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.