Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Texas Behind Bars: An Unlearned Lesson

Today in my philosophy class, our discussion involved the cases against whether or not a human being possesses free will. Scientifically, there is very little room for free will, considering that our brains function off of neurological electric stimulations. Many would, with a Deterministic point of view, say that this relieves a person of their moral responsibilities- a scary issue for many people to ponder. I think it safe to generalize that most would take a different stand, one that requires responsibility, but does not place the blame solely on the suspect. For example, blame could fall to poor childhood discipline, bad parenting, extreme living conditions, genetic tendencies towards violence (which leads to socially defined crimes), etc.

The problem is, Texas doesn’t seem to care too much about solving the issues leading to crime; most people would rather send a convict back to prison for a repeated offense or a witness to a murder to death row on our “Law of Parties” case. Where do we draw the line between personal responsibility and community responsibility? Should a person be blamed for a lack of opportunity in life? Should they be condemned to life in prison or given a second chance to prove themselves productive in society? After all, productivity and efficiency is what American society’s main concern is, not necessarily the value of human life.

My mother just served 6 days as a juror for the State v. Harvey carjacking case. Harvey, who has been arrested for more that 10 prior offenses in other counties, carjacked a woman at gunpoint, “accidentally” shooting her in the process. While the woman is in great condition now, she suffered more than physical trauma. In another instance, Harvey kidnapped a 21 year old woman, forcing her to drive him to Austin and then asked for a hug when she dropped him off. My mom struggled every day of the trial trying to decide if she thought sending the 29 year old to prison for life would change anything. The fact is it wouldn’t. What decision was my mother forced with? To either let a man who shot a woman be released from custody or send him to an institution that will most likely break him, rebuild him in a more detrimental way, and on top of everything, teach him how to be a better criminal.

Both my aunt and uncle were in prison when I was a child on drug charges. They both got out after 3 years. Do you think they learned their lesson while in there? Absolutely not; they were both convicted on the same charges within a year of being released on bail.

The problems I see with our correctional institutions are these:

The State of Texas, as of 2003, has 51 prisons, 17 state jails, and 15 transfer facilities. There are only 4 psychiatric/mentally retarded facilities and 2 medical. Combined, that’s less than the 9 punishment facilities our state has for substance abuse felonies.

Once a person obtains a criminal record (mind you, our "justice" system isn't pure), their earning power is removed. What do we expect to happen then? They get a boost of morale and think, "Oh, well Welfare will save me." No. They will probably be more inclined to do what that can to make a living- even if it means breaking the law again.

“Texas today spends nearly $2.5 billion dollars each year to operate the state's correctional system,” (Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice). The rate of incarceration in TX has increased 100% since 1998. If our state can afford to have the largest rate of incarcerated citizens (10% more than our national rating and more than every other state), along with the largest amount of correctional spending, I think we should be able to throw a few bones in the direction of assisting the problems at the base of the issues.
For example, the Education Reform Bill that TX Senate passed last year allowed an extra 4 cents tax that went directly to school funds, with an additional 2 cents enrichment expected in 2009. How generous. Additionally, in 2006, more than 3.6 million Texans were below the poverty line. That’s about 17% of our population in poverty, not including the homeless population. While TX is doing a good job of reducing this number, less than $700 dollars per capita is spent on programs to aid the impoverished by the state/local budget.

I believe that many issues, mainly poverty and education, are keys to the crime problem in our state. I think that instead of prison, we need rehabilitation- both physical and mental. While I do not excuse Harvey from his responsibility as a Texas citizen to heed the laws established in our society, throwing him in jail for at least 30 years will do nothing to help him or our state other than removing him from the immediate public burden. If we do nothing to fix these problems, we will just continue in the endless cycle of throwing one guy in prison while the little 8 year old kid in the slums learns how to steal dinner for the family from the local convenience store.

We need to crack down on the real issue here. Give people an opportunity to succeed, and they’ll grab it, but tell them they’re destined to fail and what do you get? A menace to society: Made in Texas.


KSeago said...

Excellent and very important post.

C. Kizer said...

There are so many points Kim made regarding the causes of criminal mischief in our state that put to light the core issue of the problem. Yes, we have overcrowded jails. Yes, the quality and conditions within these correctional facilities has in the past and continues to lack. And yes, as the case is with many other institutions in our great state, there is little hope of money in the future to solve the issues of criminal punishment. But, perhaps if we spend this money in creating well rounded, concerned citizens, the overcrowding and subsequently ill state of our jail systems would fix itself.

Kim also shed light on the fact that increasing the amount of money spent on education and the development of Texans beginning when they are young is difficult. The state and its citizens cringe at the idea of raising taxes, adding an income tax or tapping into even more sources to provide vital, youth education. It is a long time saying “do it right the first time” that is the key here. If we train our youth to be good citizens, neighbors and workers, they will have no need to commit crime.

But, this is where I begin to second guess myself. Sorry to mention a television show here, but I once saw an episode of Law and Order where a young man ‘accidentally’ killed one of his close friends when they were both at a young age of 12. The father of the slain child, a psychiatrist immediately recognized signs of criminal mentality in the killer. He was able to say what he needed to in order to get out of the punishment, but clearly held no actual remorse for his wrong doings.

The post in “Deep in the Heart” speaks of the inability of state mental correctional facilities to cure those with mental dementedness and the fact that they would likely only make the problem worse. If such is the case, it is likely that the mentally deranged individual is better off in a full security jail, with no hope of being cured. This is clearly not the best alternative for the criminal, but our society cannot grow away from this sort of issues unless we remove the criminals from freedom. Perhaps removing mental institutions altogether is the best decision. That is money that can be put towards education to increase the productivity and life of the individual but not waste time and money on the incurable.

amiherrera said...

This article was interesting because I think that many people do not even think about prison's long term consequences. I definitely think that prison is not something that should be taken away, I do not think that it is useless and that no one learns from prison. Prison is not a pleasant place, and I know that many people go to prison and never want to go back, and therefore change their ways. I think the aspect of the article was a little extreme, the idea that prison's are not succesful, because a lot of the time they are, but it is very true that tons of prisoners do not learn their lesson and will continue to go to jail over and over again. I think that the most important way to solve crime is to stress education. Starting with children, education is the best way to lower crime and poverty rates, and I think that with an increase on the importance and funding of education will help these children and young adults make the right decisions. I don't think that trying to change people by sending them to a place that will try and force them to change their life instead of prison will be very helpful. I think that if anything the prison should in classes teach the prisoners about their options when they get out, a little about employment and what to do when they are released. I think that pointing out options of better choices and making the prisoners not lose hope will help. I also think that it is very important not to push them so hard because adults already have very narrow-minds compared to children, and no one wants to be told what to do. I think that prisoners should be "educated" on how to turn their life around, rather than sent to rehab facilities. Overall, I think that education starting at a young age is the best and most efficient way of changing lives.