RESISTANCE TO PRISON REFORM

9 Sep

Why do you think that citizens are content with the way we operate prisons? Is it ignorance? Fear? Does media have anything to do with public attitudes?

19 Replies to “RESISTANCE TO PRISON REFORM

  1. I think there are many reasons citizens are content with the way our prison system is set up. I think the main reason is because it is an uncomfortable conversation to have. Unless you or a family member is affected by the system, you tend to ignore all the problems because its easier that way. Another reason is, politicians continuously run on the promise of being even harder on crime, especially in the south; so anyone who suggests reforms to the system is seen as “soft on crime”. Also, the media does not help. The media has a tendency to cover violent crimes. They completely forget to mention the majority of people in prison are nonviolent. If we really want to fix our prison systems we need to allow nonviolent offenders to regain their right to vote once they have served their time.

    • I think that the way prisons operate in the United States is largely unknown by the general population. Thus, ignorance plays a large role in the shortcomings of the current system. Also, television and the media basically glamorize crime, and show really the most abhorrent of situations, which is not what the majority of crimes are. Most incarcerations are nonviolent, but the media spends immense amounts of time detailing vicious acts done by individuals who are few and far between. I agree with many of the people in our class that nonviolent offenders should absolutely be given the opportunity to regain their rights as US citizens upon completion of their sentence. If only more were to be done with the mental health of convicts, greater progress would surely be seen.

  2. People who are content with the way the prisons operate may not be fully aware how they really operate. The media does not show the whole truth. The news reporters will mention the most recent criminal cases but will not go into details on how these crimes accrued. The crimes mentioned in the media are usually pending investigations, so viewers do not learn the specifics of the case. Although people are interested in what is going on in their country, they stop following the case when they find out “the criminal” was captured. These stories occur so often that people become desensitized. One does not realize that a misdemeanor like possession of marijuana or altercation with police after a traffic stop has a person sitting in a arrest room for up to 24 hours among violent individuals. Furthermore, if these so called “lawbreakers” cannot afford bond, they end up entering general population of a given county jail to await trial.

  3. The public are content with prison systems the way they are because for many of them it is not something they have had to deal with. Not personally or from a family member of friend. I know that for most people they are not aware that prisons are privately run and not regulated by the state or the government. And I’m sure the government is more than happy to let the running of the prisons be done by an outside company, because it is one less thing that they have to deal with. The media will show what is necessary to get a certain point across. So if their angle is to show that prisons are overcrowded and it is Mr. So-and-so’s fault and they want him to look bad, they will only show the problems. But if they want to say that he has implemented these positive changes, they will show the good things happening. Far too many people rely on the media as their sole source of information and don’t play devil’s advocate to consider there are other points or sides of the story. And for the most part, the media only reports on the crime story after it happens. There is less coverage of the trial and typically no coverage of what happens when the person goes to prison, because the “exciting” part is over. The people in prison are often forgotten about by the general public.

    • Evie, I did not know prisons are privately run and I have had a loved one in the prison system. I agree that too many people rely on the media for their information. The media is just looking for ratings, so once the hype of the trail is over, they no longer need to cover the story.

  4. As children, we are taught when we do something wrong, there are consequences. Our society sees prison as our grown up “time out.” The media plays a large role in shaping societal viewpoints. Through blatant omissions of facts or over reporting on dangers, etc. many folks can at times develop viewpoints without a full understanding. Talking about how we operate prisons does not seem to be foremost in our minds, rather curbing crimes and grappling with the devastating effects of the drug epidemic….which leads to jail time….is what society focuses on. Sadly, after they are “thrown in jail” many are forgotten about.

    • I agree with your point, Leslee. There is this societal belief that if an individual is locked up in a jail or a prison, he or she deserves to be in there. There is not a lot of emphasis on finding out the facts or examining the circumstances that lead one to be incarcerated; once behind bars for any given reason, the stigma associated with criminality leads society to jump to false conclusions and create stereotypes about a person’s character without knowing an individual’s story. I believe that people are content with the way prisons operate mainly because no one reasonably tends to expect that they will someday wind up in prison themselves. There are a lot of people who walk around with a “holier than thou” mindset: “I am a law-abiding citizen, I’ve never gone to jail for anything and I’ll never be a jailbird.” They think that there are a certain type of people, people who are naturally bad or naturally deviant, who belong in prison. The prison is revered as the place that keeps the public safe from harm, the place that keeps the bad people away from the good people. It’s hard for people to grapple with the fact that there are some “good” people who are in jail or prison for simply making a “bad” decision. Not everyone in prison is a murderer, a rapist, a gangster, a drug dealer, or a robber. Yet, thanks to different forms of news media and entertainment, we as a society have been conditioned to associate these kinds of criminals with prisons. It’s truly due to the wide array of misconceptions that society has been exposed to that there is very little outrage about prisons and the need for prison reform. I like how you use the phrase “an adult time out”: yet, when thinking about a traditional time out, anyone who left their child in time-out for days or weeks would be likely facing criminal charges of negligence and/or abuse. If it not okay to permanently punish a child, why is it acceptable to permanently punish adults? There are some individuals who are definitely deserving of being kept away from the general public for a long, and even, permanent, period of time; yet, for the many other people who could successfully reintegrate after just a short period of incarceration, the U.S. prison system is being neglectful and abusive. Instead of being so focused on retribution, there needs to be a strong refocusing on restoration. Myths and stigma around crime and imprisonment need to be addressed and debunked. Society needs to be exposed to the reality of incarceration and not be so oblivious to the truth of the matter.

  5. Many factors lead to the current operation of prison systems and our confidence in them as punishment, I think the main reason is that it has become an American culture to use jails for distancing ourselves from the morally corrupt, socially alienated and potentially damaging people. No one challenged that conception and we are uncomfortable with engaging in that conversation, therefore we go on with our lives without thinking about those who end up in prison. We, as the Americans, have no other alternatives to prisons deemed plausible. It is partly ignorance since there is no need for us to enter a prison, witness the daily lives of prisoners and analyze the potential psychological and physical damages it brings to these prisoners. On the other hand, it is also fear: media has fed us a facet of prison life, that is, gang activities, drug addiction, solitary confinement. This perspective reinforces our opinion towards those people who go to prison: morally corrupt, socially alienated and damaged. In addition, the troubles of race have left its legacy on us, Marc Hill, in his book “Nobody,” described “an age-old racial divide … characterized by the growing use of prison as our primary resolution for social contradictions. (p. 29)” Most depictions of prison life in media shows the majority of prisoners being African-Americans. The disproportionate representation of African Americans and Whites (Fulcher 2012, p. 592) in prison feeds back into the cycle of stereotyping African Americans as damaging people.

  6. I believe that those in prison are societal scapegoats. The prison system and poverty provide to most, a vast chasm between them and us. As long as we follow the prescribed path, we shall not end up in such a place with them. People need to feel superior to others and adherent to a moral code. This is evidenced by the quote in the movie “Scarface” when the villain realized his illicit conversation is overheard in a fine restaurant, he exclaims, “Go ahead. Look at me. I’m the bad guy!”

    Another way to see this is that prison is used as a boogeyman of sorts to keep us in line and eating our vegetables. How many times has a aren’t told a child that they will end up in jail if they do not straighten up? Thankfully however, most will not end up a felon for not making their bed.

    From yet another view, those incarcerated truly are a cautionary tale in how they got to prison in the first place. Something as simple as having a few beers and driving could go from a misdemeanor driving offense to felony manslaughter. A person need not be Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer to land a lengthy prison sentence. This fine line may help keep most on the straight and narrow.

    As for what goes on in prison, I would say that many have no idea what it is like. Outside of the obvious dangers of rape and being shanked, I feel that most do not realize how slow and torturous prison life really is. Many want longer sentences more for revenge than actual punishment. But make no mistake, there are those who truly belong there, not like kittens at the SPCA, but because they are truly dangerous and a genuine menace to society.

  7. I believe that ignorance is the reason that citizens are content with the way prisons are operated. The general population does not understand how prisons are run on a day to day basis. The media portrays prison as a punishment for people who did really bad things, to put it simply. They show solemn looking inmates in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs going to trial for murder. When in reality people from all walks of life with all different backgrounds are/have been in the prison system. Not everyone in prison is there for violent crimes. In another light, prisons also create jobs, which also contributes to contentment because citizens see a growing economy. When this happens, they think less of the humans that are living inside of the prison walls..

  8. I think many people have no idea about the way prisons operate and are oblivious to the life of prisoners. I think citizens are ignorant when it comes to prison system, but not by choice in many cases. Many citizens, if asked, do not care about prisoners. They do not want to see the country’s and states resources go to fund educational programs. Many citizens don’t want see prisoners make minimum wage, many citizens are content with envisioning prisoners rot away in their cell. Although, many people just feel this way because they know no better. We are are taught this from a very young age that prisons are filled with big scary criminals and gangs who fight and kill, and a place we all don’t want to visit. Many citizens have no interaction or knowledge about prisons and that is one the biggest issue. Many people growing up dont know anyone in prison and their views are distorted. The media only covers big cases that portray criminals as “heartless” or shows criminals that have blatantly done wrong and should go to prison. But, no one recognizes the biggest question being that these people in prison didn’t live the life us on the outside viewing in did.Many people in prison have an elementary reading level, no family support, no guidance and never had opportunities to succeed. Many in prison have serious mental illness that have never been properly addressed. Instead of being sympathetic to these people we judge on the outside. Until I interned at a law firm over the summer, I never had much knowledge about the prison system or people with records. There needs to be more integration and knowledge for citizens. Citizens don’t know about prisons, and prisoners never knew how to be a good citizen from early on in many cases.

  9. The prison system in America is a completely separate part of society, reserved for the violent and untrustworthy members of our community.

    Or at least that is the public perception, with the majority of American society uninformed about prisons and content with continuing to know little. After watching the documentary and reading the texts, there is a great deal of information about prisons that sheds light on potential avenues for reform, both within the prison and ways to keep those that are prone to incarceration out. For example, prisons are overcrowded, plagued with untreated mental illness, and barely focus on the rehabilitation process. Looking further into the root of these issues, the overcrowding can be attributed to unfair drug laws and mandatory minimums, mental illness stems from solitary confinement and the prison culture, and the rehabilitation process is failing due to insufficient funding and an ‘industrial prison complex’ fueled by the need to keep prisoners locked away. With all of these issues, the ultimate question, then, is why the public has done little to address the prison system and in what ways does public ignorance play a factor in this issue? I believe that citizens are content with the way prisons are operated because they are completely removed from the process. Despite there being thousands of prisons throughout the country, most Americans will never see one. Additionally, I think that the ‘content’ part of society is the wealthier part, which statistically has much less of a chance of going to prison than the impoverished parts of America. While there may have been a fear aspect of prisons in the beginning, now prisons lock up people from the smallest of drug charges to the largest of murders. The huge breadth of potential reasons for incarceration has created a stigma in American society that everyone who goes to prison is evil, and that it is better for anyone who has these issues to be locked away versus treated. Even in the media, the sensationalism surrounding the smallest of crimes furthers this issue. However, prisons are supposed to be an avenue of rehabilitation, and until the public perception of incarceration changes, little will change.

  10. I think the main reason that citizens are content with the American prison system is because of ignorance to what is actually going on. Knowledge of the workings of the prison system is not typically a part of an American students curriculum in elementary, middle, or high school, and is also not a part of college education unless a student enrolls in a course similar to this one. This means that American’s perception of the prison system is shaped by the media and by the entertainment industry. This causes many Americans to misunderstand what the American prison system is like unless they have worked in the prison system, or have been in prison themselves. The media and also TV shows/movies portray all prisoners to be evil people who have committed horrific crimes, yet people are quite often in prisons for non-violent and relatively tame crimes when compared to some crimes like murder. One step that can be taken to decrease the ignorance of Americans to the prison system would be to educate Americans in the school system about how the prison system works. Another step is for the media to limit its sensationalism when covering topics related to crime and the prison system so the American public does not think that the only people who are in prisons are violent offenders.

  11. I think the main reason why most citizens are content with the current prison system is because it doesn’t directly affect them. There is a small percentage of the population that does care about reforming the prison system, but for the most part most people choose to block out issues that either don’t impact them or that they don’t believe they can control. An individual who has experience with the prison system, whether that be because they went to prison or knows someone who went to prison, will be more inclined to care. I wouldn’t so much refer to it as general contentment with prison operations, but rather a desire for ignorance because the truth is a loaded problem that is extremely difficult to talk or think about. I’ve chosen to be passionate about the issues within the prison system and criminal justice system, and try to start up conversations with friends to inform them whenever possible. However, the conversation quickly turns depressing and the subject is changed. The truth is hard and makes people think critically about the concept of morality which is almost like thinking about the concept of infinity- it makes your head start to hurt after a while and there is no concrete conclusion to be reached.

    Media also affects the public’s general attitude towards prisons. In the United States, prison is thought of as a punishment for the lowest people in society- but why? Why isn’t it focused on rehabilitation like it should be? The media often portrays criminals as dangerous animals who deserve to be locked up and hid away from society, and for the most part I think society accepts that narrative. After the movie we watched the first day of class, my group members and I discussed how we didn’t approve of the way the inmates were being presented. We thought that videos precisely like that perpetuate the negative public perception of inmates. The media can insight fear in the public through the way that they choose to cover a news story. I think it is the media that catalyzes the fear and the people who are complacent in adopting that fear willingly.

  12. I believe that most people are generally uninformed in the way that prisons are operated and honestly do not possess a desire to learn more about prisons. As the author Angela Davis mentions, we as people do not care to think about prisons, it is more of an out of sight out of mind issue. I believe that in addition to ignorance, fear also plays a vital role in the manner in which we view prisons. Average citizens have a false perception of criminals which comes from the way our society portrays them. Society makes us believe that criminals are the lowest and most dangerous people in society and as a result we fear them and want them off of the streets regardless of their actual crime. Furthermore, even if citizens do acknowledge that prison operations clearly need to be reformed, they do not want their money to be used to benefit the criminals that they fear. They do not take into account that reforming the prison system could benefit society in the long run by preventing the continuous cycle of re-incarceration. Society refuses to see criminals as actual human beings and disregards their needs, ignoring all of the clear indications that prison reform is necessary. In addition, the way prison is perpetuated in the media certainly plays a role in all of our opinions about prison reform. As we saw in the documentary we watched in class, most of our perceptions of prison come from TV shows in which prisoners are portrayed negatively. They are shown to be poorly behaved people, undeserving of basic human decency. There needs to be more transparency to the general public of the way in which prisons operate in this country. People also need to take the step to educate themselves in order to understand what is occurring.

  13. I believe that citizens are content with the way we operate prisons because most US citizens are physically and ideologically detached from prisons.

    There seems to be a physical divide for ordinary Americans from prisons and those affected by prisons. In fact, it is unsurprising that the prison system here is not a concern of the middle-class US citizen who knows nobody who has ever been through it. Conceivably this is because it is not a problem which faces them, as they do not feel that they (or anyone they know) would ever go to prison.

    Perhaps due to this physical detachment, or out of a deeper societal ignorance, ordinary Americans are ideologically detached from the prison system. Indeed, Angela Davis depicts public perception of prison as “a fate reserved for the others”, and goes on to expose these others as the “evildoers” and “undesirables” (p.16). Thus, the answer is not just that prisons are disconnected from the public, but rather that they are distorted as a solution to genuine social issues facing America. Prison is not just an abstract concept, but a relief for US citizens, helping them to sleep better at night. Davis argues that it “relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society”. This palpable social barrier between society and prisons in America seems the clearest explanation of citizens’ contentment with the way prisons are operated.

    Nevertheless, this barrier seems to have deeper roots. The historical context of the “tough on crime” movement and its rhetoric which has fuelled US politics and culture must represent or influence public opinion*. Whilst ignorance is an easy answer, another logical explanation is certainly fear of crime. It seems unlikely to me that this mass fear is self-originating, especially when considering its absence other developed societies. Thus, it is worth considering the political and economic influencers on US public opinion about prisons, and their interests. Corporations benefitting from growth of the prison system produces donations to politicians which in turn produces more “tough on crime” legislation and the cycle continues. However, this cycle seems perpetuated by the crucial ingredient of the media, which fosters the public misconception of prisons and mass fear of crime, labelled by Bill Yousman as ‘the media-incarceration complex’.

    This article explains how this ‘complex’ warps the US public’s perception of crime, violence, and imprisonment: https://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1087&context=media_fac

    * https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1014&context=bjalp

  14. Society deems a criminal’s life is worth less than a productive citizen’s. Addicts are demeaned and vilified in the news. Criminals are slapped with a “one-size fits all” label and shipped off to prisons without a second thought.

    Emotional and mental labor are required to sympathize or empathize with criminals and some are just not up for the challenge. With refugees, orphans, the homeless, veterans with PTSD, animal cruelty, and children with terminal cancer, I think society, as a whole, is hard-pressed at times to find any emotions left for those deemed as “criminals”. If society decided to take a closer look, they would find so much more behind that criminal label. They would find an individual with hopes and fears. They my find a father, sister, brother, or son behind that label. If we actually invested in our broken citizens and systems instead of looking for an easy way out, we may find that a little hope can go a long way.

    Prison conditions are not forefront on peoples’ minds because it isn’t forefront in the news. Prisoners do not have the means to spread their messages. It is up to the individuals on the outside to increase awareness. It is up to us to shed the light on these not-so-pretty issues.

    The media’s role is also compromised due to their corporate affiliations. Things that do not fit the political, capitalistic narrative will be cast aside.

    The news is partly to blame, but we as citizens cannot diminish our role in this too. If we do not want sensationalist news, we have to stop reading it. If we don’t want click-bait articles, we cannot accept those as news. If we want an authentic narrative we have to stop buying into the basic, ignorant stories they keep selling to us. Individuals have to look beyond their own narrow-scope of life and realize that just because they, or their families, are not currently affected by conditions in prisons now, doesn’t mean they won’t be. Can we call ourselves a civilized society if we ignore the needs of an entire population of people?

  15. I believe media has almost everything to do with how we perceive the prison systems in America. The way media spins a story has the ability to effect an entire nations’ perception of the issue at hand, and the media tends to show prisoners as a menace to society who are sitting around all day eating food and watching cable, bleeding away our tax dollars. A lot of citizens also have an out of sight, out of mind approach, believing that we genuinely do give all members of society a fair trial, so once they are behind bars they must’ve done something to deserve how they are being treated. As rhetoric behind many political campaigns keeps bringing up being tough on crime as a reason to vote for a candidate, and painting those who are “weak on crime” or have introduced legislation to benefit those who have been criminally accused as poor leaders, the general perception on criminals in America continues to worsen. It is hard to justify spending money on rehabilitating criminals when you think of the many other broken systems in America, such as the education system, for many Americans. No matter how many times statistics show how rehabilitation programs help the most, and practices such as solitary confinement do nothing except ruin an individual’s mental health- it seems as if the general population of this country is content to just ignore those most at risk of being forgotten and left behind bars.

  16. I think a large part of why citizens in the US are content with the prison system is due to a combination of fear, public attitude, and ignorance. There is a widespread attitude that prisoners are violent and are viewed as ‘nobodies’ by the rest of society. Public opinion is spurred on by tv news coverage that worries more about shock value and footage and less about reporting. I thought Evie raised a good point that the news, especially TV news, hardly ever reports on the trials, sentencing, and imprisonment. I never previously thought about, but I agree that this definitely keeps the public in the dark about the prison system. I think there is also a sense of blissful ignorance shared by many Americans regarding prisoners. Many people believe that prisoners deserve the horrible experiences in prison, even though they are completely oblivious about those experiences. Both of these conditions elevate peoples fear of criminals, but this fear is not necessarily misplaced thanks to Hollywood and televisions’ extremely aggressive portrayal of criminals. Today more than ever, I would say that media is very influential on public attitude. Shows that do show some of the violence, overcrowding and oppressive culture in the prison system still tend to promote the feeling of fear for the viewer, like the documentary we watched on the first day of class. Others, like “Prison Break” or “The Shawshank Redemption”, try to glorify the prison experience which leaves the viewer with a totally skewed view of the prison system.

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