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March 26, 2007

Taking the ’Prison’ out of Prison Reform

In my daily combing through the news, I came across this article on prison reform, if you could call it that, which got me pondering. Former inmate turned activist Ms. Angela Davis spends her time pursing avenues of prison reform. But her reform is as extreme as it gets: remove prisons altogether. Do I have your attention? Then read on.

At first glance I thought Ms. Davis right on the money in what she had to say. Only a few lines in I came across this quote: "One of the biggest problems society faces is recognizing the humanity of prisoners." Bingo! Finally, someone gets it! But my joy was shortlived as I continued reading.

The biggest social problem is discovering what drives people to commit such serious crimes. [Davis] wants more thought to go into what is wrong with criminals and what motivates their actions rather than the measures society takes to punish them.

"We need to disarticulate crime and punishment," she said.

One interest of Davis's work is the possibility of prison abolition. She compared this idea to that of abolishing slavery - both were initially seen as too radical to implement.

Hmmm. Now you all know that I work for Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform arm of PFM. I know how necessary prison reform is, but I'd also be the first to say that prisons aren't completely unnecessary.

As my boss often says, "Prison is for people we are mad at, not people we are afraid of." I believe Ms. Davis and I would agree on the latter part of that statement, but I'm concerned with her psychological approach to the former. I, for one, wouldn't be comfortable knowing a serial killer isn't behind bars because he's in the classroom being psychoanalyzed.

Anyway, the Davis article is definitely an interesting read. It is a hodge-podge discussion of war, politics, racism, prison reform, minorities and some true statements... all rolled into one. What do you think?

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Joe Dalfonzo

hodge-podge is a rather charitable assessment in my view. Sounds closer to a Charles Manson rant than a purposeful dialogue aimed at constructive change.

Tom Kelly

Given Ms Davis' background I am not surprised that she has taken a radical viewpoint of incarceration. Prisons are becoming like a "Field of Dreams" - "Build it and they will come."

In some places prison is about the only growth industry. Abolition of prisons is surely NOT the answer but I suspect that increasing the number of spaces available insures that there are inmates to fill them.

Perhaps some fine day we will figure out that there ARE people who pose a serious danger to society as a whole and need incarceration. We no longer hang teenage pickpockets just give them 5 - 10 to one their skills.

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