Commentary Violence in the us Prison System

This subject has been debated to death over the years. Yes there is violence in prisons and there will always be violence in prisons. The reasons are many and varied. What really gets me are those voices who cry about the poor inmate living in substandard, squalid conditions and being treated inhumanely. Hogwash!

I have worked as a correctional officer in a men’s prison. I can personally testify that most prisons offer an inmate an environment much cleaner, more stable and at least as equally pleasant as the place he lived when he was on the street. They get the very best medical care, three nutritionally sound meals, exercise facilities, free legal advice and help, a multitude of educational opportunities with which they can better themselves and a whole host of other things that the poor on the out-side don’t have a chance to receive. There are inmates who would rather be in prison than on the streets because they live better inside than they do outside. The only difference is that they don’t have the same easy access to drugs and other black-market valuables inside. This is not to say that they don’t get them, it just means it is more difficult.

I also hear about the poor guy who is sent to prison for the first time for a relatively minor charge and spends a few months or years, then comes out a hardened criminal. One thing that is often overlooked by those who expound on this theory is that most people sentenced to prison are not “first-time” offenders. If you take a look at their backgrounds you will find that they have been in and out of trouble for most of their lives. They have been caught and released several times by a kindly judge, and “deal” with prosecutors or, a plea-bargaining agreement. By the time they are finally sent to prison, they have managed to manipulate the system several times in several different ways, yet, they continued to violate the law. When they are finally convicted and sentenced to prison, they try to manipulate it again by crying about a “harsh” sentence for the crime they committed without realizing, or facing the truth, about their past multitude of sins against the system for which they received little or no punishment whatever.

Yes, once inside they are faced with an entirely different society with its own rules of behavior that, unfortunately includes violence. However, one must realize that the violence was not grown in prison, but was brought in by the inmates them-selves. It is how they lived on the outside and what, ultimately, caused them to be where they are. It is through the hard work of the lowly paid Correctional Officer that violence is kept to the minimum. Does it sometimes get out of hand? Absolutely! When it does, it is those same Correctional Officers who wind up taking the brunt of it along with a few inmates. Most Correctional Officers work very hard to maintain a professional attitude toward inmates and not take the daily threats, insults, even assaults, personally. They go about their duties with an eye towards helping the inmate who needs it and seeks it, while controlling the inmates who cause the majority of the problems. A good Correctional Officer knows that his duty is not to punish the inmate, just to maintain his confinement.

Along with the Correctional Officers, every prison has a staff of Psychologists,  psychiatrists and and counselors that work with the inmates on a daily basis trying everything in their arsenal of knowledge to help the inmate get his/her head on straight and prepare to re-enter the outside world as a productive member of society. Unfortunately society is ill-prepared to be held up as a proper role model for a “rehabilitated” inmate. Being so close to it for most of his/her life, an ex-inmate can easily see the corruption that fills the ranks of our political and capitalistic world. They see the greed, the lack of responsibility and discipline that festers within our society and they say, “Why shouldn’t I get my share?” He/she feels like they were wrongfully punished simply because they got caught and so many others have not…yet.

The time to clean up America’s prison system is BEFORE the person becomes an inmate, not after. The inmate knows what awaits him/her when they are finally sent away. They have a saying that has been around as long as prisons have, “If you can’t do the time…don’t do the crime.” An inmate knows what awaits him/her in prison and, does the crime anyway, knowing that he has better than a fifty-fifty chance to beat the rap and hit the streets again. He/she knows the ins and outs of how to manipulate the system and does so at every turn. The American public seems to be more concerned with the rights and welfare of the criminal than with his/her victims. Let’s understand one thing, once and for all, the criminal could care less about the victim, that’s why he/she is a criminal. When they cry about being sorry for committing the crime when the judge brings the gavel down on the sentence, he is sorry alright…sorry that he was caught.

Are prisons terrible places? Yes! Should they be? Yes! Are they? NO! Should we have pity on those convicted? To a point, yes. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the person convicted is someone who had no thought, no conscience, no care about what happened to the victim of his/her crime and, if allowed to do it again, they would most certainly repeat it, albeit the second time with a better “plan” in mind that would keep him from being caught. They all believe that they are smarter, stronger, better than the system. Unfortunately, in many cases, the system allows them to prove it time and time again. Eventually the system wakes up and the person is sent to prison…just where they should be.

Does that mean that once a person goes away to prison we should brand him/her forever as an “ex-con”. Absolutely not. There are those who complete their sentence and become useful, productive, happy members of society. Once their sentence is completed, society should realize that their debt has been paid and offer them the chance to succeed. What happens then, is up to the rehabilitated former inmate. The one thing that the former inmate should always keep in the back of his/her mind, is the fear of going back to prison. That fear cannot be manifested if prison becomes anything other than the bad place it is supposed to be. Yet, in today’s world, prison is NOT, I say again, NOT the bad place that so many make it out to be. Would that the millions of homeless and poverty-stricken families had it as good as the inmates in our current prison system. Of course, the homeless don’t have to worry about overcrowding as much as the inmates, but, it is the rampant crime, the lack of real respect for our fellow man that keeps the prisons full. What is the alternative? Build more prisons? I’m sure the taxpayers would love that. Send them all back onto the streets? I’m afraid the taxpayers would find that even less likable. There are no easy answers, yet, one thing is for sure, making the prison a “happier place for the criminal will never be the answer. Prison life should be a deterrent…always.