Patricia is someone whose life is centered around family. Each day is one more opportunity to show my loved ones how much they mean to me.
Aside from a very few cases I never thought much about prisoners. How naive I was. How trusting in police officers and our overall justice system I was. I believed our laws and those who mete out "justice" are intended to protect us and to insure that offenders were punished.
Perhaps, most importantly, I believed that the punishment fit the crime.
Unless you have a friend, family member, or have had your life affected by someone who is behind bars, you may be like I was, not paying a whole lot of attention to this issue.
A Word About Police
I may have touched a nerve with some when mentioning police officers. Do not mistake the reference to police officers above as a blanket statement on ALL of them. Just as with any profession, there are those who are in law enforcement who abuse the power that is entrusted to them. I want to believe that most really are trying to ensure our safety.
My heart has ached as I have seen the wholesale attack on police officers...so many of them have lost their lives within the last year.
(I have learned that those who are confronted by police need to not say anything when being arrested without an attorney present. Period, End of discussion. )
Where Is Justice?
Backing up a bit ask the questions:
How does someone become a prisoner? How does life lead someone to commit an offense that may cause incarceration?
Today I do not answer those questions as I might have last year. I see across our country unbridled law-breaking that is going unchecked. It is as if it has become the new normal to rob and steal and physically assault others and nothing happens. It has become acceptable in some states for that to occur.
And, excuses for horrid offenses such as murder are becoming accepted!!!
That horrifies me. Just as seeing businesses looted and in some cases set ablaze and again, no consequences.
Many prisoners who committed rapes and murders have been released in recent months (without having served even a minimum amount of their sentence). While others are being sent to prison for extreme amounts of time for offenses that do not warrant such sentences.
Make that make sense.
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Too Many in Prison
According to worldatlas.com, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country, In the U.S, there are over two million people behind bars (which includes jails, prisons, and detention centers) as this is being written. The number of prisoners in the U.S. is 25% of all prisoners in the whole world despite the fact that U.S. population is only 5% of the global population.
Let that sink in a bit.
I had no idea. I guess I was living life behind blinders.
Some Florida Statistics
The Florida Department of Corrections has 143 facilities statewide including:
- 50 correctional institutions
- 7 private partner facilities
- 16 annexes
- 33 work camps
- 3 re-entry centers
- 12 Florida Department of Corrections work release centers
- 18 private work release centers
- 2 road prisons
- 1 forestry camp
- 1 basic training camp
This information is according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
At the risk of being redundant, these statistics are for Florida only. Do the research
on your home state. The numbers are staggering.
According to the FDC, Florida has the third largest system in the United States and a budget of almost 3 billion dollars.There are approximately 80,000 incarcerated and 145,000 on probation (active community supervision).
The Florida Department of Corrections is the largest state agency in the state. Many individuals are needed to oversee those who are imprisoned.
*These numbers vary according to which source that is referenced. For example, according to prisonpolicy.org the number of Florida residents in jail or under criminal justice supervision is 391,000. There is a wide variation in numbers depending on the source.
Research the state in which you reside to explore data for your state.
Suffice it to say, in my opinion, there are far too many behind bars.
Too Many Questions
Why all of this rambling about numbers incarcerated? Who cares?
And that is my point. Who does care?
Perhaps some better questions might be:
- Are we safer because all of these humans are off the street?
- What crimes are serious enough to require jail/prison?
- What programs will be offered while they are imprisoned to enable them to transition back into society?
- How can we prevent recidivism?
- When will the way justice is meted out become real and true for all citizens?
For example: A young woman was jailed for possession of a very small amount of marijuana (not enough to be used for distribution). She was diabetic. She was not given her medication. Over a period of 3 days, her condition declined. Other prisoners called for help for her but their cries fell on deaf ears. On the third day, she died. She was 34 years of age. She left behind two very young children.
For purposes of comparison:
Wichita has a population of 389,965 in 2021 according to worldpopulationreview.org So that is the number, give or take a few humans, that is within walls of Florida prisons or under criminal justice supervision according to one source.
Seeing the number in this way may make it seem easier to grasp. That is a large city of human beings having been found guilty of some crime.
Some may say, "And, your point is?? They are criminals; that is why we have jails and prisons."
That is true but all crimes are not worthy of crazy long sentences.
And, what is being done to ready those who will be released back in to society?
Not your problem? It does become your problem, my problem when those who are released reoffend because they can find no place for themselves in society.
Billions are being spent to house all of these people who may have made a really bad choice, once, and now are either sequestered away for endless years or who return to society with no support of any kind.
Johnny Sings the Blues
Crime and Punishment
Criminals who commit the most egregious of offenses should receive harsh sentences. And, in my opinion, some should remain in prison for the duration of whatever years remaining for those prisoners.
But consider those on death row. Now, that is another bone of contention. We all know that there are those sitting on death row today who are not guilty. We know that because we have seen individuals walk out of prison because of diligent efforts by groups such as the Innocence Project.
There are those who are guilty and are on death row, been there for decades, and have made a difference behind bars. Those cases should be carefully scrutinized and some should receive life rather than death. If it is found they are truly making life better for others, then it seems to me death is not the answer.
Karla Faye Tucker is an example. In an article I wrote about her, her life is summarized and her act cited. She was given the death penalty.
Karla Faye Tucker
Karla Faye Tucker is an example. In an article I wrote about her on HubPages, I summarized her life. She was given the death penalty.
Her story and the change that occurred in her life while in prison is portrayed in a movie, Forevermore, which can be found on youtube. A clip is shown on this page.
Reading her story changed my view on the death penalty. Forever.
The sheriff involved with her case, spoke after she was put to death. His remarks went something like this: I don't know who that was we put to death but it isn't the same person who came in here (convicted of a horrific crime).
One solution, in my humble opinion, is to carefully consider penalties.
According to state attorney's office statewide penalties were established for crimes in 1983. When offenders come through the justice system, the crime is found in the book of punishments, for lack of a better expression, and the penalty is assigned.
Revising such penalties will take time but the effect could turn the penal system on its head. Perhaps no other 34 year old Mom will die in prison for a minor offense (in my opinion).
Another solution could be to look at, case by case, those incarcerated and revisit their sentence if new parameters are set for the offense. Then release those who pose no real threat to others.
Yet another solution which would be tied to the one just above is to provide training in skills that will allow offenders to have some knowledge to offer when returning to society. Expand GED programs so that a high school diploma does not become a reason someone cannot find work.
Now I realize that in today's world, many do not even want to work and I am not speaking of those who are in prison. Every where we go there are signs that say 'help wanted.' And an abundance of signs which say 'sorry, for the slow service; please be patient; we are understaffed.'
But given that HOPEFULLY those being released from jail/prison will welcome work and try to establish a life line that will deter return to incarceration.
What Happens After You Are Free From Bars
Ok. Before you get tight-jawed and begin to scream at your laptop, just know that I do realize that some of those who are incarcerated are behind bars for egregious offenses and should remain there forever. Likewise, there are those who should be released and returned to society.
- When returning to society what option for future success do those who are released expect?
- What skills have they gained?
- Who will employ someone who was labeled a felon?
Admittedly, there are some who will employ a felon but often requisite skills are expected. Often, those skills are lacking and the opportunity to gain skills is not available behind bars.
Rethink How Incarceration Works
We should all care. For many reasons not the least of which is that so many minds are wasted. Locked away, rotting from boredom, learning to hate. (or refining hate even more). What a difference so many who are behind bars might make if given a chance to turn their lives around. Who knows what brilliant minds who have made mistakes are behind bars?
Understand that I am not speaking of criminals who have murdered or raped. I have read too many cases where such individuals being released have gone on to repeat their crimes.
Rethinking institutionalizing thousands of human beings may be a way to stem the tide. I do not mean to imply this will be a quick process or that it will be easy but again, in my humble opinion, change needs to happen.
One last reason we should care is that billions of dollars are spend each year to house all of these human beings. Those dollars could better be spent another way. Rather than another new prison, channel the dollars into training and education for those who are behind bars or for those who show signs of being predisposed to making poor choices.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Patricia Scott