Earlier today, I found myself reading an article on jail breaks and prison reform in this May 2017’s “The Economist”. Entitled, “Jail break” with this lede,”America’s approach to incarceration is an expensive failure. It does not have to be this way”, I was upset “The Economist” did not include its author’s name.
While reading this article’s first paragraph describing “Shirley Schmitt”, a nagging insistence crept in revealing my own thinking vis-a-vis jail breaks and prison reform. I wanted to know if she was Whyte. I took a huge leap of “they never discuss Black Women rotting away in prisons from selling meth” brand faith and presumed she was. Of her, our mysterious chronicler types:
Shirley Schmitt is no one’s idea of a dangerous criminal. She lived quietly on a farm in Iowa, raising horses and a daughter, until her husband died in 2006. Depressed and suffering from chronic pain, she started using methamphetamine. Unable to afford her habit, she and a group of friends started to make the drug, for their own personal use. She was arrested in 2012, underwent drug treatment, and has been sober ever since. She has never sold drugs for profit, but federal mandatory minimum rules, along with previous convictions for drug possession and livestock neglect, forced the judge to sentence her to ten years in prison. Each year she serves will cost taxpayers roughly $30,000—enough to pay the fees for three struggling students at the University of Iowa. When she gets out she could be old enough to draw a pension.
I have always attempted to be awkwardly balanced on today’s common understanding of intersectionality. Privilege is not a static conferred upon one at birth like a sword atop a shoulder during knighting ceremonies. It comes with certain assumption and prejudice, sure, but it belongs in a space of networks. We are given undue advantages based on superficial characteristics shared by members of a more powerful group. However, when privilege is being extended, I also make it my duty to put my notebooks to good use.
I find it difficult not to read certain racial codes into this piece. While I do believe in prison reform in some measure, I also believe prison reform in modern liberal space is US Whyte for “we are locking up too many of our own.” Albeit, I refuse to cut my nose to spite my face, there are a number of liberal measures that US Blacks can glean diminutive gains from. This does not, however, reduce what I believe is an intent to reduce class antagonisms within US Whyte ranks.
That all be stated, I do find framing prison as a financial burden interesting, for lack of a better qualifier there. I have stated elsewhere, I am sure, that I find moral reasoning to be a bore. At some point, US Citizens must come full circle with their acceptance of what USA exactly is despite its wholly hypocritical yet lofty philosophical State’s Craft. In order to deal with a prison system that was always a double for slavery and free labor, an argument for tax payer’s being fleeced yet again must be spun to Whyte readers.
America passed the point of negative returns long ago. Its incarceration rate rose fivefold between 1970 and 2008. Relative to its population, it now locks up seven times as many people as France, 11 times as many as the Netherlands and 15 times as many as Japan. It imprisons people for things that should not be crimes (drug possession, prostitution, unintentionally violating incomprehensible regulations) and imposes breathtakingly harsh penalties for minor offences[sic]. Under “three strikes” rules, petty thieves have been jailed for life.
A ten-year sentence costs ten times as much as a one-year sentence, but is nowhere near ten times as effective a deterrent. Criminals do not think ten years into the future. If they did, they would take up some other line of work. One study found that each extra year in prison raises the risk of reoffending by six percentage points. Also, because mass incarceration breaks up families and renders many ex-convicts unemployable, it has raised the American poverty rate by an estimated 20%. Many states, including Mr. Sessions’s home, Alabama, have decided that enough is enough. Between 2010 and 2015 America’s incarceration rate fell by 8%. Far from leading to a surge in crime, this was accompanied by a 15% drop.
Mumia Abu-Jamal and Angela Davis write about their ideas of a more socially aware and democratically communal system of punitive measures. I sense that their framework is a more humane methodology due to its primary function being to assist society, not to save tax payer’s money or prevent pure and chaste Whyte Women from becoming “Piper Chapman”.