America has become a place, Cameron Conaway writes, where we punish thoughtlessly and don’t think thoughtfully.
Although the religious right rightfully takes the majority of the criticism when rational people discuss the prison system, the criticism should be spread across all sides of the political divide. Taxes should be raised, but our current political system and the preponderance of conservatives means a politician can’t even talk about it or else they won’t be elected. Same goes for mandatory sex education rather than this abstinence-only nonsense. Same goes for religion—it should not be a political issue, but it is, and a politician who claims he or she is an atheist or agnostic is unlikely to be elected, compared to someone who embraces the make-believe. And punished-only prisoners should not be, yet politicians can’t even talk about the prison system without talking about “getting tough” because this surface-layer instinctual emotion appeals to the large base of conservative and surface-thinking Americans—those who don’t read, or, if they do, don’t actually think about what they’ve read, those who have already had enough of this article and will read no more, or those who are outraged and are ready to troll the comment section. Yes, I will work to feed the hungry. No, I will not feed the trolls.
::Chants of “elitist liberal” echo in the distance, grow louder by the second::
Whoever says this country is a liberal one is an ignorant fool.
Other countries laugh at America’s ineffectual healthcare and prison systems. Yet America is the old man who used to be good at soccer but is no longer, the old man who lives in the past and bores his grandchildren to sleep with the tales of it all, the old man who is scared to death to look in the mirror at the decrepit present. Is America falling behind? Yes. Falling to pieces, actually. And it has much to do with a conservative, irrational politics that kills common sense.
(1) The Numbers Game. Jake DiMare, in his article titled, “Get Out There and Make Some Babies,” effectively shows that, “Poorly educated people make lots of babies and vote for less progressive presidents.” Jake also quotes Phillip Longman, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who said: “When secular-minded Americans decide to have few, or no, children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide.” While I don’t think the answer in an already-overpopulated world is to create more babies, I do think we need to have less poorly-educated and therefore less baby-makers so that we can stop the population growth while also creating a healthier and higher ratio of critical thinkers. Part of being poorly educated means you’re likely less able to critically think about issues. Being spoon-fed information that taps into that first layer of emotional/instinctive thought and avoids the deeper, rational layer is a mighty easy way to manipulate the weak-minded. Unlike the movie 300, a numbers disadvantage matters.
(2) Mandatory Prison Discussions and Education During Junior High and Beyond. A large reason our criminal justice system is an absurd mess and a huge waste of tax dollars is because we haven’t progressed from our primal thoughts on the subject. Someone does something bad? Lock them up. No questions asked. Our entire prison system is founded on ignorant instinct rather than rational intellect. Couple this with the fact that politicians can’t even talk about it, and we’ve set ourselves up for a long-term mess. The answer is to begin talking about, educating on, and mindfully discussing this subject at a young age so that it’s not such an emotional issue when we reach adulthoods. Only when rationality replaces emotionality can we be begin to make serious changes in regard to prison reform. There are rigorous studies out there showing how different systems of incarceration and reintegration work exceptionally well compared to what we have. Until this can be talked about, we are all likely to be stuck in this cyclical hole together, forever.
(3) Money Matters & Education is Not Just to Get a Job. The United States spends roughly six times more on prisons than on education. Again, we must go beyond the surface. Sure it feels good to lock up the bad guys, but the bad guys are going to get out and, with the way our system is, they are going to get out and be far worse—no education, no skills, and treated brutally for years. Eating ice cream tastes great and is a feel-good food, but eaten in overabundance it can make us obese and unable to move. Our prison system is obese and unable to move. Conservatives often twist the ideals of our forefathers or use antiquated quotes from our forefathers to fit their base. Edward Everett (1794-1865) was a former president of Harvard University and is sadly best known for being the dude forgotten because he spoke just prior to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Everett said:
Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.
Similar statements have been preceded by Thomas Jefferson and echoed by countless others. However, the conservative nature of contemporary politics continues to view military as the end-all be-all. Meanwhile, the people our military protects have become less self-reliant, less informed, and less capable of thinking for themselves.
America’s culmination of military obsession and education regression has created a war-centric people more likely to punish thoughtlessly than think thoughtfully.
Cameron Conaway has a B.A. in Criminal Justice and is a former teacher in the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center in Tucson, Arizona.