Not (just) the War on Drugs: the difficult, complicated truth about American prisons

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“Lock them up and throw away the key.” The solution only works if you accept the underlying premise, that there are good people and bad people. I have known a very large number of people who believe that very firmly.


I’ve been very consistent on this: We need to stop casually throwing teenagers in jail, even for violent offenses. I’ve said as much on this very BBS. I also pointed out years ago when sex offender registries started becoming a thing, that they were going to turn into an oppressive nightmare that actually does fairly little to protect anyone. But people don’t care. People are frightened skittish primates, and the second they detect that something might pose one iota of risk to them personally, they shut down morally.

I blame the American political left for a lot of this. Not because the right is great, wonderful, and enlightened, but because I have zero expectations for them. Bastards will keep being bastards. Meanwhile I have fairly high expectations for the left, I feel like they should know better. They don’t know how to square the circle of saying on the one hand, that sexual assault and violence should be taken seriously by the authorities and that rapists should essentially be considered irredeemable, and on the other hand talk about police brutality and the cruelty of the prison system. I’m not saying it’s not a difficult thing to think about or that solutions will come easy, but I do notice that people don’t want to think about this when the matter becomes pressing and default to throwing the book at people deemed a threat. We do actually need to deal with this now. We can’t indefinitely put off prison reform and resolve what role prisons are meant to play in society because it’s uncomfortable. And it will be uncomfortable, because I’ll wager that being in prison doesn’t make a rapist less likely to rape in the future, and that new alternatives may have to be developed that are, as of yet, completely untested.


Most people dont care if the problem doesn’t affect them personally, it’s a lack of empathy.


Of course it isn’t as binary as good/bad - black/white. But I have known people who - for what ever reason they are like that - I wouldn’t trust them around anything. They sort of people who if they show up to a party I leave because they will 100% guarantee to hit someone before the end of the night and if someone is missing something the next day, they probably took it.

And while one can point to life experiences and social ills that fuel bad behavior, there are people who just don’t give a fuck about who they hurt.

Not that I think “Lock them up and throw away the key.” is a viable solution. If you don’t use prison as a chance to fix the problem, nothing is going to be better unless the person was able to come to an epiphany on their own. Though with the current size of the beast, I don’t see how that is even possible.

Of course, me too, although I’ve said goodbye to most of them. That’s still not a person who should be locked away forever, or maybe even not at all. There should be a palette of options ranging from community service to the slammer. There should also be lots of well-paid experts with wisdom to determine which approach will be most effective.

And a pony.

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Oh, I’d kill for a pony…

My kid loves them.

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same here with our social-democratic party - I should know better but they disappoint me all the time. Schmidt (chancellor between 74 and 82) was more popular with conservative voters and Schröder’s Agenda 2010 (like Blair’s New Labour) was more or less the last nail.

I think it’s more than that. As @ActionAbe points out we are a scared lot of primates and that does indeed cause a lack of thoughtful engagement with the morality of the criminal justice system, as it stands, as an institution.


The reality, she contends, is a lot more complex.

Even the simple explanation for the problem ain’t so simple.

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