Prisoners are not ‘unrepairable’

One hot topic of the recent election season is the issue of mass incarceration. According to Amnesty International USA, “the United States accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”

This is an estimated 500 percent increase in the last 40 years in the United States alone.

According to an article by The Huffington Post, an estimated 50 percent of the prison population in America is in jail for non-violent drug offenses. In fact, the United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than any other country in the world.

The reason other countries might find imprisoning drug offenders a waste of time and resources is perhaps because of the universal agreement that one should not be kicked while they’re already down.

Rehabilitating instead of criminalizing non-violent offenders is a matter of being compassionate and resourceful as a society.

The most prominent non-violent offenses include crimes like prostitution, immigration, and, of course, drug-related crimes.

These are all offenses that arguably come about as a result of the varying socio-economic positions in our society.

For example, people risk being criminalized for their immigration status in order to escape poverty and instability from their countries of origin.

Penalizing them for migrating is not reflective of the United States’ humanitarian goals.

Another example is the issue of drug-related crimes. Many drug abusers are stuck in the cycle of prison and drug abuse with little hope at redeeming themselves in society.

Imagine being addicted to a certain substance and continuing to turn to it to escape from life’s daily struggles and tribulations. Now imagine that instead of your government offering rehabilitation services, it throws you in jail and punishes you for your addiction as if life wasn’t hard enough.

Rehabilitation and support services should be offered to non-violent offenders. As for violent offenders, support should also be offered to them in addition to education and preparation for integration back in society.

Spending money on educational programs for inmates is not just beneficial for the individuals whose lives will be enriched but also for society as a whole. When inmates go through rehabilitation programs, there’s a greater chance they won’t end up back in jail by relapsing.

WSU Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology professor Otwin Marenin said that, in contrast to the United States, European nations are not as quick to imprison people; ergo, they have lower prison populations.

“Europeans try to keep prisoners engaged and connected to the outside world,” Marenin said. “Prisoners who are kept in longer have more trouble integrating into society.”

Punishments like solitary confinement can be especially detrimental to humans because we are social beings, and it is counterproductive to preparing citizens to reintegrate into society.

In fact, solitary confinement is a punishment that activists have fought against for years. It is also one of the demands of the workers who are participating in the current prison strike, the largest in U.S. history.

Workers are also demanding an end to forced work for little or no money in prison institutions. It is time that people within the criminal justice system cease to be viewed as unrepairable and unworthy of society’s attention.

Too often those placed within our prison system or under any state-sanctioned supervision are dismissed not only socially but in other sectors like housing, voting and employment.

Mass gravitation toward crime is not a reflection of individual shortcomings but a reflection of society as a whole. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to prevent criminalization and rehabilitate when possible, and to also educate those within the system.

If we as a nation had a vested interest in producing the most productive society, we would spend our resources ensuring that all citizens have the opportunity to reach their full potential, even within the criminal justice system.

Basheera Agyeman is a junior comparative ethnic studies major from Accra, Ghana. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.