Friday, July 31, 2015

Reason #472 why prison should be last resort

An article in The Guardian talks about how feminine hygiene products are doled out to female inmates.
...each cell, which houses two female inmates, receives five pads per week to split. I’m not sure what they expect us to do with the fifth but this comes out to 10 total for each woman, allowing for only one change a day in an average five-day monthly cycle.
Women, and men who pay attention, will see the problem in this.
Inmates in Michigan filed suit last December alleging that pads and tampons are so scarce that their civil rights have been violated.
Why so scarce?
The reasons for keeping supplies for women in prison limited are not purely financial. Even though keeping inmates clean would seem to be in the prison’s self-interest, prisons control their wards by keeping sanitation just out of reach. Stains on clothes seep into self-esteem and serve as an indelible reminder of one’s powerlessness in prison. Asking for something you need crystallizes the power differential between inmates and guards; the officer can either meet your need or he can refuse you, and there’s little you can do to influence his choice. 
Prison puts inmates at the mercy of correctional officers.
To ask a macho guard for a tampon is humiliating. But it’s more than that: it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that, ultimately, the prison controls your cleanliness, your health and your feelings of self-esteem. The request is even more difficult to make when a guard complains that his tax dollars shouldn’t have to pay for your supplies. You want to explain to him that he wouldn’t have a paycheck to shed those taxes in the first place if prison staff weren’t needed to do things like feeding inmates and handing out sanitary supplies – but you say nothing because you want that maxi pad. 
In the United States, there are 2.2 million people in prisons, under the thumb of correctional officers. People who become correctional officers are not inherently bad but giving them such intimate power over others leads to broad opportunities for abuse of power.

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment showed us how easily and quickly that abuse of power can develop. The experiment tried to answer a couple of questions.
What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?
Briefly, the experiment assigned some students the role of  prison guard and some the role of prisoner, put them all in an improvised prison setting. Over the time of the experiment, it became clear that bad things were happening.
We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation -- a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the "good" guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. 
The experiment, planned to run for two weeks, was called off on the sixth day.
I ended the study prematurely for two reasons. First, we had learned through videotapes that the guards were escalating their abuse of prisoners in the middle of the night when they thought no researchers were watching and the experiment was "off." Their boredom had driven them to ever more pornographic and degrading abuse of the prisoners.
Six days.

What happens to people incarcerated for years or decades?

What happens to people who work as prison guards for years or decades?

As I said before:
We have a moral imperative to consider--and thoughtfully reject--a long list of alternatives before we put someone in prison.
That goes for prisoners and correctional officers.

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