Columns, Opinion

American Protest: The prison system is broken and needs fixing

Fights may seem like a pretty normal occurrence in prison where violent and dangerous people are locked up together and nobody’s happy about it. What is not a pretty normal occurrence is a prison fight that takes several hours to regain control of, with guards doing nothing for the first four hours.

This prison, the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, holds some of the longest-serving and violent offenders, so it’s not surprising a fight took place. But it’s also considered a maximum-security prison, so why were there not enough guards to break up a fight that should have been expected?

I have had issues with the way our prison system works for a long time now, but this deadly fight really puts into perspective how broken the system is. At least seven inmates were killed in this bloody fight and another 17 injured. Since 2017, there have been 20 reported cases of prisoners being killed by other prisoners in South Carolina.

Prison inmates may be some of the worst people who have committed some of the worst crimes, but that does not make them inhuman, and it certainly does not mean that they should not be protected.

Prison inmates deserve to be punished for their crimes (most of the time), but if inmates are not assigned the death penalty, they should not be at risk of death when they are sent away. We need to ensure that there are enough guards to prevent something like this happening again, and that guards will take action right away.

The most horrifying statistic though, is that our country has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world and holds more than 2.3 million people in its prisons.

It seems to me like America would rather throw people into jail rather than deal with the roots of the problem such as poverty and drug addiction.

Of course, many prison inmates are not extremely violent, horrible people. A 2017 study reported that almost half a million people are in prisons for drug offenses. Many people end up in the prison system for having a few grams of weed on them, and this trend continuously targets African-American men.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to be sent to prison in their life. That is a startling number, and it stems from a multitude of disadvantages African-Americans face from the start of their lives.

As a country, we should be concerned about the growing number of prisoners. The criminal justice system is being used as a place to throw away issues we do not want to deal with, and the people within this system are risking death and terrible living conditions, which are often inhumane.

A big problem in prisons has been the distribution of menstrual products for female inmates. I do not care what they did; it is unsanitary to not provide these products in adequate supply. In some prisons in this country, there are no products provided at all.

Clearly, there is a big problem with the way our prisons are run. From the overpopulation of prisons to a lack of resources to blatant racism and unfair arrests, we as a country need to do better.

There needs to be a focus on decreasing our incarceration rates, and in order to do, we need to help the people who are most likely to end up in the system like the impoverished. Throwing them in jail is not going to break the cycle we see all too often.

Instances such as these — where seven inmates are killed — should not be shrugged off and accepted as the norm. Instead, we should learn from them and recognize the need for drastic and immediate change in our criminal justice system.

 

One Comment

  1. Very nice, thoughtful essay, Meredith. Good work!