Posts Tagged ‘prisons’
It’s a pretty standard thing to see: in an argument about whether we should either decriminalize or legalize some thing, oftentimes the argument revolves around one thing. Is this thing harmful? The best example, although it’s not the only one, is drugs. Obviously, if the argument in favor of criminalizing something is that it’s harmful, than evidence that it is not supports ending legal prohibitions.
Is prison harmful? Is ripping apart families harmful? Is the endemic sexual assault found in prison harmful? What about the risk of violence, or the torture of solitary confinement? Or overcrowding, or lack of medical care? How about the collateral consequences of imprisonment–unemployment, being barred from public housing, food stamps, federal education aid and a whole host of professions or voting? What about the impact on communities where many people are shuffled between prison and the neighborhood? What about the police harassment that comes with hyper-aggressive law enforcement?
Few things we criminalize because they are ‘harmful’ are anywhere close as harmful as prison.
[C]ourts play a key role in sustaining and even creating the cruel conditions currently found in American prisons and jails. In this sense, judges, too, become agents of cruelty. Just as prison officials learn cruelty through repeated exposure to prisoners in a context that denies their shared humanity, judges develop a cruel disposition towards prisoners through the repeated demand that they validate as not cruel conditions that are clearly at odds with the state’s carceral burden. Existing constitutional standards require courts to find for the state even when prisoners face obvious risks of serious physical or psychological harm. To do so, judges must learn to suppress any instinctual sympathy they may have for follow human beings who have experiences gratuitous suffering. Indeed, if they are to enforce prevailing standards, judges must learn to cease altogether to recognize prisoners’ shared humanity–a lesson, it bears remarking, that once learned only makes it easier for courts to satisfy the imperative of judicial deference to prison officials.
Sharon Dolovich, “Cruelty, Prison Conditions, and the Eighth Amendment” (pdf)