Monday, May 30, 2011

"The Degree of Civilization in a Society Can Be Judged by Entering its Prisons"

Thus spake Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, who knew whence he spoke, a quote that comes to mind reading Steven Chapman's article — When Punishment is a Crime. Writing for, a site more known for the "law and order" brand of conservatism, he begins:
    In his magisterial book "The Gulag Archipelago," Alexander Solzhenitsyn recited in gruesome detail the mistreatment of inmates in prison camps in the Soviet Union. "As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet," he wrote. "Up to 50 sick inmates may be held together in a 12- by 20-foot cage for up to five hours awaiting treatment."

    Mentally ill convicts go untreated until they "suffer from severe hallucinations" and fall "into catatonic states." Suicidal inmates are "held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets." Some prisoners die for lack of medical care, and others kill themselves.

    Actually, those quotes are not from Solzhenitsyn. They're from the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week on California's grossly overcrowded penal system. A majority of the justices decided that when a state approaches Stalinist standards of barbarity, something has to be done.
He notes that "many of those serving time in California never had 'victims,'" with "[n]early 25,000 of them are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses -- mostly simple possession or possession for sale." Noting those "in for things like shoplifting, forgery and receiving stolen property," he calls those "crimes that ought to be punished and prevented, but not crimes that cause most of us night terrors."

He rightly says "locking up so many criminals is a false comfort," noting "that California has an unusually high rate of recidivism" and quoting a "former warden of San Quentin State Prison [who] testified that existing prison conditions 'make people worse.'"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course the suggestions given presume that the leaders of California give a rat's tail for their people other than how to extort more money from them.

If that's all they care for, then it's simpler just to release the vile blood-soaked ones, let them victimize the citizenry in a crime wave until the frightened rabbits open their wallets in supplication to the state to make this terror go away.

When those that dispense "justice" are themselves criminals, put nothing past them.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

James V. Schall said the same, not of prisons, but cemeteries. He might have been quoting someone, but I recall him saying it in a book.

1:26 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

danightman, right again.

Pints, I've heard that in Europe, funerals are even disappearing.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Western,

What are funerals being replaced by? Are they just leaving the ashes as just trash or something?

7:52 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

They probably have the option of taking the ashes home.

One wonders if the euthanasia centers and crematoria offer any package deals. They do have a lot of historical experience in such matters.

9:34 PM  

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