Monday, January 29, 2007

"Are Prisons Driving Prisoners Mad?"

Sometimes, journalists use a specific example to generalize far beyond where most reasonable people would go. A good example of this is an article by Jeffrey Kluger over at Time.com, "Are Prisons Driving Prisoners Mad?".

The article starts out by describing general conditions at a supermax prison:
"There's no such thing as a good day for a prisoner at the highest level of security within the Ohio State Penitentiary, a 504-bed supermax prison in Youngstown, Ohio. Every inmate lives alone in a 7-ft. by 14-ft. cell that resembles nothing so much as a large, concrete closet, equipped with a sink, a toilet, a desk and a molded stool and sleep platform covered by a thin mattress. The solid metal door is outfitted with strips around the sides and bottom, muffling conversation with inmates in adjacent cells. Three times a day, a tray of food is delivered and is eaten alone. The prisoner may spend 23 hours a day in lockdown, emerging to exercise once a day. The lights in the cell never go off, although they may be dimmed a bit at night."

At least the article is realistic enough to recognize what kind of prisoners are at supermax prisons:
"If there's not much to like about the conditions in Youngstown, there's not much to like about the people confined there either. These are the men corrections folks like to call "the worst of the worst," the kind of felons who dealt drugs or led gangs or killed on the outside and continued to do so in prison. For them, maximum security would not be enough--only supermax would do. And say what you will about the draconian environment, it keeps them under control."

But then the article goes off the deep end:
"But that level of control may be counterproductive. It's possible that the very steps we're taking to keep society safe and such prisoners in check are achieving just the opposite. The U.S. holds about 2 million people under lock and key, and 20,000 of them are confined in the 31 supermaxes operated by the states and the Federal Government. That may represent only 1% of the inmate population, but it's a volatile 1%. Push any punishment too far and mental breakdown--or at least a claim of mental breakdown--is sure to follow."

We are talking about the most violent 1% of the entire prison population in the United States. They have gotten placed in the supermax prisons for a good reason: They are a threat to the safety of other prisoners, or the general prison population is a threat to their safety (as in the case of some "celebrity" prisoners, such as Jeffrey Dahmer who was killed in prison).

In the second case, I would agree the prison system needs a better means of dealing with celebrity prisoners than just putting them in supermax prisons, unless they prove to be a danger to other prisoners.

But in the case of prisoners who are a threat to the safety of other prisoners, how else are we supposed to deal with them? Moving them into the general prison population is unfairly dangerous to prisoners who ARE following the rules. If the supermax prisoners become more mentally unstable due to the solitary confinement of the supermax prisons, they have only themselves to blame. The only viable alternative to a supermax prison for these people is the death penalty. So pick your poison.

3 comments:

William R. Barker said...

You need to have 24-hr/365-day surveillance of ALL public areas of prisons. Violence amongst prisoners cannot and must not be tolerated and needs to be dealt with harshly. A prisoner who kill or severly injures another prisoner should be immediately tried and if convicted... immediately executed.

One problem with our criminal justice system is that we DON'T execute enough predators. Many crimes "short" of murder deserve the death penalty.

BILL

Myrhaf said...

These are the men corrections folks like to call "the worst of the worst," the kind of felons who dealt drugs or led gangs or killed on the outside and continued to do so in prison.

Aside from drug dealers (all drugs should be legal), why are these people still alive? Anyone who commits premeditated murder should be executed quickly. It's a joke to keep repeat killers alive.

Handwringing over whether killers are being driven mad by prison is loony liberalism.

EdMcGon said...

Bill/Myrhaf,
I agree with both of you.

Handwringing over whether killers are being driven mad by prison is loony liberalism.

This quote ought to be framed. ;)