Joe discusses the direction of the American prison system. “The system has drifted from its roots. A lot of people are being locked up that are not a threat to society.”
Well, the traditional role of prisons in society before there was this explosion in the prison-industrial complex was to keep people that were predators off the streets.
People that were serial bank robbers, serial rapists, serial murderers. And also to punish people severely enough to check the worst impulses of humankind.
I think that the prisons, as one who’s lived within it, I can’t help but have ideas about it. As one who’s read a lot of books about incarceration, theology, and the explosion of incarceration in the United States, I feel that we’ve — that the system has drifted from its roots. It’s no longer — a lot of people are being locked up who are not threats to society.
I mean, in my experience about, I would guess, over half the men that are in prison yards are just regular guys. They’re not morally superior, or inferior to the man on the street. And I know that’s a very provocative thing to say, but from the inside looking at these — I mean, some of the BBC guys were definitely morally inferior to the average guy at prison.
At least those guys were as they existed in the early 1980s. I mean some of the guys that I was running with there, on reflection, they did not have a conscience. They were not sufficiently concerned about the well-being of other people. They were cavalier about other people’s feelings and property and rights and dignity.
I won’t go into specific stories or names but we were not a bunch of decent and upstanding people as they tend to try to portray themselves on the stand.
The incarceration in the United States is like 5 or 6 times that of the rest of the free world. So why is that going on? Why are so many people either in jail, in prison, or on probation? Is it really necessary to have a functioning society to have that many people locked up? And the cost is just massive.
There’s so much wreckage, where guys that could be out on the street having a job and a relationship with their family are in here and the taxpayers spending $60,000 a year for their upkeep in perpetuity. I just don’t think the balance is being set properly.
I think that Governor Brown is addressing that for reasons that run parallel to some of the points that I’ve been making and for other reasons. He’s a profoundly learned expositor of changing the relationship between prison and society. So it seems pretty obvious not just to me but to a growing movement of people that the balance should be a given.