Archive for October 17th, 2013

Torture, torture! It pleasures me! –  The Emperor (Criswell) in Orgy of the Dead

I started forming considered political opinions at about the age of thirteen.  As I’m sure you can imagine, most of those opinions changed a great deal as I matured and learned more about reality; as I’ve said in the past, “I used to consider myself a feminist, but then I graduated from high school.”  But a few of those opinions have never changed, except perhaps to grow stronger as experience handed me ever-increasing evidence that my initial judgment was correct.  One such opinion is that most cops are twisted bullies and that none of them can be trusted; I don’t think I have to tell you how that one’s developed.  Another one, formed before the drug war resulted in an exponential expansion of those condemned to them, is that prisons are evil torture chambers that serve absolutely no function except the sadistic pleasure of those who support damning human beings to them.  And everything I have seen, read and learned since that time has only served to convince me that my original opinion didn’t condemn prisons harshly enough.

17th century prisonFor most of human history, prisons served only two functions:  the first was holding people from arrest until trial or from trial until execution, and the second torturing them so as to break their spirits (for whatever reason).  And though the Greeks and Romans experimented with the idea of using prison as a judicial punishment and the British started using penal colonies at the beginning of the 17th century, large-scale punitive incarceration was one of the more monstrous brainchildren of the 18th century.  The Enlightenment had resulted in a growing distaste for overt state-inflicted violence, so governments embraced the fiction that prisons were intended to “reform” those condemned to them.  And though that pretense continues to this day, wiser heads have recognized its falsehood for at least a century:  as George Bernard Shaw put it, “Of the three official objects of our prison system: vengeance, deterrence, and reformation of the criminal, only one is achieved; and that is the one which is nakedly abominable.”  But even Shaw might have been at a loss for words had he been able to foresee the abomination of American mass incarceration, the caging of human beings on a scale no tyrant, inquisitor or sadist of the past could ever have conceived:  roughly 1% of the adult population imprisoned at any given time, and more than twice that many – over seven million Americans in all – under some form of “correctional supervision” (probation, parole, etc).  About that term:

…surely, no sane person believes that prisoners are being “corrected” or rehabilitated in any way; in fact, the evidence is the opposite, that locking criminals up for long periods…merely makes them worse, and imprisoning those who break minor laws destroys their lives and/or turns them into career criminals.  The reasons for this should be obvious; prisons are little more than schools for crime, where those who are not thoroughly violent when they get in are forced to become more violent to survive.  Furthermore, excessive sentences remove prisoners from society for so long they forget how to behave among normal people and internalize the prison mode of behavior so that it’s difficult to “unlearn” when they get out, especially since criminal background checks, offender registries and other post-incarceration punishments often prevent former prisoners from ever returning to normal society…

It’s even worse for so-called “sex offenders”, who are stigmatized, barred from virtually all social interaction and even exiled to filthy ghettoes.  But all this only refers to prisoners who are confined under normal prison conditions; about 80,000 people in the US are kept for months, years or even decades in solitary confinement, a practice banned in all civilized countries as what it is:  torture.  Solitary confinement psychologically demolishes people, often irreversibly, but rather than face up to this fact American “authorities” respond as they always do:  with lies, excuses and obfuscation.cell door  Those locked in solitary are now usually said to be “sequestered” or “secluded”, unless they’re too young to vote; then they’re tortured in “protective custody”.  Far from “correcting” prisoners, American prisons couldn’t be much better at breaking them beyond repair if they were specifically designed to do, and those in most other countries aren’t a hell of a lot better.

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking all sorts of thoughts about “public safety” and “we can’t just let criminals get away without punishment” and other such malarkey.  What if I told you that it’s possible to build prisons that really do what “authorities” pretend they’re intended to do: rehabilitate criminals so they don’t offend again?  And what if I told you they were cheaper than the state’s beloved torture chambers?

…at the Somang Correctional Institution in [South Korea]…guards and prisoners eat meals together in a clean dining hall…228 people have served time there and been released…only two have been convicted of a second crime…The recidivism rate at the nation’s…[other] prisons is 62 percent.  About 65 percent of Somang prisoners have been convicted of major crimes such as murder, robbery and rape…counselors try to deal with prisoners’ emotional issues.  Then they move on to job education…and…techniques including meditation and therapy to help prisoners empathize with crime victims.  The final stage comprises social adaptation programs to help a prisoner ease back into the world outside the prison walls…It costs about…10 percent less than the cost of running [other] prisons…

And lest you think this sort of thing wouldn’t work in the West:

…Arne Kvernvik Nilsen…[is] governor of Bastoy prison island…home to some of the most serious offenders in Norway, [which] has received increasing global attention both for the humane conditions under which the prisoners live – in houses rather than cells in what resembles a cosy self-sustaining village…and for its remarkably low reoffending rate of just 16% compared with around 70% for prisons across the rest of Europe and the US…”I run this prison like a small society,” [Nilsen] says…”I give respect to the prisoners…and they respond by respecting themselves, each other and this community…The staff…are…like social workers as well as prison guards.  They believe in their work and know the difference they are making”…Bastoy is also one of the cheapest prisons in Norway to run…

What a surprise; help people to deal with their problems, to respect others and do something constructive, and they tend to become peaceful, productive citizens after release.  Cage them like animals and torture them into sociopathy, and they become more bestial and sociopathic.  This isn’t rocket science; any unusually-bright thirteen-year-old could understand it.  Unfortunately, most of the people in charge of American prisons function below that intellectual level, and they will have to be removed from power (and Americans in general cured of their delight in torturing the “other”) before this country ever sees a “correctional institution” whose name isn’t a wicked lie.

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