The caging of America

I just read The Caging of America by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. It’s an informative article about the sad state of affairs in America prisions. It’s well known that we lock more people up in America than any other country. Blacks are incarcerated seven times as often as whites. People with money get good lawyers and a slap on the wrist, those without, get locked up for years. And like most broken things in America, there are financial incentives for our politicians to maintain the status quo. With the privatization of prisions, millions of dollars are being spent by lobbyists to make sure we keep our prisons full.

It’s hard to think about the current state of affairs without recognizing that something is fundamentally wrong in the way we think about incarceration. William J. Stuntz blames our Bill of Rights for emphasizing process and procedure over principles of fairness and justice. Gopnik’s commentary about prison rape is quite compelling:

Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized.

For those who haven’t read it, I recommend you read the full thing. It’s well written, thought provoking and worth a read.