The Joys of Incarceration


Check out this chart I lifted from the Dish.

prison-population

The whole thing is kind of horrible and illustrates how much we love punishment and revenge in this country. But I want to focus mostly on the “local jails” part of the chart. Those are usually county lock-ups where, in most states, people with a year or less on their sentences go (helpful hint: if you’re ever offered a year in jail or a year-and-a-day in state prison, take the extra day. You’ll be treated way better), and where people awaiting trial are warehoused. All the people on this chart are important (and don’t forget each number is, in fact a person), but it’s the people who are awaiting trial who got my attention.

These people outnumber the others (actual convicts), in the local jails by a two-to-one margin. These are people who are being held for trial; usually because they can’t afford bail (a problem I’ve written about before). They are, under the law, not guilty of whatever crime they are being accused of. But here they are, being treated basically the same as people who have been convicted. They suffer the same punishments doled-out by local law enforcement types like Maricopa County’s own Sheriff Joe, who brags about feeding his inmates on less than a dollar a day, and makes male inmates wear pink underwear. He, and others like him, do this as part of a “tough on crime” stance, but why are he and his kind being tough on people who are merely charged with a crime?

Now it is worth noting that people have a right to a speedy trial, and as such, shouldn’t be in a jail, even without bail, for more than a few weeks before they are tried. The problem with this is that defense attorneys will often convince their clients, correctly, that waiving their right to a speedy trial is smart. It gives the defense more time to prepare, gives the prosecution more motivation for a plea bargain, and generally makes everyone better off. Unless, of course, you’re in jail during this time. You might waive your rights for a couple of years, and while it increases the chance of you doing less time, or even no time, down the line, getting to that point is a major bitch.

But as with virtually all criminal justice issues, this one won’t be fixed by our lawmakers. It will take the courts to eventually step in and change the rules regarding these sorts of things. Our lawmakers are elected, and pretty much no-one ever gets elected by taking a stance their opponent will paint as “soft on crime”. In the meantime, I guess the best we can do is continue to make people aware of the problem. So consider yourself more aware.

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