Corporate media achieved a new level of absurdity last week, when Jesse Ball, writing for the Los Angeles Times, suggested every American be required to spend a stint behind bars every ten years as a veritable guarantee to improve conditions of incarceration in the United States.
In the piece titled, “Everyone should go to jail, say, once every ten years,” Ball writes,
“A notable demand that is made upon the citizens of the United States of America is that of jury duty. Although many despise, hate and avoid it, there is a general sense that the task is necessary. We believe a society is only just if everyone shares in the apportionment of guilt.
“To this demand of jury duty, I would like to add another, and in the same spirit. I propose that all citizens of the United States of America should serve a brief sentence of incarceration in our maximum-security penitentiaries. This service, which would occur for each person once in a decade, would help ensure that the quality of life within our prisons is sufficient for the keeping of human beings.”
Without foreknowledge on length of stay and other details, citizens would languish behind the same bars as convicted criminals under Ball’s proposal — albeit in a section separated from offenders, assumedly not to confuse jailers and inmates, or endanger anyone serving ‘incarceration duty.’
But Ball misses the point — feeding the elephant in the room of overcriminalization of daily life, excessive laws, and, worst by far of all, the normalization of incarceration as conditional to the American way of life — lecturing all of us to walk a mile in the shoes of the convicted rather than declaring the brazen failures of the Injustice System evidence enough, itself, for dismantling the whole dysfunctional mess.
After all, according to the Prison Policy Institute, the United States now cages some 2.3 million of its roughly 326.5 million total people — the largest per capita incarcerated persons of any nation on the entire planet.
An interplanetary traveler would logically conclude it a prison nation — or, at least, one astonishingly rife with thugs, murderers, thieves, and worse.
Even the more law-and-order, authoritarian among us could see the flaws evident in a system claiming freedom, while locking away proportionally more than even the dictatorial fascist regimes our troops putatively combat.
While undoubtedly posited from a place of compassion as a plea for ethics in imprisonment, Ball’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek proposal unfortunately evinces the frequency with which Band-aids are applied as a fix for gaping structural flaws which should otherwise condemn the system to demolishment.
But, worst of all, this proposition capriciously normalizes the American Incarceration State.
Consider how those 2.3 million souls wound up stuffed into the cramped confines of the nation’s myriad federal, state, and local facilities; or, worse — judging by a voluminous body of anecdotal accounts — one of the altogether notorious prisons-for-profit, managed by private corporations intent only on thrift in housing its human commodities to save the State some pennies.
Most of the convicted behind bars have committed nonviolent crime — but moralizing on personal vice and legislation enacted sanctimoniously against substances have exploded the nation’s prison population to alarming proportions.
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A court or jury decision of guilt in no way can be characterized on par with ‘laws’ governing ethics and human rights — for, if a candid observation of inmate records were ventured, a sweeping sum could be said to have landed in prison by violating the State’s prohibition on the cannabis plant.
And not violently so.
Forgetting for a moment ‘the law is the law,’ to describe a society as just, which chooses to not only cement unjust ideas into law, but imprison violators of aberrant legislation — particularly in cases of medicinal use — must be the pinnacle of hypocritical pomposity, if not the telltale heart of a dying empire.
Sure, forcing (on penalty of prison?!) yet more behind bars to prove how base the conditions behind bars might actually assist the vocal calling to improve conditions behind bars, but if so many have been locked there for reasons only justifiable for the violation interned in the print of legal tomes, the plan is an exercise in pure futility.
Unless it simply normalizes prison life as a veritable inevitability — might as well prepare for the eventuality some offensive chunk of life will be wasted rotting between the torrid walls of a prison cell.
The irony, palpable.
No, we do not need to send the relatively innocent to prison to endure torturously foul food and varying degrees of inhospitability to prove locking people in cages does nothing to curb crime — indeed, the opposite is arguably true.
It’s the system, broken — not people’s compassion.
Juries convict based on flawed evidence, evidence omitted by technicality, and an embarrassing list of other inexcusable conditions accumulated on the books over centuries — and more laws and regulations find their way to the ledger every day.
They’re creating additional ways to make you a criminal — so, in that sense, Ball might be onto something.
‘Get ready for prison, dear young people, by the time you’re an adult, there won’t be a thing you can do without somehow breaking the law,’ the writer unintentionally asserts between the lines.
“I wonder,” Ball continues, “once all you citizens of the United States are passing in and out of prison on a regular basis, will the conditions there not seem singularly urgent? Just picture congressmen, priests, stock traders, truck drivers, people of every faith, color, description, all for once sharing in something.”
Sharing in the memory of peering out from inside prison walls isn’t conducive to solving the issue of mass incarceration.
Scrapping unjust, unethical, amoral, and otherwise ludicrous laws governing every conceivable aspect of daily life, however, is.