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“Being tough on crime and tough on criminals is not the same thing…”

Just came across this article on Policy Mic featuring a short animated video about mass incarceration in the United States. Vloggers Hank and John Greene worked with visual.ly and The Prison Policy Initiative to create the video. The vlogging brothers write in the description of the video on YouTube,

It wasn’t easy to pick this topic, but I believe that America’s 40-year policy of mass incarceration is deeply unethical, not very effective, and promotes the security of the few at the expense of the many.

It’s hard for me, as a person who was born into privilege, to imagine the challenges convicted criminals face, often for crimes that are utterly non-violent.

If you’re feeling like you want to do something about this, I’m mostly just making this video as an informational resource and to encourage people to think of felons not as bad, scary people but just as people.

The people at The Prison Policy Initiative were very helpful in the creation of this video and if you want to learn more about their work and how to get involved go to http://www.prisonpolicy.org

To be sure, the video does not cover all aspects of the conversation–there is not mention or discussion of how race and class factor into the conversation (e.g. how there is an insanely disproportionate amount of young, lower or working-class Black men in the prison system), but the video is engaging, offers a number of jarring facts, and will hopefully spur some conversation, raise awareness, and prompt people to want to learn more about the injustices of the prison system in the U.S.

Letters from Death Row

Many of my posts in the past have revolved largely around the foster care system, however, just tonight, I came across an interesting article on Gawker, “Letters From Death Row: Ray Jasper, Texas Inmate 999341“.  As it is said in the article, every year, Hamilton Nolan sends a letter to each person on death row set to be executed in the upcoming year.  The above linked letter is the first reply.  I don’t pretend to be able to add anything meaningful to Mr. Jasper’s response.  It is beautiful and poetic.  I also don’t plan to take a stance on the death penalty.  However, I do think that there are many, MANY important conversations that need to be happening that are not happening.  May I also recommend another book to follow your reading of Mr. Jasper’s letter: Autobiography of an Execution.  Learning more about the Death Penalty, setting aside even the question of guilt or innocence and instead engaging in a conversation about justice is something we cannot avoid in the new year, or any year.  It’s one I most certainly look forward to having.

Three Strikes Laws and the Danger of a Single Story

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on the danger of a single story (video below). It seems to me that the biggest danger of a single story is that the story isn’t factually incorrect; in fact, there is probably evidence to support it rather than evidence against it. And that’s the danger. You have one small piece of the truth, so small as to be, potentially, completely misleading. You may be in possession of a single outlier, of the exception that proves the rule. It’s true. And yet. It’s also not.

So when I saw this video on the making of the Three Strikes laws in California and various other states, it seemed like an excellent example of the Single Story Fallacy. Any particular crime could not have happened if the individual who committed it had been already locked up (or incapacitated due to disease, accident, freak attack by a rabid raccoon). That’s a single truth, about a single story, about a single crime. So a logical response to that single story might be to incarcerate or otherwise incapacitate anyone who may ever potentially commit a crime.

But the problem is that the single story exists among many, many other stories. Infinitely many stories, perhaps. And one story out of infinitely many is, mathematically, insignificantly small. There are the sad stories about lives that are disrupted, even destroyed when a person is cut off from family, community. And there are the happy stories about people who broke the law but then went on to lead happy, ethical lives for all sorts of reasons. Why not pursue those stories?


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