Unformatted text preview: Andrew Eeckman Period 3. 01/13/14 Rotten in the roots, Rotten to the core, Prisons in America When someone commits a crime or an act of wrongdoing, they are punished. In modern times, if the crime is severe enough, they are tried and sent to prison for a period of time. This time spent away and isolated from the surrounding society is meant to protect innocent civilians and to ensure that the person inside learns never to commit such an act again. Criminal justice systems around the world were developed to take criminals and punish them to a certain degree justifiable through their crime. These systems are in place to not only ensure the individual never does said crime again, but to also serve as an opportunity for a redemption. Thousands of people each year are sent away and locked up. There they stay behind bars, serving out their sentence and supposedly reflecting on their past mistakes. By the end of their time, they are sent off back into the world and reassimilated into society, once again to become hardworking and lawabiding citizens. This is how criminal justice systems are meant to work, unfortunately, this is not the case in America. The American criminal justice system is notorious for its cruelty and racist allegations. It has been plagued by corrupt practices and campaigns such as convict leasing and the War on Drugs which have only served to disrupt African American communities and tear down the blindfold of justice. Upon the back of such a rotten foundation grew a system solely intent on longer and longer punishments, further vulnerable to even more corruption. This corruption has come in the form of corporate interests as our prison system devolved into money bags and gravestones. Prisoners in the United States find themselves up against a system that will check their skin and serve them punishment, devoid of rehabilitation and any outside assistance. Our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform as it is built on racism and intent on keeping people behind bars. The criminal justice system we all know today was built under the curtain of slavery and racism. The system began to develop directly after the Civil War in the midst of a devastated South, detached from their main economic system, devoid of slavery. In previous years, the largely agricultural society had been built and run under the oppression of African Americans for hard and cheap labor. The dependency became so ingrained in Southern society that when the Industrial Revolution came about and the North began to modernize, the South stuck to its mass plantations and stayed behind, growing instead of constructing. This utter and complete reliance on slavery is what ultimately doomed them after the Civil War. With the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, White Southern culture was shattered and so was their economy. They needed a way to rebound thus setting the stage for loopholes and further atrocities. They found this loophole in the wording of the 13th Amendment, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” That singular phrase, “except as a punishment for crime”, became their route back to reclaiming slavery. Soon African Americans would find themselves being arrested for just about anything from loitering to littering, and then, shackled for years and sent off to tend to some rich man’s plantation. This process would later be known as convict leasing and for years it plagued the African American community as thousands would be arrested for petty crimes and then forced back into the chains of their ancestors. It has not ended either, prisoners are still being exploited for cheap labor and the criminal justice system is still plagued by racism. A modern example is the War on Drugs which, although it mainly took off in the Reagan Era, started as far back as the Nixon presidency. That administration would ultimately find itself responsible for initiating the War on Drugs. The president and his fellow advisors would begin an era of associating African Americans with drugs and arresting them for the possession of such drugs: “By getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news” (John Ehrlichman, Nixon Advisor). The Nixon Administration used drugs as a way to oppress the African American community. They would give speeches, hold press conferences, and do whatever necessary to foster an association between heroin and African American people. With the War on Drugs, the government worked day and night to stifle the Civil Rights Movement and its counterparts. They would rip away valuable members of the community whenever they believed them to be even slightly threatening. To this day, “1 in 4 African American men” (1 3th Documentary) find themselves, at some point, in jail. Entire neighborhoods would be destroyed, leaders and celebrities, peers and role models, mothers and fathers, all of them gone. The criminal justice system of today is not cured of its racist roots; it is rotten to the core with a sickness that extends past generations and down through families; it is a system in desperate need of reform. America runs on a capitalistic system where money is open to all and available through every sort of service and industry you can imagine, recently spreading to our prison systems. For years, corporations and lawmakers have worked together to make deals and to get certain laws and bills passed. Lobbyists were the main agents behind this communication, but now, things have gotten a bit more sophisticated namely with the introduction of ALEC. ALEC is a group of lawmakers and business leaders who work together to craft and carefully construct laws and bills with the sole purpose of benefitting their corporate partners. This group has helped companies such as Walmart pass laws such as “Stand Your Ground” Law of Florida and others like Facebook have passed laws relating to internet security and privacy. Where this group really stepped in hard was when they were asked to help their partners over at the CCA and other private prison corporations. The laws they passed, however, were there to benefit only those handing them the money, not the communities or the prisoners they were actually meant to serve. With the help of ALEC, mandatory minimums were extended to drug offenses and other nonviolent crime. They helped support Arizona’s SB 1070 bill which gave private prisons, like the ones run by the CCA, full jurisdiction over handling illegal immigration and those caught in the act. The CCA and other private prison corporations saw all of this as a major revenue source, helping them to earn more and more money. Drugs were already being used to criminalize the African American community and even those convicted of association would spend years behind bars. These mandatory minimums kept people in jail for longer than ever before. They further criminalized drug offenses, preferring to lock people up rather than to help them get back on their feet through rehab. Arizona’s SB 1070 made illegal immigration harsher than ever and tore families apart as individuals were sent to faraway jails to await their trial. ALEC’s lawmaking policies are more focused on keeping people in jail rather than helping them assimilate back into society. Yet, it was not just ALEC, private prison corporations such as the CCA have long been about making money off of jumpsuits and bars. Discussed in the Documentary 13th and included within their own contracts, the CCA has an occupancy requirement where their prisons must be kept 90 percent full at all times. This percentage, according to an article by ThinkProgress, appears almost in every private prison contact and always varies somewhere between 80 to 100 percent. States are being forced to keep people in prison longer and longer as they struggle to fill the quotas set forth by corporations within the industry. These deals have forced many states to pass further mandatory minimums and even stricter drug laws. Our modern day prison system has been fed into the mouth of privatization and has become a corporate beast, devoid of its original purpose and intent only on making more and more money. We need reform because not everyone locked up today deserves to be there, not everyone there needs to serve more time, not everyone there is getting the help they need. As it stands today, our criminal justice system is built more for punishment than it is for reassimilating people back into society. Many of those who end up in prison spend years of their lives behind bars, learning to adapt to a new environment and learning how to survive the length of their sentence. When their time is up they are thrown back out into society with little help. In prison, few of them had the opportunities to be educated or to learn a trade. When they reenter society, they have to readapt all over again and with limited time to do so as bills soon begin to pile up. They need to find a job, and yet, “almost half of all prisoners have no qualifications whatsoever and half do not have the skills required for 96 per cent of jobs. In any case, only one prisoner in five is able to complete a job application form.” ( Prisons need to be geared for success , Erwin James). The criminal justice system is meant to punish those who have committed wrongdoings or gone against the law. One part of that is making sure those same people never commit their crimes again. This entails helping prisoners reassimilate back into society by educating, teaching, and assisting them in trades, subjects, and in all of their needs. When someone is isolated from the rest of the world for as long as most prisoners are, they need time to readjust and to learn just how to come back. What our current criminal justice system does is it simply throws them back out onto the street without the necessary tools for success. Former prisoners find a world where they are unable to work, absent of housing, and deprived of education. Thus, “about twothirds of all offenders incarcerated in state systems were arrested for a new crime within three years, and more than threequarters were arrested within five years.” ( Obama Administration Seeks to Curb Inmates’ Return to Prison , Eric Lichtblau). People who have spent years behind bars return to a world that only pushes them back into their former cells. They have no time to readapt to this world. They have bills to pay for which they cannot find a job; they have mouths to feed for which they cannot get food stamps; and they have personal opinions for which they cannot express as they are not even allowed to vote. Society has put up so many barriers against former felons that it is practically forcing them back down into a life of crime. Our criminal justice system needs reform because it needs to be less about the punishment and more about the people and the lives it serves. Prisons cannot be just to contain, they have to teach and assist those who are clearly in need of help. Reform is not just an option, it is a necessary action to prevent further crime and to ensure that all people have the chance to come back, to live their lives, and to pursue their happiness. On the backs of racism and slavery, with a design more geared towards punishment than redemption, our criminal justice system borne and emerged as a rotten apple in desperate need of reform. The system we all know today began to take form in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the clutches of a crippled South. Seeking to restore their economy and their way of life, the South exploited loopholes within the 13th Amendment to bring back slavery. They forced African Americans arrested and tried for even the smallest of crimes into harsh and brutal labor on the same plantations once worked by slaves. Like the plantations of the old South, modernday corporations have looked to prisons for economic opportunity and success. Money has corrupted the prison system as corporations like the CCA work sidebyside with lawmakers to ensure that their interests remain behind bars. These corporations and their counterparts have turned prisons into piggy banks and prisoners into cash cows, keeping them like cattle for as long as they can. With expanded mandatory minimums and laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, it is a wonder when just about anyone is released and sent back to society. However, it is also a wonder as to just how many barriers that very same society has put up against these returning felons. Many are barred from getting certain jobs, entering certain homes, or even when attempting to pursue a higher education. Exconvicts are sent to the wolves and pushed back down to the depth of society. There many of them have no better option than to return to crime and many of them do, over twothirds ending up back in prison only a few years after they were released. Former prisoners are not rehabilitated back into society, and thus, it is the prison they come to know and the prison they call home. Our criminal justice system needs reform. The racist roots of convict leasing and mandatory minimums need to ripped out. The War on Drugs, a blatant attack on the African American community, needs to stop. Our criminal justice system must relinquish its corporate bonds and shed this cash cow mentality. It needs to be less about the money behind bars and more about the people within them. The system as it stands today is a disgrace, punishing drug abuse as if it were manslaughter and punishing children as though they were psychopaths. People are people no matter where they end up, their skin cannot not define them and a check box should not bar them. Our country is built on the ideal of pursuing happiness, it is time for everyone to be able to engage in that ideal. Works Cited 1. U.S. Constitution. A mend. XIII, Sec. 1. 2. "Guns, Prisons, Crime, and Immigration." ALEC Exposed . CMD, 21 May 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. “h ttp:// ” 3. ThinkProgress. "How Private Prison Firms Use Quotas To Fill Cells And Coffers." ThinkProgress . ThinkProgress, 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. “ privateprisonfirmsusequotastofillcellsandcoffersfca033ca
70e2#.tnlwsq6fr ” 4. James, Erwin. "Prisoners must be given opportunities to improve." J oe Public blog . Guardian News and Media, 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. “ educationerwinjamesoutsi
deview ” 5. L ichtblau, Eric. "Obama Administration Seeks to Curb Inmates’ Return to Prison." The New York Times . The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. “ inmatesrecidivismprison.html?_r=0 ” ...
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