Politics

How We Treat Our Prisoners

Between 10 p.m. and midnight Pacific time last July 4, I was interviewed by George Noory on his “Coast to Coast” national radio program about the criminal justice system.  During the interview, we discussed the failed policy of Drug Prohibition; the inappropriateness of people having to have money to make bail pending trial if other reasonable alternatives are available; Community Courts for the homeless, veterans, drug addicted and more.  Thereafter, I received letters from four inmates incarcerated in various places around the country.  Three of those letters argued that they had been falsely convicted, and one of those I forwarded to the FBI for possible investigation because the letter purportedly enclosed a sworn declaration from the principal witness against him that recanted that testimony.  But I also responded to three of the four asking if they would agree to help me write a magazine article about what life in prison is like.  Why?  Because I think we all should know.  And if their treatment is inhumane, or below certain standards of decency, health, nutrition and safety, we should, as citizens of our great country, work to improve those conditions.

Of course, prisons should not be “country clubs,” but even if that were to be the case for low-risk prisoners, they would all still fully realize that they have been deprived of their liberty.  Of course, now many people are focusing hard upon the recent jail death of Jeffrey Epstein, and if there was foul play, we certainly want it exposed and those involved held responsible.  But to me, it doesn’t matter if we have “Bill Cosby” in our custody or “Jack the Ripper,” reasonable efforts should be made to keep all people in our custody safe and at a reasonable standard of health.  In fact, I still haven’t gotten over the brutal killing of James “Whitey” Bulger, who was an 89-year-old gangster from Boston who was killed within hours of being released into the general prison population in a West Virginia federal prison well known for being one of the most violent prisons in the country.  Bulger was bludgeoned to death with a sock that contained a metal padlock – or, as is said in prison, “He died of natural causes.”  Fyodor Dostoyevsky once famously said that “you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.”  So how will we be judged?  Join me in helping that judgment to come out as being humane.

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