Purpose Of Prisons Essay

These modern developments have also interacted, unpredictably, with older legal structures, such as the bail system, whose history stretches back nearly a thousand years.

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The historical record suggests that short-term political expedience, rather than any definite long-term goal, has often been the source of harsher laws.

Though many people profit directly or indirectly from mass incarceration, prominent public figures have not defended it on principle in the way that politicians like George Wallace defended segregation.

But ’s contributors tell us that life in American prison is ugly, violent, and monotonous.

Above all, it is unfair: prisoners are dealt with capriciously, and the stigma and injury of imprisonment does not end with their eventual release. Hartman notes of California, “In my state, an admittedly extreme example, on any given day about half the prison population are parole violators, a majority of whom have broken no law, but rather violated one of the vast web of confusing and devious tripwire rules they must navigate on the other side of the fences.” Some of the anthology’s most poignant essays describe the harm that incarceration does to families: Linda Field and Andrew R. both write movingly about trying to maintain ties with their young children while serving long sentences.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent, much-discussed article “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” connects the phenomenon to the legacy of centuries of racial injustice and discrimination in America.

Many, including Coates and Alexander, argue that racism has been the primary rationale as well as the historical cause for mass incarceration, and in important respects this is undoubtedly true.

Still, unlike Jim Crow, racial supremacism has not been an overt rationale for increased imprisonment, and in the past fifty years the American prison population has swelled across all racial and ethnic groups.

Critics like Alexander and Coates argue that, from a moral point of view, the overt justification scarcely matters: the effects fall disproportionately upon African Americans, thus making mass incarceration, matter when it comes to the practical political possibilities of dismantling mass incarceration.

In short, the United States, unlike the totalitarian countries to which it is sometimes compared, has imprisoned millions without any clearly defined ideology or social goal.

Not everyone would agree with the above assessment.

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