An open space for global conversation
On the Occupy for Prisoners call on Monday, I said that a ten year prison sentence would cost me the childhoods of my two sons, as they would be adults by the time I was released. Because of his oppostion to any kind of violence, Patrick insisted that he would do the ten years rather than take the lash. That's his perogative, but givenen the choice between a ten year prison sentence which would prevent me from being a presence in the lives of my children or 10 lashes, I would take the lashes without hesitation. Below is a concise articulation of one of the points I was attempting to communicate when I was repeatedly interrupted by the invited guest:
Excerpt from In Defense of Flogging by Peter Moskos:
"Is flogging still too cruel to contemplate? If so, given the hypothetical choice between prison and flogging, why did you choose flogging? Perhaps it’s not as crazy as you thought. And even if you’re adamant that flogging is a barbaric, inhuman form of punishment, how can offering the choice be so bad? If flogging really were as bad as you think, nobody would choose it. So what’s the harm in simply offering corporal punishment as an alternative to incarceration? But of course most people would choose to be whipped over being sent to prison. And that’s my point. Faced with the choice between hard time and the lash, the lash is better. What does that say about prison?"
The call involved a lot of discussion of effecting reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. This is important. What was not discussed in adequate detail was the fact that it is drug prohibition and mandatory minimum sentences which keeps our prison industrial complex busy. Molly made the point that people need to be heard, to be loved and to be understood if justice is to be served. This is something our current justice system does not allow for simply because the volume of people processed through it every day is so staggering. So many people pass through the criminal justice system because of the drug war that plea-bargaining is the norm. Here is another excerpt from a book by Peter Moskos:
"Given our constitutional liberties, specifcally the Fourth and Sixth Amendments, the drug problem will not be resolved through arrest and prosecution. As a side note, if drug suspects were organized, they could easily end the war ondrugs. If those arrested simply refused plea bargains en masse and insisted on their constitutional right to a jury trial, the war on drugs would grind to an inglorious halt in a few months as the courts and jails would seize up, unable to handle the load."
The criminal justice system cannot possibly give everyone charged with possession of prohibited drugs a jury trial, much less take the time to make sure that everyone who passes through the system is given enough attention that they feel heard and understood. The bloated prison system results from drug prohibition. Reconciliation between human violators and their victims is certainly a worthy goal and something to be worked toward, but we have not become the world's leading jailer by locking up humans who have violated the rights of other humans. We have become the world's leading jailer by locking up people for victim-less crimes, or more accurately, the criminals in the drug war are also the victims of the criminal justice system and to inhumane laws that fail to deal honestly with human nature.