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  • Prisons in America, specifically, are some of  the biggest, most dysfunctional businesses.

  • For an advanced society, the conditions  in our prisons are quite appalling.

  • And the worst parts to deal with  were just the sheer brutality of it.

  • People who have made mistakes should  be deserving of a second chance.

  • The impact that incarceration has on  reducing the crime rate is quite marginal.

  • There are many better, cost-effective ways  to reduce crime, and we haven't done them.

  • This prison industrial complex  is a human rights crisis.

  • MARIE GOTTSCHALK:  

  • The United States is the world's leading  warden. It has more people incarcerated in  

  • prison and jail, as in absolute numbersand as a proportion of the population,  

  • than any other country in the world. So it  incarcerates about 700 per 100,000 people  

  • in prison or jail. This is about five to 12 times  the rate of other Western countries and Japan.  

  • We've got about 160,000 people who are  serving life sentences in the United  

  • States now, and a number of them who are serving  life in prison without the possibility of parole,  

  • in some cases, equals the entire prison  populations of other large countries.

  • In my state alone of Pennsylvania, we're spending  as much just to send somebody, keep someone in  

  • a state prison, as to send them to college, at  some of the leading colleges or universities in  

  • the state for the year. There's a political issue  about the legitimacy of the political system that  

  • locks up so many people, and disproportionately  locks up so many people of color, and so many  

  • people who are poor. So often when we talk about  prisons and jails, we talk about the numbers,  

  • how many people are in prison, or how many  people in jail. What we overlook is that we  

  • have some of the most degrading, dehumanizing  prisons and jails in any developed country.

  • KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH: For an advanced societythe conditions in our prisons are quite appalling.  

  • Going to an American prison increases your chance  of getting HIV AIDS. Going to an American prison  

  • increases your chance of getting tuberculosisGoing to an American prison increases your chance  

  • of being raped, whether you're a man or a womanand increases your chances of being raped either  

  • by prison staff or by other prisoners, and so on.  I mean, it's just appalling what goes on in our  

  • prisons. I think it's completely uncontroversial  that these things are appalling, you are not  

  • sentenced to AIDS, you are not sentenced to  rape, you are sentenced to incarceration.

  • DAMIEN ECHOLS: The hardest parts of being in  prison, the worst parts to deal with were just  

  • the sheer brutality of it. You know, there  were times when I was beaten so bad that I  

  • started to piss blood. You know, they're not  gonna spend a lot of time and money and energy  

  • taking care of someone they plan on killing, so  it's not like you're gonna see a real doctor or a  

  • real dentist. You know there's, at one point  I've been hit in the face so many times by  

  • prison guards that it had caused a lot of nerve  damage in my teeth. So I was in horrendous pain.  

  • Your choices are live in pain, or let him pull  your teeth out. I didn't want them to pull my  

  • teeth out. So I had to find techniques that  would allow me to cope with the physical pain.

  • SHAKA SENGHOR: When I think  about my journey through,  

  • in prison, I went through some very  adverse experiences. I had some significant  

  • obstacles to overcome, including, you  know, longterm solitary confinement,  

  • which they estimate is designed to driveperson crazy after 90 days. And what I found in  

  • that environment is that people figure out ways to  cope and to, survive when they're forced to do so.

  • LIZA JESSIE PETERSON:  

  • The 13th amendment in the constitutionin the United States Constitution, it says  

  • that slavery is illegal. So we can't have slavery  anymore, except for punishment of a crime. So  

  • everybody get your constitution out, look up  the 13th amendment, and you see the clause that  

  • says except for punishment of a crime. So if you  are committed- if you are convicted of a crime,  

  • then you're exempt from that 13th  amendment saying that slavery, you know,  

  • is abolished. So that means that you're allowed  to work as a slave. Slave labor, slave wages.

  • So you have people working for 10 cent an  hour, 11 cent an hour, who are, you know,  

  • doing agriculture, working for huge corporationsYou know, I don't want to name them because  

  • there's so many, but you know, a lot of the goods  and services that we take for granted. Clothing  

  • lines, computer parts, airplane parts, military  equipment, food that we buy, organically grown.  

  • These things are being manufactured in prisonsin prison farms, in prison factories, by inmates.

  • SENGHOR: Prisons in America specifically, are  some of the biggest, most dysfunctional businesses  

  • we have in our society. When I was in prison, I  worked for 17 cents an hour. That was my starting  

  • rate working in the kitchen. But there's also  big corporations who invest in prison labor,  

  • because they can get this labor for $1.50 an  hour, and then the sad part about it is that,  

  • in turn, they don't even hire these men and  women when they're actually released from prison.

  • GOTTSCHALK: We have many peoplenot only do they serve their time,  

  • but once they leave, it's still as if they have  an F, felon, as sort of the scarlet letter for  

  • the rest of their lives, because they've served  their time, but they're not allowed to vote,  

  • they're not allowed to get welfare benefits, they  can't get food stamps, they may not be able to get  

  • student loans, they may not be allowed  to live in certain places, and they may  

  • not be able- permitted to get licenses for  certain jobs, even jobs like hairstylist,  

  • which many people learn in prison. They learn how  to be barbers and then they come out, they can't  

  • get licensed because they have a- a criminal  conviction, and face extreme discrimination.

  • SENGHOR: I walked out of prison with  a lot of optimism, despite being told  

  • by the officers that I will  probably be back in six months.  

  • And when I walked out, I thought that I was  returning to a society that would be a lot more  

  • forgiving, and a lot more open to me gettingsecond chance if I was willing to follow the rules  

  • of society. So, get out, look for a jobyou know, prove that I want to work,  

  • volunteer in my community, you know, figure out  ways to add value. And sadly and unfortunately,  

  • society is not really forgiving, and not really  as open to second chances as I thought they will  

  • be. And it's really sad in the sense that 90%  of people who are incarcerated will at some  

  • point return home. And we have a choice in how  we welcome men and women back to our community.

  • I personally believe that there's not  a human being that isn't without flaws,  

  • that hasn't had a bad moment. And  nobody will want to be held hostage  

  • to that moment for the rest of their  life. Once a person has served their time,  

  • that means that they should come out with a clean  slate and an opportunity to start over. And if we  

  • want them to have a successful transition, it  means we have to be willing to give them a true  

  • second chance, and not keep bringing up the pastunless they're, you know, repeating that behavior.  

  • But in most cases, most people want to  just get out, move on with their life,  

  • find employment, find a safe place to liveand be free to enjoy the fullness of life.

  • JOHNNY C TAYLOR JR: :I'm a  taxpayer, and anything that we can  

  • do to reduce recidivism, keep people off the rolls  as an expense, a government expense and a prison,  

  • and as taxpayers, is a positive. So there's that  part of me. You know, we have 7.3 million open  

  • jobs, and only 6 million people currently looking  for jobs, which means we have a talent shortage.  

  • And if we could do anything to eliminate that  talent shortage, that's 1.3 million people  

  • roughly. Every year, some 700,000 or so people  are released from jails and prisons in America.  

  • So just taking a— we can use some of that  population, that 700,000 person population  

  • to make a dent in that 1.3 million person  deficit. So it's just practically smart.

  • And then the third part of mewhich is more humanitarian-based,  

  • is people who have made mistakes  should be deserving of a second chance.  

  • It is just, I mean, because all of us have made  mistakes, some have been caught, some haven't,  

  • but these people have presumably paid their  debt to society. And you know, if the idea  

  • is I make a mistake at 25 years old, I go to  jail for five years, or prison for five years,  

  • and then I get out. What do I have to look forward  to, if forever, I'm going to wear the scarlet  

  • letter, you know, convict to see, that says I'll  never get another opportunity? Life is over there.

  • The Holy Grail of this would be if we  could identify people who are six months,  

  • a year away from release, and begin giving them  transitional skills. You know, work skills,  

  • life skills. Think about this. I was just meeting  with someone who's been incarcerated for 25 years,  

  • the cellphone as we know it didn't exist thenSo when they come out, they're gonna have to get  

  • adjusted to all of that the world has literally  transformed in 25 years. So in an ideal state,  

  • we'll begin helping them transition back intoworld that sort of they pushed the pause button  

  • two and a half decades ago. And we've got to catch  them up pretty quickly so that they acclimate,  

  • and don't recidivate. That's number one. But once  we do get them out, the most important thing we  

  • can do is get them back to workhousing and workAnd they're sort of inextricably intertwined,  

  • you know, but housing is critical. And  we've got to find places for people to  

  • have a permanent place. Mind you, they've had  housing for some significant period of time,  

  • and on the outside, absent that there's an  instability that makes them more vulnerable,  

  • and then you've got to pay for that  housing, which is where the job comes in.

  • We employers have to reach out to this populationand let all of our biases go away. And we really  

  • do have to overcome our own biases. You know, we  talk about implicit bias, unconscious bias, people  

  • think, "Oh, that's just in the context of race and  gender." Well, the fact of the matter is we have a  

  • lot of biases, one of which is a bias that we have  against the formerly incarcerated. And maybe it's  

  • because of television, and everything that we see  in movies, and the characterizations of people who  

  • are in jail, but all of that comes through whether  we're conscious of it or not, when we are talking  

  • to someone who we know has been incarcerated. We  have some interesting research that says roughly  

  • 80% of HR managers say, "I'm interested and would  be willing to hire the formerly incarcerated."  

  • Cherm's research says there's no bias at that  level. Where we get into the bias and have had it,  

  • and seen it historically, was customers and  other employees. Those are the biggies. You know,  

  • there's this NIMBY concept which says, "Yeah, I  like the idea of hiring a formerly incarcerated,  

  • but not to sit next to my daughter at work."  So, "Not in my backyard." That's the NIMBY  

  • concept. And so, we've had to work on thatFortunately, we have some new research that  

  • says employees themselves, as a result of this  narrative changing, and we're re positioning  

  • the formerly incarcerated, have said, "I'm  okay." Three quarters of employees have said,  

  • "I'm okay with you bringing people into  the workplace for nonviolent crimes."

  • Similarly, about three quarters of customers  have said, "For nonviolent crimes, I'm willing  

  • to buy from a company that openly hires the  formerly incarcerated, a product or a service."  

  • They're willing to do that. Those were two major  hurdles in the past. And what we're seeing is, as  

  • a result of us changing the narrative, these are  not bad people, they're people who made mistakes,  

  • and that every one of us has made themand is e- entitled to a second chance,  

  • we're changing the narrative around  hiring formerly incarcerated.

  • GOTTSCHALK:  

  • The public, and my students, this often happensright? The logical thing is we lock up more  

  • people, we should reduce the crime rate, because  there are fewer people who are out on the street  

  • to commit crimes. What we have found, myself  as a member of the National Academy of Sciences  

  • Committee on Incarceration, we studied the best  data. And in fact, the impact that incarceration  

  • has on reducing the crime rate is quite  marginal. And the more people you incarcerate,  

  • the even less of an impact it has on reducing  the crime rate, and it actually may increase  

  • the crime rate because people who serve time  in jail, the conditions in jail and prison may  

  • actually make people more criminogenic. And alsoyou destabilize many communities by taking so many  

  • young people at the prime of their  lives out of those communities.

  • So one of the first things the public  has to realize is locking more people  

  • up doesn't necessarily increase the safety  of their communities, and it actually may  

  • decrease the safety of the communities, and  that a better solution is to not lock people  

  • up in the first place. Now, does that mean  that it's a perfect world where no one will  

  • go out and ever commit a heinous crime? No, thatthere's always that possibility, but we can never  

  • promise everybody a perfect world. If we wanted  a perfect world, we would lock everybody up.  

  • And we're not going to do that, but this is not  a risk that is a huge risk that we shouldn't be  

  • taking for many of the people, and if you talk  to many wardens or superintendents of prisons,  

  • you talk to them informally off the recordthey say they can go through their prison,  

  • and probably identify 30 or 40% of the  people who really don't need to be there.

  • ROBERT PERKINSON: What needs to happen  is we need to have, as a central goal,  

  • not just trying to make conditions of confinement  more humane or help people who are released from  

  • prisonthere's like 750,000 people a year who get  out of prison, they're tossed out on the street  

  • with stigma, without money, angrier and more  alienated than they were before. They didn't  

  • get much treatment behind bars. So there's a lot  of emphasis on reentry right now, as well there  

  • should be. But in my view, there really has to be  an emphasis on reduction of this out of control,  

  • bloated government bureaucracy that is causingand it's unlike other types of government waste.

  • I mean, if we have a contract to build a highway  and it gets double billed, or air marshals, take  

  • air marshals, for example, which it seems like now  that the evidence is in has been a totally useless  

  • government program. They haven't committed any  crime. There's been an average of four arrests a  

  • year. But it's relatively benign. People get jobsno one really is harmed by it, and maybe there's a  

  • little bit of public safety. So it's more or lessit's wasteful. It's irresponsible use of taxpayer  

  • money, but it's not harming anyone. Prison is very  different. It actually is- most people think that  

  • it is responsible maybe for 10 to 20% of reducing  crime in the United States. There are many better,  

  • cost-effective ways to reduce crime, and we  haven't done them, and we need to start kind  

  • of changing direction. There are signs that's  happening, and there needs to be changes at  

  • every level of the system. We need better indigent  defense, we need fairer trials, we need a shift in  

  • our approach to addiction, toward thinking about  it as a medical problem entwined with, crime and  

  • poverty problem rather than as a solely criminal  justice issue. We need to think about better ways  

  • to let more people out of prison, especially  as they pass beyond their criminal prime.

  • GOTTSCHALK: People age out of crime. So that the  most criminogenic years, as I tell my students,  

  • is often the late teens and the early 20s.  So locking somebody up for 30-40 years for  

  • a crime that someone's done in their 20s doesn't  socially, morally, financially make a whole lot of  

  • sense. What we also know is that someone who's  committed a serious crime has been released,  

  • eight- usually eight years after they've been  released, their profile, the likelihood that  

  • they will commit another crime is the same as  someone who's never committed a crime before.

  • PETERSON: I think that we're at the  precipice of another great shift in society,  

  • where you have a small group of people who say  this prison industrial complex is a human rights  

  • crisis. Something needs to be done. You havelarge swath of people who say, "Oh, they're just  

  • criminals. This is, we have to have prisonsright?" But I have faith in that small voice  

  • of people who believe in humanity  becoming louder, and louder, and louder.

Prisons in America, specifically, are some of  the biggest, most dysfunctional businesses.

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America’s prison catastrophe: Can we undo it? | Damien Echols & more | Big Think

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/13
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