Once again Solitary Watch has posted another very powerful and disturbing piece, this one about an aging and dying population in prison.
Although I more frequently write about the fate of young offenders locked up in our nation’s jail, I was deeply moved by the article and wanted to call attention to it. Lately I’ve been more and more aware that the fate of all the children and young people that the criminal justice system consigns to living behind bars will, if changes are not made in how we treat juvenile offenders, lead to the same fate facing the men and women talked about in this article, “The Other Death Sentence.”
In my own experience teaching in a county prison I would see old men–stooped, hollowed out by disease and hard living, some shuffling along barely able to walk, some using aluminum walkers–and wonder, “What did you do to get yourself in here?” My incredulity was often shared by others. I’d overhear correctional officers and other inmates greeting these old men respectfully as “papi,” or “pops,” commenting to them that they should be home with their grandchildren. There was never any contempt in those remarks, just real sadness and pity at these men’s lives. Even the kids I taught would talk about how they needed to get their lives together so they didn’t end up like those “old timers.”
So as Americans insist on “tough” criminal laws and harsher sentences as a solution to our crime problems, our prisons will continue to fill up with men and women, growing old, getting sick and dying. Even if one isn’t moved by humanitarian concerns for this population, the economic ramifications should be bleak enough to make us all stop and reexamine the best way to prevent crime.