Monday, June 24, 2024

As we grow tired of the lockdown, a few of my friends have said that they now know what it’s like to be in prison.

No, you don’t. You have no idea what it’s like.

America’s prisons are designed to dehumanize, punish and subjugate millions of people, disproportionally the poor and people of color. We typically place them in horrific environments, where they’re often subjected to assaults by guards and other prisoners. We deprive them of contact with the families. We take away all their liberties. We deny them medical care. We torture them by placing them in solitary confinement.

Even equating what we’re going through with the relatively humane minimum-security prisons is misguided at best. If you think that eight weeks in your living room is “like being imprisoned” – on any level whatsoever – you are either watching way too many sanitized Hollywood versions of prison, or you are woefully uninformed.

America is the world’s leading jailer at 716 people per 100,000 in the population. But when broken down by race, this becomes even more disturbing. African-Americans are jailed at triple the average rate, at 2,207 per 100,000, while people who identify as white are imprisoned at only 380 per 100,000.

If you dislike the taste of having your liberties slightly limited for a few weeks, imagine what it’s like to have no liberties for years – or decades. Imagine living in constant fear of assault, or worse.

This may move you to understand why prison reform is so important. Locking up 2.3 million Americans isn’t working to solve our crime problem. Many countries have adopted different models where they try to rehabilitate people and help them reintegrate into society. They educate and provide usable skills. They assist with drug problems. They treat people with respect.

America’s rate of recidivism is 60 percent, triple the rate of countries that focus on rehabilitation. This alone should convince anyone that our prisons are medieval in their focus on punishment. Now – during the Covid-19 emergency – is a good time to look at what we’re doing and find a better way.

Phillip Sego, Norfolk Street