Caged Up: Rethinking Crime & Punishment
Guest Post by Robyn Short, goodmedia press publisher
The United States is often referred to as “the leader of the free world.” This great nation is known as the “home of the free and the brave,” and yet, the U.S. imprisons more of its own people than any other nation in the world. The United States comprises less than five percent of the world’s population, but almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners1. For every 100,000 Americans there are 743 individuals incarcerated. For perspective, our British friends’ incarceration ratio is 154:100,000.2 Most recent data show that we currently have 2.3 million people locked up in cages in the United States.3 And, if all of this is not disturbing enough, the Innocence Project estimates that two to five percent of the people in prison are actually innocent of the crime for which they are convicted. This may sound like a small enough number, but when you calculate two to five percent of 2.3 million people, we are talking about 50,000 to 125,000 human beings — innocent men and women living in six by 10 cages for decades and often for life.
So, what exactly is a human cage? In his forthcoming book, The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisons co-authored with Dr. Betty Gilmore, Nanon Williams, who is currently serving his 21st year of a life sentence for a murder he did not commit when he was 17, describes it as a stifling hot, 60 square-feet concrete box so far removed from humanity that the concept of “absolute nothingness” seems to take on its own living, breathing existence. Williams is describing solitary confinement, a “housing status” prison officials use for both convenience and punishment. And there is the extreme opposite — the dormitories. Prison dormitories are human warehouses where hundreds of men are housed on three-tiered bunk beds all lined up in neat little rows that more closely resemble a WWII concentration camp than a college dormitory (which is what the word brings to mind). The middle of the road cage is a six by 10 enclosure where two grown men live out their days. Imagine being innocent of the crime for which you are accused and convicted and living in a room smaller than most American bathrooms with a convicted felon for your entire life. This is where the 50,000 to 125,000 innocent Americans live … for decades.
For reasons far too complex for this article, the United States has steadily been caging up more and more Americans and seemingly throwing away the keys. Our judicial system is far too quick to incarcerate and painstakingly slow to parole and release, much less overturn wrongful convictions. A nation who leads the entire world in incarceration has no ability to call itself “the leader of the free world.” As Americans, we must either rethink our national identity, or rethink crime and punishment.
1Liptak, A. (2008, April 23). U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations. New York Times.
Retrieved March 21, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
2 WebCite query result. (2011, March 24). WebCite Query Result. Retrieved March 21, 2013, from http://www.webcitation.org/5xRCN8YmR
3 NAACP (Fact Sheet). (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2013, from NAACP website: http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
Robyn Short is the author of Prayers for Peace and is the founder of goodmedia press and goodmedia communications. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and will graduate with
a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University in 2014.