Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's Time to Stop Giving Time

Oil & Cold Wax with Collage
11 x 14 inches
Blame it on Netflix. We got hooked on, Orange Is The New Black, a new series about a young woman's year in prison. After we watched the last episode of the first season, I couldn't wait for season two, so I bought the book, which is a memoir written by Piper Kerman about her 13 months spent in Danbury minimum security prison.
I just finished her memoir this week and what impressed me, along with her story, was the appalling state of our penal system. It's a complete failure. It's an embarrassment. It's a travesty against human rights. Imagine, in 1980, 500,000 people where in prison. Twenty eight years later, 2008, there were 2.3 million people in prison , 7 million on parole, or probation or locked up.(2008 U.S. Bureau of Justice) Many of them for non-violent crimes. 
Today, we jail a higher percentage of our citizens than any other country, including China and Iran. And the price tag, about $80 billion a year.
How did this happen? Mandatory sentencing.  It began 40 years ago, in New York, because of a rapidly growing heroin problem. Republican Gov. Nelson Rockfeller created mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life for anyone caught with just 4 ounces of narcotics. Quickly other states followed suit, all wanting to appear tough on drugs. 
The war against drugs. Here's the problem, it's not working. The casualty count is enormous. Families torn apart, children left motherless, fatherless, disappearing into the void of child welfare, foster homes, group homes, ready to repeat the journey of their parents. The people in jail are mostly the users and the system isn't set up to rehabilitate, it's set up to de-humanize and punish. Over crowded, under educated, malnourished. That's our penal system.
Kerman has taken her experience and along with writing an interesting memoir, has chosen this journey as an educational platform to teach us what is really going on behind those bars and how hard it is for the majority of inmates to have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and return to the outside ready to be embraced by society and make a meaningful contribution. No wonder the rate of recidivism is so high.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful piece of work and I was not aware of the memoir written. Tragic, I may have to read it.