Restoration Or Destruction Essay
Imprisonment and Reform
In reading Angela Y. Davis’, Are Prisons Obsolete, important points are made in presenting the flaws of the prison system. The argument for lack of rehabilitation in the incarceration of criminals is a statement that is justified by the author through proof in statistical evidence. She further explains why the ideas of prison are obsolete and need re-evaluation. One reason why incarceration of criminals is inefficient is that instead of the goal, which was to rehabilitate, the individuals are coming out worse of then they went in. Another serious claim that is made against prisons is the racial implications associated with the large number of ‘colored’ people, such as African Americans and Hispanics that find themselves behind bars due to the poverty they grow up in. The last important point she makes, that I will discuss in the paper, about the problem with the current system is that the prison system has become a sort of profitable business for governments and corporations, making it even more inhumane. Most of these ideas presented by the author are valid concerns. In the following discussion, I will deliver details of author’s stance on the three main points on why prisons are obsolete, as well as provide my own opinion of whether or not I agree with the concepts.
The error in the prison system that is currently evident, and possibly always has been, is the lack of ‘fixing’ that goes on behind bars. When an individual commits a crime and lands him or herself in jail, society thinks that they are sent not only for punishment, but also for the purpose of healing the dysfunctional mindset of the individual. It is questionable whether the intended goal of incarceration is producing these results, or are the criminals who return to freedom further damaged by the life they live while in confinement. Author, Angela Y. Davis contends that instead of restoration, that the destruction of the inmates is what is most troublesome with the prison system.
I share the author’s views regarding the harmful results on the inmates. Instead of receiving treatment to heal problems that cause them to act out in an unethical manner, they are experiencing situations in prison that will have them in worse off. The author validates her claims by mentioning the opinions of individuals, such as Charles Dickens on his perspective of imprisonment as a method of rehabilitation. Another example the book provides, is the excessive focus of punishment on prison inmates by taking away methods that use-to provide therapeutic activities such as obtaining their education. I did some research of my own that substantiated the claims made in the book. According the American Psychological Association (2003), “The Stanford Prison Experiment, which Haney co-authored in 1973 with Stanford University psychologist and APA Past-president Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, is one example. It showed that psychologically healthy individuals could become sadistic or depressed when placed in a prison-like environment” (Benson, 2003).
The unwillingness to provide proper funding to many inmates who enter the prison system already dealing with mental illness shows a lack of disregard the prison industrial complex system has in the interest of rehabilitation. There are numerous articles that show proof in support of the authors claims about imprisonment lacking true restoration of the criminal.
The second topic of discussion that requires attention is the declaration of the racism that is perpetuated by the incarceration involving large numbers of ‘colored people’. The book states that the onset of using prisons against the African American population began as early as the abolition of slavery. Laws for black people were created in such a strict and unfair guideline that they could easily claim that a crime was committed and place the individual in jail. From that point onward, it was common to see the large number of African Americans living in poverty that were incarcerated. The unfortunate truth is that many of the disadvantaged, underprivileged, and undereducated individuals living a hard life are often the ones desperate enough and mentally unstable that tends to commit crime. Then the fact that most of the individuals in this socio-economic condition are African American or Hispanic corroborates the concept of the racist agenda of the prison system.
My personal opinion of the idea is somewhat mixed. I do see the correlation of evidence that gives validity to that theory; however, there are many white individuals who are incarcerated alongside the various minorities. I do not dispute the claim of racism as an unfair factor or imprisonment, but as I look deeper on this concept another obvious piece of information comes to mind. It is not only an issue of the color of the skin of these individuals, but a problem of the socio-economic class of the majority of prisons.
In the simplest way I have to explain that those who suffer the hardships of not having the basic necessities of life are going to be the ones to commit crimes, such as robbery, drug dealing, involvement in gang life, and what not. These crimes often are committed because conditions are so bad that they are just hoping to have a little more of the things most middle class citizens take for granted. Aside from that reason, in the mind of these poor citizens, they do not have much to lose so they risk themselves for menial items like $40 from a gas station clerk. My guess is, that most of the people of this blue collar citizens living below the poverty line are also emotionally or mentally troubled and in need of counseling, but that is not available to them.
So these individuals who are likely to get caught for committing these basic crimes, are then facing charges against them without the funds to hire a quality lawyer who could possibly get them out of trouble. The elite members of society are rarely harassed by law enforcement, and even when caught, they have the means to have legal representation that can clear them of the problems that most poor citizens end up in prison for.
Bringing the discussion back to racism and imprisonment, I would say that racism most definitely is an issue; more the issue of classism is an even greater problem. It is a problem that the less fortunate members of society most in need of help are the ones that end up in prison and treated horribly for crimes that did not deserve such harsh punishment.
The Prison Industrial Complex
The final part of the discussion on Angela Y. Davis’ book is about the use of prisons for financial gain by corporations, the government, or any other entity that benefits. As stated in the book, the expansion of the prisons provided construction companies and the goods and services industries a new opportunity for gains (Davis, 2003). Not only was prison expansion a type of big business opportunity, but the free labor of prisoner was another factor that was used for selfish means by larger groups that benefitted from the opening of the new prisons. Even the communities where sold lies about the improvements that would come from the expansion of prisons, not only for the sake of crime, but the funding that would be given to the counties in which these structures would be built.
The entire idea is one that I personally find disgusting. To use the unfortunate members of society as prisoners so that the rich could get richer is the way I see it. I am completely against the idea of the prison industrial complex. Clearly any attempt of rehabilitation of the prisoners has taken a back seat when the interest for profit becomes a driving force. The inhumanity of the concept of prisons as big business is enough of a reason for making the prison system obsolete. If genuine rehabilitation of these members of society is a goal that our country wishes to attain, then prisons are not the answer. Especially as the new supermax prisons come into the picture, removing any chance of rehabilitation that once was available. More and more measures are taken to punish the inmates instead of reverse the damage that they have. I must agree with Angela Y. Davis’ opinion in Are Prisons Obsolete?
The book is an eye opener from so many perspectives. Prior to reading the book, many of these concepts did not occur to me as a disgrace to humanity. The more I think about and write about it I feel a sense of anger towards the system that allows greed to reign supreme over the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens. The idea that 2 million Americans, most of whom have not committed any horrible crimes, are left to suffer the harm that prison imposes, is extremely disturbing to me. It is my home that more members of society would realize the truth behind the prison system and take a stand for complete reformation of the way we handle the criminals in our country.
Benson, E. (2003, July/August). Rehabilitate or punish?. Monitor on Psychology, 34(7), 46.
Retrieved from <http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/rehab.aspx>
Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete?New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003. Print.