Like many readers of Frank Report, I am not particularly bothered by the fact that Keith Raniere is suffering in prison.
Given how much harm he did to others, my only real concern is that he may be killed by a fellow prisoner – or take his own life – before he’s been in long enough to balance the scales of justice.
But I am also keenly aware that many inmates in the U.S. are routinely subjected to conditions and practices that we would deem unacceptable for animals.
Part of the problem is due to the fact that we have so many prisoners.
As I have noted before in other posts, the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population – and 22% of its prisoners.
There are many other statistics that underscore the fact that over-criminalization and over-incarceration are very real problems in our country:
– In 2007, 1 in every 31 adults in the U.S. was behind bars – or on probation or parole.
– In 2012, one in every 108 adults in the U.S. was in prison or in jail.
– According to a 2012 Department of Justice survey, more than 100 million Americans have criminal records (The total U.S. population at the time of the survey was approximately 310 million).
But even if we take appropriate steps to reduce the number of activities we label as crimes, the number of people we incarcerate, and the length of time we incarcerate people, many of our prisoners will still be subject to conditions that are clearly barbaric and inhumane.
Why Are Prisoners Treated So Badly?
One of the primary reasons why inmates in the U.S. are treated so poorly is because, per our Constitution, they are slaves.
But, you ask “Wasn’t slavery abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment?”
The answer is “Not entirely”.
The actual text of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is as follows:
– Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
– Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
And those few words – “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” – which are known as the “exception clause” to the Thirteenth Amendment – mean that federal, state and local prisons are allowed to treat prisoners as slaves.
Because of the “exception clause”, prisoners in our country have very few rights.
And even the few rights they do have are often disregarded by prison guards and administrators.
Eighth Amendment Rights Are Routinely Ignored in Prisons & Jails
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was supposed to protect all U.S. citizens from unreasonable penalties and punishments.
As set forth therein, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted”.
The problem is that the key terms in the Eighth Amendment are undefined.
And so it is that many prisoners in the U.S. routinely have “cruel and unusual punishment” inflicted on them.
To begin with, many prisoners are incarcerated in systems that are severely overcrowded.
This is not a major problem in federal prisons – which only account for about 10% of the approximately 2.2 million people who are currently locked up in the U.S.
But it is a major problem in those states whose prison systems currently house many more prisoners than they were designed to hold.
Among the worst state prison system in terms of overcrowding are Illinois (173% of designed capacity), Hawaii (164% of designed capacity), Delaware (163% of designed capacity), Nebraska (158% of designed capacity), and California (143% of designed capacity).
In addition to overcrowding, our prisons also inflict numerous other “cruel and unusual” punishments upon prisoners.
These include, but are not limited to, the following:
– Inadequate medical care
– Inadequate mental health services
– Unreasonable health risks
– Excessive use of solitary confinement
– Sexual abuse
– Physical abuse
– Lack of access to sunlight and fresh air
– Substandard food
– Inadequate heat and/or air conditioning
– Abusive conduct by guards and staff
– Inadequate educational services
So, What Should We Do to Address These Problems?
The problems that permeate our prison systems didn’t happen overnight – and they can’t be fixed overnight.
But there are several things that we can do to address these problems – both in the short-term and the long-term.
Reduce Prison Populations
One of the first things that we should do is figure out which current prisoners can be released from prison without endangering the general public.
Towards that end, it should be noted that more than half of the prisoners in the U.S. are incarcerated because of non-violent crimes.
Reduce the Number of Crimes
In recent years, many states have decriminalized the possession and use of marijuana (Some have gone further and legalized those activities).
Why can’t we do the same with other activities that we currently classify as crimes?
Gambling? Seriously, like it’s not happening anyway.
Prostitution? Legalizing it would likely reduce – if not eliminate – the need for pimps. And it’s not like the current laws have eliminated it.
Assisted Suicide? Why should someone not have the right to end a life of endless pain and suffering – and why should we prosecute someone who helps them do that?
Ticket Scalping? Who cares if someone can make a few bucks re-selling a ticket to a sporting event they don’t want to attend? Who exactly is the “victim” in this particular crime?
Public Intoxication? What if we locked up everyone who ever got drunk outside of their residence? Where the hell would we put them all?
“Deviant” Sexual Activity? If the people involved are consenting adults, then why do we care?
Utilize Other Forms of Punishment
Why can’t we come up with other forms of punishment besides incarceration?
Most other countries have already done so without experiencing societal collapse.
Many non-violent offenders could be adequately punished via home confinement with electronic monitoring, community service, and other penalties.
Why are we so obsessed with putting people in jails and prisons?
What say you, Frank Report readers?
Do you favor our current system – or do you think we can do better?
What current crimes, if any, would you de-criminalize?
And what, if any, current non-crimes would you re-classify as crimes?
What other punishments besides incarceration would you impose on those who commit crimes?