Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Antiquated Crime and Punishment

As time goes on we all like to imagine some progress or other, and one of the biggest segments of society we love to wave over the heads of "backwards" cultures like the Islamic theocracies popping up around the world is how we treat and define crime. Things which don't hurt other people are gradually decriminalized and punishments become less harsh. Supposedly we have moved from punishment towards rehabilitation, and we have tried to remove punishments for behaviors which hurt no one.

This is obviously all bullshit. We may not execute people for blasphemy but in the US we have used the prison system as an institutionalized club to keep separate black and latino populations from the working class. From the arrests to the courts to the harsher prison sentences, black and latino men and women are singled out by a system claiming to be built around justice.

We have criminalized free speech if it crosses a corporate copyright, or if it comes from someone with an islamic sounding name. We have criminalized drugs that non white communities tend to use and we send rich white kids to "rehabilitation" while we send poor black and latino kids to jail for the first offense. Three strike laws turn smoking pot in your own home three times equivalent to rape. Judges and juries and prosecutors overwhelmingly single out black men and women, regardless of actual guilt.

The prison system itself seems to still be built around dark ages ideals. We throw people into chaotic private prisons with abusive guards and slave labor. Pot heads and petty thieves are thrown in with hardened rapists, murderers and career criminals leaving them little choice but to become violent themselves to survive. When they do get out after long terms of isolation from society with no actual rehabilitating therapy or job training, they then must convince employers to hire them over white people with no criminal record. When this fails, they turn back to crime and end up back in the slave labor and abuse built privatizing penal system.

Most states in fact still have executions. State sanctioned murder still exists in the US, even as we mock the third world for barbarism. We have made distributing a copy of a work over a century old a crime that can land you in the same prisons as the violent criminals, let loose in the jungle of gangs and abusive guards. We execute mentally ill and damaged individuals for crimes they didn't even know they committed. We still electrocute people, a punishment which sometimes results in death after minutes of screaming agony. We as a people know the numbers, the facts about racial makeup and the criminalization of actions which hurt no one, but we ignore and allow it because it only affects "others," that is non whites. A rich lawyer in California can run over and kill a man and never be charged, while an inner city high school student can be sent to jail for a decade for being caught with marijuana.

The entire prison system shifts towards longer sentences for increasingly harmless "crimes" under the watch of for-profit corporations using the inmate populations as slaves while barely caring for them. Approaching two centuries out from the end of slaver in the US we have found a way to bring it back. Nothing is more important than the profits of the gentry.

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