America’s True Shame

I don’t often agree with Ezra Klein, but he hits this one out of the park:

Criminals aren’t sent to prison so they can learn to live outside of prison; they’re sent to prison to get what they deserve. And that paves the way for the acceptance of all manners of brutal abuses. It’s not that we condone prison rape per se, but it doesn’t exactly concern us, and occasionally, as in the comments made by Lockyer, we take a perverse satisfaction in its existence.

Morally, our tacit acceptance of violence within prisons is grotesque. But it’s also counterproductive. Research by economists Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen suggests that violent prisons make prisoners more violent after they leave. When your choice is between the trauma of hardening yourself so no one will touch you or the trauma of prostituting yourself so you’re protected from attack, either path leads away from rehabilitation and psychological adjustment.

I think that we have a lot too many people in prison, but that aside, with the possible exception of rapists (for whom it might be an appropriate eye-for-eye punishment) no one should have to fear being raped in prison. I think that it’s shameful that our society tolerates this. If we want to be explicit and openly declare that we are sentencing drug offenders and others to be raped, then we should do that, but if not, then we should put an end to it. I accept no excuses from the penal community. If they didn’t want it to happen, they could stop it.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time someone has pointed this out, and sadly, it won’t be the last, either. I see no groundswell of support to do anything about it.