Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
In the United States there are two words that go hand-in-hand: “prisons” and “overcrowding.” Mass incarceration is a disease that has continued to plague our country since getting its drive in the 1970s after the War on Drugs began. In fact, today, the U.S. accounts for around 5% of the world’s global population, and 25% of the world’s prison population.
Not only does the U.S. incarcerate people at alarmingly high rates, but once someone is incarcerated, their basic human rights are essentially stripped away, due to the fact that our prison system faces extreme systematic corruption.
The U.S. has chosen incarceration as the primary form of rehabilitation for anyone who commits a felony or other illegal offense. But rehabilitation can no longer accurately describe what prison is intended to do. The rules we have in place and the way we disregard the humanity of people who have been locked away minimizes the rehabilitation effects and emphasizes punishment.
There are numerous areas in which our prison system lacks adequate regulations. These areas range from the cash bail process to prison labor regulations to health care policies. Take a look at the way prisons have reacted to COVID-19 for example. Even in the midst of a pandemic that has killed at least 200,000 people so far, there has been little to no change in the way most prisons operate on a daily basis.
The Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that does research into the criminal justice system and works with other news organizations to educate larger audiences on their findings, has been following the outbreak of COVID-19 cases among inmates since March 26. On Oct. 6, in The Marshall Project’s most recent update, 143,243 people in prison were reported as having tested positive for the virus. That number alone stands as proof of the detachment we as a society have from people who are in prison. It represents the lack of empathy we have towards people who have been forced to wear the label of “inmate” and emphasizes our indifference towards over two million Americans.
But whether or not there’s a deadly pandemic rapidly making its way through correctional facilities, conditions within the walls of prisons are less than suitable. Inmates see violence from both guards and other inmates on a daily basis. They see an abuse of punishments within prison such as solitary confinement which brings harm to a person’s physical and mental health. No human should be subject to the treatment inmates face every single day.
The issues within our prison system extend beyond time spent actually behind bars; they occur before an inmate is ever officially booked and long after they are reintegrated into society.
Many of our laws today disproportionately target Black and Brown bodies, specifically from lower income areas. Tough-on-crime laws, cash bail, the war on drugs, stop-and-frisk policies and more all contribute to this problem.
Not only are there a lack of resources and programs that help people transition from prison back into society, but the stigma that surrounds the word “criminal” does not help.
It is easier to ignore something that makes you uncomfortable, or in this case, an entire population of people, when you don’t have to encounter it every day. But people who are in prison are still people and whether or not their well-being affects you in a personal way, the fact that their basic human rights are being violated should make you upset.
Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment, famously said, “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice.” The fight for justice has never been an easy one, but history has shown that the world we live in is shaped everyday by those who take action against the inequities in society and fight for their vision of a better future. We as a country choose to use prison as a form of rehabilitation, the least we can do is make sure that people who are incarcerated are actually rehabilitated and not tortured.