Archive for Monday, March 12, 2012


Everyday Life: The only thing we have to fear …

March 12, 2012


On Feb. 7, the political activist and philosopher Angela Davis spoke at Kansas University.

Toward the end of her speech she talked about abolishing prisons, and I thought: If we close the prisons, how will we protect ourselves from the bad people?

And then I read Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America” in the Jan. 30 New Yorker. Did you know that the current incarceration rate is three times that of the 1980s? That more than half of all African-American men without a high school diploma can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lives? That the rate of African-American incarceration is seven times the white rate, even though the rate at which people actually commit crimes is pretty much the same in both populations?

Did you know that our prison systems are run more and more by private contractors with financial interest in keeping their prisons full and even fuller, leading them to lobby against any legal reform that would send fewer people to jail? That, in partial consequence, we lock up increasing numbers of nonviolent people who are unlucky enough to get caught breaking laws that are, in fact, widely violated with no serious repercussions to society, instead of letting these folks do something useful with their lives?

Who goes to jail? According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, in 2010, 51 percent of federal prisoners were in for drug offenses and 35 percent for “public-order” offenses (e.g., weapons and immigration violations). Only 6 percent were jailed for property crimes, and only 8 percent were violent offenders.

You don’t have to be a prison abolitionist to realize that there is something very wrong with this picture. Prison isn’t the only effective deterrent to bad behavior. Other countries with far lower rates of incarceration are just as safe and even safer. One of the lowest rates of incarceration in the U.S. is in New York City, yet they have seen an 80 percent decrease in crime in the last 10 years.

Instead of keeping the rest of us safe, our current prison system increases the danger to those who come under its aegis, most of whom are not that different from the folks outside. In a heartbeat it could be you or someone you love, especially if your skin is more brown than pink.

How did we get to this point? Our prison system, as so much else that doesn’t work in our lives, is a result of irrational fear.

Fear is what puts us and everyone around us in danger. Gripped by fear, we can only lash out wildly, causing tremendous damage. But without fear, we can perceive what’s really dangerous and do something useful about it.

Is this possible? In Ohio, an Amish man, Monroe Beachy, is under arrest for a $16 million Ponzi scheme. While deeply condemning his acts, his community is asking to remove his case from the criminal justice system, in their own words, “based on Christian principles of love and care for the poor and needy.” The Amish can do it. Why not the rest of us?

— Judith Roitman can be reached at


Paul Wilson 6 years ago

This has got to be the most ridiculous article I have read in a very long time. OK all you warm and fuzzy's who think they are smarter than everyone else...Please tell me the difference between Discipline and Punishment. The genius that answers that question will unlock the mystery of this article.

When warm and fuzzy's quit trying to use prisons for one and just stick with the other...the system will become very effective.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Please tell me the difference between Discipline and Punishment."

It's going to take more than that to make sense of your train wreck of a post.

Paul R Getto 6 years ago

Discipline, well done, changes behavior and is not punitive. (Think, disciplines and the great ESSENE teacher.) Punishment is, as its root word suggests, punitive and does not usually change behavior; it just makes the person not do it again in front of a witness.

We are wasting our prison space and need to rethink the strategy. The same legislators who want to put more and more people in jail keep trying to make government 'smaller.' Prisons, sadly, are a part of government, but we could save lots of money if we thought through the policies.

Paul Wilson 6 years ago

What's up with that? You can't answer the question and have fun dialog so you attack with nothing? My 11 year old daughter read my post this morning and got it completely. Clear as a bell. She understands the difference between discipline and punishment as I'm sure you do as well but for some reason you would rather antagonize than converse. I believe the misuse one of these ideas is at the heart of why our prison system is a mess. Are you going to attack and waste your time? Or are you going to have dialog on a subject that obviously interests you? Talking with people is much more fun than arguing with them. I'll pose the question a different way: Should sending a person to prison be to discipline them or punish them?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

This article had absolutely nothing to do with the distinction between discipline and punishment.

It was about whether incarceration is the best way to deal with various behaviors that we as a society have decided to deem criminal. And it was pointed out that other countries have shown that these behaviors can be dealt with more effectively and more economically without just locking people away.

People should be sent to prison for only one reason-- because they have shown themselves to be too dangerous to the greater society to be allowed to roam freely. Rehabilitation (which would certainly include teaching self-discipline) can be handled quite effectively without incarceration for those who aren't a danger to themselves or others.

I don't think punishment should play any part in the criminal justice system. Certainly, there should be consequences for bad behavior. But there's a difference between levying reasonable sanctions and being vindictively punitive.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

BTW, your first post was primarily mocking in tone, and not an invitation to a friendly chat. FWIW.

Paul Wilson 6 years ago

I think you proved my point to a certain extent. (tone not hostile) I just believe there is waaaay too much emphasis on rehabilitation. I am not saying it is useless. I'm just saying that the 'warm and fuzzies' coddle prisoners too much and that prison should be a punishment for offenses. Get rid of the TV's, all the games, activities and media. Make it a place that is dreaded instead of glorified in criminal circles. I agree with some of your points but I have a problem with these two sentences only because I guess I just don't get it: "I don't think punishment should play any part in the criminal justice system. Certainly, there should be consequences for bad behavior." How exactly can this work? What are the 'consequences' if they're not punishment? Why should punishment not "play any part"? That's where I really lost you I guess.

p.s. What is FWIW?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"I think you proved my point to a certain extent."

Huh? Your "point" was mainly name-calling, which isn't a point at all.

"I'm just saying that the 'warm and fuzzies' coddle prisoners too much"

You obviously have no idea what life is like in prison-- there ain't much coddling going on.

"Get rid of the TV's, all the games, activities and media."

Run that by the prison guards, and they'll tell you that this would do nothing but make prisoners even more difficult and dangerous to control.

"Make it a place that is dreaded instead of glorified in criminal circles."

You watch too many teevee shows. Sure, some people who've been institutionalized their whole lives find it difficult to live outside of prison, but the vast majority of those who have been to prison never wanted to go there, don't want to stay, and don't want to go back.

"What are the 'consequences' if they're not punishment?"

Consequences don't have to be sadistic to be effective. Insisting on "punishment" does nothing to alleviate crime, or make society any safer-- all it does is attempt satisfy the need for vengeance that some people have. And like most itches, scratching it provides only temporary relief, and if done too long or too vigorously, it creates more problems than it solves.

FWIW-- for what it's worth.

Paul Wilson 6 years ago

Bottom line is that the 'warm and fuzzies' have put the prison system into the joke state that it is today. If Lansing isn't a prison...then no I haven't been. We controlled the prison from within. Guards had no recourse. Like everything else that is run with emotion instead of fails. No matter what your opinion is, you can't argue with logic.
Chain gangs worked. Check the stats. FWIW

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

I see very little but emotion from you-- and quite ugly emotion at that.

jhawkinsf 6 years ago

Bozo, you're chastising someone for using a mocking tone which prevents a friendly chat. You're joking, right. There is no person in this forum who mocks and taunts more than you do. You posts are rarely an invitation to a friendly chat. On a wide variety of subjects. Surely you must be the most hypocritical person in Lawrence. Geez.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Hey, I don't care if someone uses a mocking tone, or a bit of sarcasm-- as you point out, I do it occasionally myself (but hardly all the time, as you wish to contend.)

But a poster just shouldn't pretend that they're doing otherwise, as was the case here.

somedude20 6 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Chris Condren 6 years ago

I read this editorial and shed a tear for the way we in America treat our financial criminals. Long prison terms and heavy fines! Can't we all just get along? If we gave them a monthly check instead of incarceration they could cease their lives of crime and do good things for our communities. Given financial stability and enhanced self esteem these one time criminals and social outcasts could reengage in society to help build a better future for all.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Your sarcasm notwithstanding, the fact is, by and large, financial criminals are given a free pass in this country. That doesn't mean I think we should lock them in a dungeon somewhere, but there are certainly appropriate consequences that could be levied-- certainly more appropriate than no consequences, which is the current state of affairs.

Paul R Getto 6 years ago

Well, I agree locking up the financial crooks is a waste of time. They should lose most their assets, be put in small apartments to cook on a hot plate and be driven to their job each morning by the parole officer. (Do you want fries with that? or "Mister, please move over so I can finish mopping this hallway.) Let them live like the people they ripped off. A much better use of public funds than having them play golf and tennis in a minimum security facility waiting to regain their wealth when they get out.

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