Early Thursday morning (October 3rd), after waking up and having a nice breakfast at the Truebloods' house, a speaker named Laura Magnani came to educate our class on the brutality in and around our country's prison systems.
The start to our discussion concerning these issues began after filling out a questionnaire regarding how many people we believe to be in Californian prisons and whether or not there have been laws set in place to help change the system we now have. Once finishing the questionnaire, Lauren supplied us with accurate statistics stating there are currently around 80,000 people being held in long term isolation nationwide and over 14,000 of the inmates in long term isolation are in California. Lauren also explained how in the past thirty years, incarceration levels have sextupled, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has recently required California to reduce its prison population by 35- 40,000 by the end of this year (2013). After learning this, I began to wonder: if over 35,000 people can be dropped out of the system on a whim, why are so many people in the prisons if there are is no need for them to be? I concluded that there is little if any need for so many individuals to be kept in a cage for our safety, and that prisoners are really a form of currency, which is explained by the entire mean of privately owned prisons. For example, privately owned prisons are constantly receiving tax money for providing space for criminals to reside, but also from states violating their contracts with the prisons, which state that that particular prison must be fully occupied by “residents” (prisoners), and if not the government is to pay them for the empty rooms. This then in return causes cops to feel pressured by the government to pick more people off the streets and charge them with silly things that add up and soon leads them to court, where there too a judge may be feeling inclined to resort to a longer prison sentencing than needed so the organization writing his or her paycheck comes from (the government) will be pleased by the judges action of helping to prevent more money going out the door in the long term. Resulting with around 35,000 people charged to serve too long of a sentencing in bars for their minor offence.
Throughout this workshop, we also discussed how ironic it is that while the funding for prisons has increased, the funding for higher education has decreased. I find this rather humorous that the one system set in place to help all individuals improve their lives so that they won’t have to resort to working on the streets and taking part in illegal activities to obtain enough money to sustain life is becoming harder to afford, as well as receiving less funding from the government to help improve it. I believe if the government were to care more for the welfare of individuals in our country rather than simply hoping to obtaining more wealth, it would become very apparent that if more money would be spent toward improving education systems, the affect would trickle down into improving all walks of life and leave our country with a lesser need for providing prisons with money to help support the lives of so many unnecessary prisoners.
Overall, I really enjoyed this workshop lead by Laura. I appreciated learning about the reasons for our current prisons from her point of view, rather than the position traditionally taught in classrooms saying how wonderful everything is since all criminals are located in one central area away from law abiding citizens.
Additional facts discussed during our workshop:
Alcohol is the number one cause of deaths yet we still focus on the little things that aren’t legal and lock people up for whatever it may be
There currently aren’t systems set in place to help inmates being released adapt to the real world so they don’t pick up old habits that are familiar to them again
Many prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for days, weeks, months and years at a time with little to no interaction with people
Recently, there has been a number of hunger strikes for simple things like hats in the winter, calendars with pictures, as well as larger issues such as being locked up in solitary confinement for gang affiliation
Books and movies recommended:
Beyond Prisons (book)
Brew Baker (movie)