place…

    Funny, because I’m reminded about how the sensible policy is to provide birth control to women, but to have abortion available if they need it. Kind of like how our society should try to keep people from committing crime in the first place, but we should have prisons and appropriate punishments and rehabilitation available, if our best efforts fail.

  • adminassistant

    “Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.”
    Source: Craig Haney, Ph.D., and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., “The Past and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: Twenty-five Years After the Stanford Prison Experiment,” American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 7 (July 1998), p. 721.

  • spaceninjamonkey

    Just for some perspective, last time I heard, the Austrian man who has been abusing his DAUGHTER since she was 11 (so raped for 31 years) and imprisoned her when she was 18 (so raped AND imprisoned for 24 years) in his basement…
    …the daughter who had 7 of his kids.
    His sentence?
    Apparently 15 years, last I heard.
    The German and the Norwegian who commented above short sentences need to think about that.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMe3Dx6iVqE

  • Farhat

    …the daughter who had 7 of his kids.
    His sentence?
    Apparently 15 years, last I heard.
    The German and the Norwegian who commented above short sentences need to think about that.

    Maybe he just needs some love, possibly administered by pretty adult women so he knows they can be fun too. /sarc

  • http://www.jnow.org bearerfriend

    Wow.
    I’m thrilled to see such a vibrant conversation about our prison system and its relationship to safety and sexual violence.
    I’m especially excited to hear some international perspectives on the US prison system and I hope that the readers of these posts will continue to interrogate the presumed correlation between prisons and safety, as was requested by our posters from Germany and Norway.
    Over the past 25 years, California’s prison population has grown from 20,000 to over 170,000 people. As a result, have we seen an end to sexual violence? Are we now safe from sexual predators? Does intimate and domestic violence no longer exist? Has it even declined, AT ALL, in those past 25 years while we’ve seen prison budgets double twice over?
    I am a survivor of rape who has taught within a sex offender rehabilitation program for 2 years at a medium security prison. I have personal experience on both sides of the walls.
    It is clear to me that what I needed to be safe was not more prison cells. I needed a community that would support me and acknowledge what was happening to me. I needed my perpetrator to be accountable to me and our community, not to some judge. I needed to feel empowered about my body and feel confident speaking out.
    Ending sexual violence is a deeply personal and imperative call to action for me. And it is because of this personal connection that I have become so outraged by the prison industrial complex. I do not think it makes us safer.

  • Farhat

    Effectively, what it would lead to is more vigilante justice. Especially since that wouldn’t be punished either. And eventually, things would devolve into a ‘might is right’ scenario.

  • http://www.squidybug.com r0cket-

    I needed my perpetrator to be accountable to me and our community, not to some judge.
    Well, again, that sounds like a nice sentiment, but what does it mean?

  • http://moriath.insanejournal.com moriath

    It is clear to me that what I needed to be safe was not more prison cells. I needed a community that would support me and acknowledge what was happening to me. I needed my perpetrator to be accountable to me and our community, not to some judge. I needed to feel empowered about my body and feel confident speaking out.
    I don’t think anyone disagrees with this statement. This is why we call out slut shaming in society or in court and it’s why we rail against impossible/unsafe beauty standards, to start at just the tip of the ice burg. But no one has yet proven how eliminating prisons will give us this society. When we eliminate the hatred in society, I bet our need for prisons will go down dramatically, but trying to get rid of prisons first still seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse.

  • Alice

    How are criminals not already accountable to the community? Juries consists of one’s peers, do they not? Even if they opt for a bench trial, the judge is also a representative of the community, at least insofar as they judge based on the laws passed by elected legislators.
    I don’t think a lot of what’s being said actually has a meaning.

  • baddesignhurts

    >>
    I’m sorry….this is a complete distortion of what many people who have been victimized feel. I have recently been stalked by someone I met for literally no more ten minutes over three months ago. (I bought an appliance and paid to have it delivered and installed in my house, now the installer has “some fixation issues”, to put it mildly. I don’t want to detail this person’s creepy/criminal acts toward me and my family, but suffice it to say the police are involved.) I don’t want this person put away because I’m vengeful. I want this person put away because I’m AFRAID. I can’t sleep at night. I jump every time the doorbell rings. I can’t walk out to my car, even in broad daylight, without being terrified that I’ll find another creepy “gift”.
    How will I genuinely heal from this? Through the support from my friends, family, mental health professionals, yes….all of this is true. But, I assure you, my wish that this person be locked up because he has nothing to do with my need for vengeance, and everything to do with my fear that my family members or I could at any moment be further victimized in my own home. “Satisfaction” from vengeance is the last thing on my mind.
    I think the thing that I find most upsetting about this discussion is this sort of statement: “not just for the people in cages within them”. Like it was evil nasty “justice system” monster that idly rounded up random people off the street to incarcerate?! These people CHOSE to be there! I concur wholeheartedly that non-violent drug offenders need addiction support rather than imprisonment, but for those who knowingly commit crimes against people and property, why in God’s name should I feel badly that people who deliberately chose to live outside the confines of basic human ethics are now experiencing the (wholly predictable) consequences of their actions? (I believe that prisoners retain basic human dignity, and as such should not be subject to corporal or capital punishment, and should be protected from physical and sexual abuse. Apart from that, however….let ‘em sit there as long as it takes until they have PROVEN they can live responsibly within the confines of our society.)
    IMHO, Keshmeshi said it best: “Kind of like how our society should try to keep people from committing crime in the first place, but we should have prisons and appropriate punishments and rehabilitation available, if our best efforts fail.”

  • Mina

    …the daughter who had 7 of his kids.
    “His sentence?
    “Apparently 15 years, last I heard.
    “The German and the Norwegian who commented above short sentences need to think about that.
    “Maybe he just needs some love, possibly administered by pretty adult women so he knows they can be fun too. /sarc”
    Don’t forget family reunification too. /more sarcasm

  • werechick

    What about drug courts? It seems a better solution than all else I’ve heard.
    The idea is, yes, you want to help people with their addictions, but you can’t help them if they won’t first be willing to be helped. If they’re in rehab, and don’t want to be, they’ll only drag down the other people struggling to get clean.
    Prison is no good, obviously, for breaking addictions, plus it’s costly both in tax dollars and lost opportunity.
    So what you do is, you put a person under a kind of probation like deal. They live at home, and work, like everyone else, except they are tested for drugs 3 or 4 times a week, consistantly.
    If they test positive, they’re immediately thrown in jail for a couple of days and then released back to start over again.
    The idea is that people who end up imprisoned for drug offenses tend not to think far in the future, so the mere possibility of distant, severe punishment is not so much of a deterent, compared to a lighter punishment, guaranteed and immediate.
    The results I’ve seen suggest it’s cheaper and more effective. Better for the state and better for the addicts.

  • Jabes1966

    Personally I think the prison system in this country is incredibly corrupt.
    But responding directly to the 80% drug possession thing. I think most drugs (at least pot for sure) should be decriminalized to the point of alcohol, with the added caveat that you can only smoke it in private.
    It doesn’t make sense that a woman (or girl as young as 13) can abort a fetus but a grown man or woman can’t light up a j in the privacy of their own home and watch ren & stimpy (or whatever). What happened to my body my choice?
    And what do we get for the gov’s insane “war on drugs”? Bloated government budgets, a near-totalitarian state (if drugs were legal, the right of cops to search your vehicle would largely evaporate), and 13y/o crack gangsta’s having shootouts in parks and hitting 5y/o’s in the process!
    The nanny state is growing ever more oppressive. And politicians of all flavors pretend they’re “tough on crime” by passing worse & worse civil-rights eating laws against drugs. Nevermind that alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are much worst.
    However, I’m (at least) consistent in that I believe that adults should also be able to choose to have sex for money (my body my choice) or not wear a seatbelt.