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Four Aspects of the U.S. Penal System that are Arguably Less Humane than the Death Penalty

Updated on March 25, 2015
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin attempts to discern the logic, or lack thereof, in various, topical social issues.

It was an evening like any other, but it was also totally different. I was a professor for a junior college at the time and was teaching a prison composition class, something I did willfully once a week.

So many of the faculty where I worked would sneer and raise their noses skyward when presented with the prospect of teaching a class at the minimum security wing of the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester, Oklahoma. They were above it. Teaching prisoners, ludicrous!

Not me, though. I jumped at the chance. See, divergent from the current tides of popular thought, I still believe the prison system can be used as a rehabilitative tool, a place where a fall from grace doesn’t have to equate to first marginalization and then eventual and permanent expulsion from society, that the primary goal of the penal system should be to help not to punish.

Can anything in our prisons really be worse than the death penalty?
Can anything in our prisons really be worse than the death penalty? | Source

But I digress. It was an evening like any other at the Jackie Brannon minimum security wing of the Oklahoma State Prison, except that it was totally different. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. There was a thickness, a tension in the air that I hadn’t experienced up to that point.

“You know there’s gonna be a killin tonight,” one of my students said stoically. I nodded my head, acknowledging that I knew what he was talking about and moved on with the day’s lesson.

The student was referring to that night’s execution, and contrary to what many might believe, it wasn’t just the inmate population on edge: staff, guards, everyone I ran into that day who was associated with the prison was acting different. I was acting different. The mood of the whole place was gloomier, darker. The shadows on the walls were different. The air was different. The gusts of breeze were different.

Opinion:

Do you believe in the death penalty?

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An excellent and well-rounded look at the death penalty

Logic and Humaninty Behind the Death Penalty?

Since I can remember, I have always come down the same way on the death penalty: I’m against it. All the reasons why, all the ins and outs I have concerning this belief system, that is not for today. Let me just say that I don’t like the idea of answering death for death, violence begetting more violence, ignorance begetting more ignorance and the whole endless cyclical effect of meanness.

Needless to say, put a petition in front of me to support the revocation of the death penalty and I’ll sign it, but beyond this I’m not much of an advocate. I’m not going to spend a cold night out holding a candlelight vigil for a baby rapist and murderer. I’m not going to shed tears when he’s dead. I’m not going to spend time and energy throwing together picket signs and marching on Capital Hill, at least not concerning the death penalty.

Quite frankly, I don’t see the same level of hypocrisy with living in a civilized country and still endorsing the death penalty as some do. I don’t find it to be a damnation of our society. Though there are many ideals and systems within the United States I am embarrassed by, the fact that we still choose to uphold the death penalty in some of our states isn’t a primary one.

First off, I don’t see the death penalty as entirely illogical. I don’t understand people that do. You kill somebody in a heinous and purposeful manner and then we kill you. Again, this isn’t how I’d vote to do things, but to say there isn’t a logic to this process, albeit one you might disagree with, is ridiculous. The logic is there. The logic is straightforward. In this system we try to follow a path of direct equivalency, an eye for an eye.

Have I confused you all yet with all my “flip-flopping”? I love the term flip-flopping. Yes, there is such a thing, but we’re so often too quick to label someone as flip-flopping when he or she simply has complex opinions. No, I’m not flip-flopping, nor am I on the fence. I’m simply saying that I am personally against the death penalty, but I don’t condemn nor even fail to understand those whose opinion falls on the other side of things.

Between the prisoner and freedom, layer after layer of razor wire
Between the prisoner and freedom, layer after layer of razor wire | Source

A less contemporary look at the punishment debate

And contrary to a common belief, I don’t think society as a whole takes the death penalty lightly. On this one particular topic I don’t feel the lion’s share of the population is misinformed. People know what is at stake. Like what I experienced that fateful evening teaching at Jackie Brannon, regardless of what side of the fence their opinion fell regarding the death penalty, I observed nobody doing cartwheels or jumping jacks to celebrate what would happen that night.

Everyone felt bad. What it boils down to is not that a large portion of our population takes joy in the “frying of asses” and another part of our population just really gets a thrill when our prisons have a “revolving door” so dangerous criminals are able to be out amongst the world with our families. It is hardly that simple.

What it boils down to is that the majority of people want justice and humanity, and one portion of the population believes that a death penalty can never accomplish this and another portion of the population believes that it sometimes can.

Notice I used the words “justice” and “humanity.” You might say, “But can there really be a justice or humanity in the government ordered murdering of people?” Again I go back to strands of logic, and again I say, Yes, there are strands of logic that would make the death penalty seem both just and humane.

I don’t personally agree with these strands of logic, but they do demonstrate a form of logic. For example, can it be reasoned that the murder of one human being for the heinous and malicious murder of another can constitute a form of justice? Yes it can. Can it be reasoned that the imprisonment of a human being for the rest of his or her natural life is less humane than just killing them? Yes it can. Can it be argued that for those harmed by the actions of a murderer, the execution of said person can be a form of humanity and closure in its own right? Yes it can.

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, For somebody against the death penalty, this guy sure has spent a lot of time defending its good graces. To which I reiterate, this article is not about disproving the perceived merits of the death penalty. If it were, I would be glad to go into the fine details that, for me at least, do just that.

The question I am asking here is, “Is the death penalty the most inhumane process within the prison system?” I certainly don’t think so. As ill-advised as the death penalty may be, there are a number of standardized processes within our penal system that have a far more wide-reaching and devastating affect than the death penalty. There are a number of commonly practiced methods within our institutions of incarceration that, unlike the death penalty, are entirely devoid of any semblance to logic.

You don’t believe me? Well, decide for yourself. Below are 4 of the many common practices of the United States Prison System that I believe less humane than the death penalty.

Prison Diet

The first common aspect of prison life that I would label as less humane than the death penalty is prison diet. I’m sure some of my readers are rolling their eyes by now. All I can say is before we cast judgment on the author, let’s think about this.

No, when most of us think of all the ills of prison, we probably don’t immediately jump to food—especially if we’ve never served time, but let me ask you this, “How important is proper nourishment in your day to day life?” If you’re anything like most people, it is probably a major driving force to your existence. It is such an integral part of your day-to-day life that you might not even think about it much. It’s just there and you take care of it.

Adding the caveat that there may still be a few prisons out there nourishing inmates properly, let’s look at the sorts of foods that prisoners can usually expect to be served. Prisons like to serve things that are loaded with sodium, processed with chemicals, loaded in fats, and lacking in vitamins. Why do they like these sorts of things? They’re cheap filler for the population with a long shelf life.

Not only are the foods commonly served bad for you, they often don’t meet the dietary guidelines set forth by the FDA. In fact, if a prisoner doesn’t have the means to supplement his or her diet by buying items from the prison store, mere survival of the prisoner over any extended period of time is questionable.

And what kinds of food can you get from the prison store? More sodium, fat, and preservative enriched garbage for the purpose of long term storage.

No, there may not be many overly thin prisoners, and this to the eyes of many means they are healthy. But the reality is that they are forced to eat loads of unhealthy, non-nourishing foods in order to get the appropriate nutrients to survive. While they are eating these excessive amounts of fodder, they are clogging arteries, damaging hearts, and contracting diseases like diabetes.

And you say to me, “Well, go cry me a river. Isn’t that what we’re all doing to ourselves?” To this I respond, that may well be true, but at least we have a choice. At least we can choose not to poison ourselves if we want to. The prisoner has no options.

On top of this, if you talk to most any prison guard and ask them what the biggest source of problems is in prisons today, the prison store inevitably comes up early in the discussion. The prison store will always be a source of problems for some, but when prisoners need it to survive, it becomes a problem source for everybody.

For example, let’s say I just want to do my time, not be a burden on anybody and get out and try to be a productive citizen again. Well, if I get all the nutrients I need from the cafeteria, I don’t need to go to the prison store. I don’t have to bother my family for money. I don’t have to worry about being assaulted or robbed for the items I buy.

If I choose to use the prison store, I am immediately thrown into a world of corruption and chaos that I might totally avoid if I could get the proper nourishment from daily meals.

By now you may be saying, “This is all interesting, but how does this constitute something less humane than the death penalty?” Let’s see. How could the deprivation of the proper nourishment for survival to all prisoners regardless of severity of crime committed constitute an inhumane act? How could pumping prisoners full of cancer causing additives and artery clogging preservatives while providing them no access to a safe alternative be less humane than say putting a gunman to death that unloaded a machine gun on a crowded theater?

If you take every prisoner on death row in the U.S. and add them up, you get a number that may be bigger than it should be, but that isn’t really all that large in the grand scheme of things. When we talk about the malnourishment of prisoners, we’re talking about a much bigger scale. We’re talking about most everybody that is incarcerated.

Most prisons are surrounded by hundreds of acres of potential farmland.
Most prisons are surrounded by hundreds of acres of potential farmland. | Source

And I can already hear some of you complaining, “They did the crime. They don’t deserve to have caviar and lobster for dinner. They’re being punished for goodness sake!” Well, I’m not talking about foods like these. I’m just talking about proper nourishment: fresh carrots, beets, potatoes, apples. Foods that say, don’t have so much preservative that a single bite would kill a horse.

Not fancy food. Proper food. Everyone always forgets that the majority of these inmates are going to be out on the streets again, haven’t done anything so wrong in life that they don’t deserve that right. What do you think will make for a more reformed citizen: a person that has been tortured for 5 years or someone whose life has been treated with at least a modicum of value?

The sad truth is that an increasing percentage of our population doesn’t want our convicts reformed at all. They want them gone, out of sight forever, dead; they don’t care as long as they don’t ever have to see them. They complain about the money it takes to take proper care of them.

Well, what if I told you that feeding prisoners healthier food would almost definitely be cheaper. How can this be? Two words: preventative medicine. Healthcare in the prison system is socialized. Healthy people are exponentially cheaper to take care of. By simply providing prisoners healthier food, we reduce our medical costs to an extent that far outweighs the cost.

By doing this one thing, we improve the system, but we can do even better. Where do most prisons tend to be? There are a few in cities, but the vast majority tend to be in the middle of nowhere. And just the fact that the prison is there usually means the surrounding land is cheap and undeveloped.

Well, start agricultural programs in the prisons: fruits, vegetables, etc. Again, most prisoners aren’t violent. They are perfectly capable of working a job. With a little land, a prison might not just meet many of its own dietary needs, it may be able to sale some of its yield to offset farming costs.

I am against the death penalty, but that said, I can see that there is a logic to it, even a humanity. What is the logic in making our prisoners sick resulting in more expense to the taxpayer? What is the humanity in exposing thousands to illness and disease regardless of what they’ve done wrong?

There is no logic in the current prison dietary system. There is no humanity. It is a system of torture, (and no, I don’t think that’s too harsh a term) whose eradication would be relatively easy and result in a net benefit to all parties involved from the prisoner to the prison worker to the tax payer.

Cutting Rehabilitative Programs

What sort of demographic makes up the majority of the prison population? The impoverished, unskilled, uneducated, and ignorant. So it makes perfect sense to take this sort of population and hand them down long sentences, jam them all in close quarters, offer them no avenues for bettering themselves, and expect them to leave prison ten years later as productive citizens ready to enter a competitive job market, right?

The whole thing is preposterous, but with the exception of a few religious programs and the occasional GED course, there just isn’t much being done in the way of rehabilitation in our prison systems anymore. Isn’t rehabilitation supposed to be the cornerstone of our penal system?

Simply put, when you don’t have rehabilitative programs available to prisoners: drug rehab, anger management, college courses, vocational courses, GED programs, prison to work programs, etc., the already low chance that a prisoner rehabilitates him or herself is completely negated.

Regardless of what is offered, prisoners will learn during their stay in prison. At least when we have rehabilitative programs, some of that learning is positive. For whatever reason, society has geared itself to believe such programs are luxurious, costly, and unnecessary, when they most likely save us money in the long run.

What is better for the economy: educated and well adjusted prisoners released and able to immediately join the workforce as productive citizens, or ignorant, anger filled prisoners who have honed their criminal skills and are subsequently unleashed on society? Unless you own a prison, I think most of us would prefer the former.

Wouldn't you rather prisoners learn something besides how to be a better criminal?
Wouldn't you rather prisoners learn something besides how to be a better criminal? | Source

Yes, even when such programs are offered, a goodly percentage of participants don’t succeed. Yes, programs like these cost money to run, but what is the alternative? Rehabilitative programs can and do work on occasion. If we didn’t spend all our time cutting and reinstating such programs and just invested in them, they would probably work a lot better.

And what of the humanity? What of the justice? What of the logic? If we’re just going to stick prisoners in jail to rot and further corrupt themselves, then release them knowing full well they are just going to hurt somebody and wind up right behind bars again, if where we could offer hope, we are just going to reinforce the pain, violence, and confusion they have always known, maybe we would be better off just to kill them.

It is entirely inhumane to not offer some manner of rehabilitation for our prisoners. Without the rehabilitation concept playing its role in the penal system, we might as well go back to the dungeons and torture chambers of medieval times. If rather than making prisoners better, we only endeavor to make them worse, there is no logic in ever releasing them.

Longer and Longer Sentences for Lesser and Lesser Crimes

Back in the 1980s many were critical of the way prisoners seemingly were getting out as soon as they were sentenced. The term “revolving door prison” was popularized during this time to describe this phenomenon.

As a result of public outrage, politicians got tough. Then they got tougher. Then they got tougher. Today, with a fear of looking weak by running on a platform of “reasonable sentencing,” politicians are still getting tougher. It has gotten to a point where even being convicted of crimes that are fairly petty in nature results in the total destruction of the perpetrator’s life.

Does this make sense? No! Maybe we did have a problem in the early 80s regarding violent criminals, but that has long since been taken care of. Now we’re just putting people we’re mad at away forever. What do I mean by “mad at”? I’m talking about perpetrators of crimes that really don’t put anyone’s life in jeopardy, but are just annoying.

For example, have you ever had your home robbed? I have. Just infuriating, but does such an act really ever justify a person spending his or her life in prison? When my apartment got robbed, my TV was stolen, my video game system, my electronic dartboard (I really liked that dartboard!). I was livid. Above all else, I was just so upset that a stranger would invade my private space like that.

Yet, as angry as I was, I couldn’t fathom someone having to lose 5 years of his or her life on account of it, much less a lifetime if it was a third strike. When people rob us, it is aggravating. When they continue to rob us, it is really aggravating, but as long as no violence is involved, why shouldn’t the prison be a revolving door of sorts for them.

Let me give an example. A first time offender is caught stealing a car. The offender has on his person no weapons and there is no perceived threat of violence. The offender gets a 12 month sentence and is out in 6 only to again get caught stealing a car. Let’s say the offender gets 2 years this time and is out in one only to again get caught stealing a car, while again demonstrating no threat of violence. This time let’s say the offender gets 3 years, and as a result of his recidivism, he serves the full 3 years this time. And let’s say for the remainder of this offender’s life he continues to steal cars while demonstrating no threat of violence, and as a result, he continues to serve 3 year sentences. Is this fair?

Popular opinion would say no. Popular opinion would say by the third offence the perpetrator should be looking at 10 to 15 years jail time minimum. Why? Because society is mad at this person. It’s not about justice. I fail to see how somebody’s stealing of “stuff” can ever constitute a lifetime in prison, especially when we’re talking about robbery on this level.

Rather than "revolving doors," for more and more prisoners, these are becoming the doors that never open.
Rather than "revolving doors," for more and more prisoners, these are becoming the doors that never open. | Source

Look at it this way: the corporate criminals of the world have totally destroyed life as we know it over the last few decades. They have caused incalculable pain and suffering that has resulting in the loss of quality of life and even the probable early demise of thousands.

Yet the majority of these corporate criminals have done no prison time, primarily because their heinous acts of indecency aren’t often technically illegal. Then you have another large portion of these types that simply never get caught because such crimes can readily be gotten away with.

And then you have a tiny percentage who actually take the fall and go to jail for a few months. For the pain and suffering of thousands they see the inside of a minimum security dorm for a few months. Really? And folks think this is fair while the nonviolent, petty criminal goes away forever because he or she made us mad by stealing some of our stuff on three or more occasions.

Not our livelihood, not our retirement, not our life’s effort, no, the people who do this are released in no time. I’m talking about the people who steal our dartboards, our stereos, our jewelry: these are the people we lock away forever.

Improper Placement of the Mentally Ill

Again, let’s transport ourselves back to the early 80’s. It was a time when the mentally ill were being taken care of fairly well. There was a decently hearty system of public institutions to take care of the mentally infirm. Then, for some reason beyond my understanding, the entire mental healthcare system was dismantled in favor of just giving the mentally ill a handful of pills, telling them to take them on occasion, then sending them out to the general public and assuming the problem would somehow magically take care of itself.

So did it work? Where are our mentally ill today? Some of them have families that have the resources to take care of them. Others are functional enough to get by, usually relying at least some on the kindness of strangers. Many are homeless and populate the streets of our cities and towns. And an overwhelming and increasing number populate our prisons.

Are the mentally ill well suited for a conventional prison? Absolutely not. It is a failure on every level. It is dangerous for the mentally healthy prisoners, it is dangerous for the mentally ill prisoners, and it is dangerous for the guards and staff not specifically trained to deal with mental illness, not to mention that it is just wrong and immoral to place the mentally ill in a system that is geared for a population capable of responding to conventional systems of instruction.

Here’s a better idea. We could have kept the mental health system we had, and here’s a theme that has been echoed throughout this article, we could have used this system as “preventative medicine.”

In the past the mental health system was used to identify and treat the mentally ill, actually treat them through thorough psychological therapy, rehabilitative work, and proper medication—a system that actually often worked.

Are prisons really a proper place for our mentally ill?
Are prisons really a proper place for our mentally ill? | Source

Today problems go undiagnosed until there is a significant episode. The significant episode usually results in the mentally ill person going straight to prison, but if it doesn’t, it results in the mentally ill person being sent home with a lot of pills and little to no therapeutic direction—a system that absolutely never works, not even by accident.

Again, echoing an earlier theme of the article, this is another grotesquely inhumane, unjustifiable, and illogical aspect in the U.S. correctional system. And again, I believe this practice to be far more lacking in moral scruple and cognitive reason than the death penalty.

And again, it doesn’t make financial sense for any of the parties involved. When we help the mentally ill before things escalate, it is cheaper than housing prisoners. Those of our mentally ill who do require confinement have no business being confined with the mentally healthy.

They should be in their own institutions with staff that is properly trained to deal with and help them rehabilitate from their illnesses. Same theme, different problem: does it make sense for a mentally ill offender to serve 10 years in a conventional prison and receive no help appropriate to his or her illness before being released on society, or does it make more sense for a mentally ill person to spend 5 years in a mental institution equipped to deal with his or her problems and the remainder of his or her life with occasional psychological checkups?

Opinion:

Do you believe there is anything less humane in the U.S. correctional system than the death penalty?

See results

Conclusion:

There is perhaps nothing more significant, more final, more disturbing from the human perspective than the murder of a perfectly healthy human being. Regardless of what said person has done wrong, it is a process that I can’t see my way around supporting.

Yet when one endeavors to measure the cumulative impact of the death penalty and analyze the reasoning behind such an ideal, in comparison to countless other protocol within the U.S. correctional system, the death penalty does not come out as barbaric in the overall breadth of its destruction as many other practices.

So, if you come to believe the above statement, what is its significance? To me, it isn’t that working to repeal the death penalty becomes a trivial pursuit. It is that it shouldn’t be the only pursuit, and as of the present, maybe it shouldn’t even be the main pursuit.

If we work on fixing the problems outlined in the article and other totally illogical practices not mentioned here that are of the same ilk, first, then far, far, far, more lives would be saved in the long run than simply repealing the death penalty.

Then after we have a hold on these injustices, these entirely inexplicable injustices, then maybe it becomes time for the abolition of the death penalty to move to the forefront.

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Tremendous job, Larry. I think life without parole makes the prisons infinitely more dangerous than anything else. If we choose not to execute, than we choose to rehabilitate. Guys have nothing to lose if they know they are not getting out. 25 years minimum per capital crime and then they come up regularly for parole. It's an incentive that might save the life of a corrections officer. I support the death penalty, although I wish it were used more for serial killers than armed robbers who kill. Why not work camps? Keep people busy and they stay out of trouble but there would be the inevitable lawsuits. Important topic. Can't wait to read the other comments. Voted up and shared.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The penal system has been broken for a long time. Talk about the poster child for dysfunctional....that's the penal system. You outlined the problems quite well, here, Larry. Good job!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      This is a subject I tend to avoid like a lot of people do. I've never had to be concerned about a family member or friend having to serve time. I am sort of divided on the death penalty. If someone took the life of one of my children, I would like to see that person die for the crime.

      I don't believe drug offenders should be sentenced to long time; they should be in drug rehab programs. The same is true to the mentally ill....they should not be in prison!

      Lots of food for thought in your article. I'll be anxious to see how others feel by their votes in your polls.

      Voted this Hub UP, and shared.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Your intentions are good, but your logic is impaired.

      First as far as the Death Penalty.

      Out of the millions of prisoners in the country, those on Death Row is a very infinitesimal part.

      Also the death penalty has not been found to be a deterrent to committing these heinous crimes.

      In California, as opposed to Tx, Ok, and Fl, the prisoners in death row will have a better chance of dying of old age, rather than from the state.

      Additionally, there have been found to be some prisoners that were not the persons that committed the crimes. So, it would be best to not kill anyone on the chance that they could be proven innocent of the crime.

      In California, the prisons are so full that they are under court orders to release tens of thousands of prisoners.

      I agree that the punishments for crimes across the country are not consistent with the associated crime. And the same crime varies considerably across the legal jurisdictions.

      A major factor in the prison system is the number of gang members in the system. These gangs remain gangs while in prison, and any gang leaders in prison are still conducting gang business.

      These gangs are a significant population in the prisons. And these types of prisoners are not going to be rehabilitated in any significant way.

      It is also ridiculous how crimes among the prisoners can happen while they are still in prison. The prison system is corrupt, and the bureaucrats that run it as part of the problem rather than the solution.

      The death penalty is carried out first at the street level. While private citizens are shackled by the various versions of the laws of self defense, a cop can inflict deadly force on a suspect for the slightest reason. There is a difference between an officer protecting themselves versus and officer that is poorly trained and allows a situation to escalate to where deadly force is in play. In these situations, the courts would not allow a private citizen to use deadly force.

      The real problem is that the whole legal and criminal justice system need reform. The Death Penalty for example, should never be imposed where the jury decided the case on purely circumstantial evidence. This would have been the case if OJ was convicted of murdering his ex wife. The jury would have deducted that it was probably OJ, but they didn't really have the smoking gun.

      The country and all of its jurisdictions have a limited amount of resources from preventing crimes, capturing the criminals, prosecuting the criminals, and finally putting them in jails and prison.

      The law needs to prioritize these resources, and either make many crimes simple infractions. Marijuana is still classed as a type 1 substance under federal law. Yet, it is no different than alcohol and tobacco. The lawful use of MJ can be treated the same as the lawful use of alcohol, and tobacco. The illegal use of these three substances can be applied in a similar manner.

      This would free resources from the police, the courts, and the prisons, and jails.

      We have added to many stupid criminal laws.

      Hate crimes are ridiculous, as it is the actions that are criminal and not the reason why the crime was committed.

      If a person beats someone with a bat, putting the added element of hate would only make the prosecution more difficult. The person did the act, and that should lead to a conviction, but if they can't find hate, then the person might even go free.

      Rape has always been a violent crime and one where the technicality of the crime has allowed defense attorneys to get their client off. If they would take out the element of rape and just prosecute it an aggravated assault, there would be more conviction, and a reduction in resources due to a less involved trial,and appeals.

      The Criminal Justice System is itself Criminal, and it produces little to no Justice.

      The Prison System is corrupt, and that makes it ironic and those that run it should be added to the system as prisoners.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lions44: love your statement that if we choose not to execute, we choose to rehabilitate. Though I'd rather see the death penalty done away with, to me the greatest threat to decency is that we have gotten so far away from rehabilitation for those that aren't murderers, which comprises most the prison system.

      So glad you enjoyed the article. Wonderful comments.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Billybuc, Mary: thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. To me the biggest problem in our penal system is that we choose to destroy people rather than restore those who can be restored. Prison is a punishment, but at some point, for those who can be helped, it should also be the foundation for a new start.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Wonderful article with lots of stuff to consider. I read about the mentally ill being placed in there versus where they should really be placed. I have experience with that. I know a girl who had been drugged and fed alcohol and even been abandoned many times over and over and is now in jail. She does and is not going to learn anything from those things. She needs to be in a mantal insitute because her brain is shattered by all her experiences and other thigns that she has been through since she was born. She is not an alcoholic, but was feed in her bottle when she was a babe that stuff.

      I also have a friend that is in prison because he violated his probation 14 years ago. Fog goodness sakes he did his time for the first offence and then he got out and got a job. His job was over the state line, which was like near the jail and where he lived. They go him for that. He got a JOB!! He was paying his bills to the state back! They told him at one time, I wrote all his memoirs on my hubpages, that he is their job security. The justice system is only concerned with their jobs, not the rehabilitation of the inmates. That is inhumane. I did a lot of research into the death penalty and such and you would be shocked to see just how many who are on death row and NOT guilty of any crime! I was shocked to read that.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      BradmasterOCal: certainly some food for thought, but I'm not really seeing how we contradict each other? Seems a lot more like you just added a lot of additional topics that I didn't cover.

      For example, the gang problem is a doozy, but I hardly see how this is related to whether or not we should rehabilitate prisoners, though I do understand it makes it harder to do so.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lady G: thanks for dropping by.

      As to something you kind of touched on, people are making profit off of prisons these day because so many are privately owned. It is one thing that we need to have prisons to keep our citizens safe. It is another thing when private entities own these prisons for profit. Of course they want to keep everyone in prison forever!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderfully detailed article Larry. I am not an advocate of the death penalty either but can see the reasoning of those who are and it does have its pros and cons. Some of the other aspects of prison are equally as bad. Thanks for sharing.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Jodah:thanks for dropping by. Wonderful comments.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Larry

      Our viewpoints are different.

      My view is systemic from the beginning to the end, which is prison.

      Your viewpoint is from the prison.

      But you didn't bring up the issues of crimes within prison, or the early release of prisoners.

      The whole purpose of prison is to protect us from the bad people, but if you can't get the bad people in, and fill it with the people that are just stupid, then the system fails.

      Thanks

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      There is no better protection from the bad people than reform. It isn't as straight forward as bad and good people, you also have the in between. I did touch some on crime in prison, but it wasn't the focus of the article. You have your fair share of stupid people in prison, but there are far more of the ignorant ones. Unless you intend on writing a novel, your explanations didn't follow things from beginning to end either, just a bunch of references to things that didn't necessarily tie together.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Larry

      You are taking this too personal.

      Thanks

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I will agree that I'm cranky today. New parent, so I don't sleep, lol.

      We have differing opinions, but I don't believe we're diametrically opposed on all fronts. You mentioned that my POV was from the prison. If you look at all the examples, I do consider the benefit of society.

      I agree that gang presence is a formidable problem that needs to be remedied in the prison system.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Larry

      I understand, I did it three times. I always wondered how they can keep doing it for such long periods without stopping, until you find out what is wrong, then its sleep time.

      I agree we are looking at it from different points, and we see different things. I was just trying to give you my viewpoint, so that we could compare it. This is a very complex problem and California has made the worst of it. My viewpoint was from what I see in California.

      It is your hub and I probably exceed the scope of your points.

      I try to discuss the issues, and the points without making it personal.

      Thanks, sleep well.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another thought provoking article, Larry. I love reading hubs that make me think. I definitely agree that some major changes are needed in the prison system.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      AliciaC: thanks for dropping by. I try to get folks thinking. The prison debate is a hot one, and I just think nowadays we're too much about tougher when it should be about smarter and more efficient.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      'Penal' means legal punishment, and contrary to the straw man argument of deterrence, the death penalty is just that...punishment.

      The argument that we should get rid of the death penalty because it does nor deter murderers is like arguing that we should stop putting people in jail for robbery, because it does not deter robbers. If punishment was a deterrence, there would be no crime.

      Very good Hub, Larry!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Will: great comments. Thanks for dropping by.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Tremendous hub that not only puts capital punishment into perspective but looks at a lot of areas that places without capital punishment would do well to look at!

      I know the argument is that even with rehabilitation and programs they are likely to re offend but some will clean their lives up and with help more will be kept out of prison.

      Not sure I agreed with everything but really made me think. Awesome hub

      Lawrence

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lawrence: thanks for dropping by. Never expect folks to agree with everything. Just want folks to understand what an ill reflection it is on our society when we don't try to rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Interesting points but ...and there is also a 'but' still am against the death penalty because if only one person is wrongfully executed , it's wrong, in my opinion, and yes, I know what they say about opinions.

      I have read about the heinous things that go on in prison and know it is no picnic by any means.

      Angels are on the way to you and to those who are imprisoned today. ps

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Pstraubie: I'm against the death penalty too. I just wanted to point out that they're are, in my opinion, some greater injustices in the system than the death penalty.

      Thanks so much for the comments.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I volunteered in the prison system many years ago as a counselor and found it broken. Although I support the death penalty, I realize the entire system is bereft with injustices. Long periods of forced isolation may be arguably pretty tortuous, too.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      FlourishAnyway: Isolation is another of the many poor strategies for reformation. Great comments and thanks for dropping by.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I think when you talk to people who've had experience with the penal system you get a very different picture to what others have. Here in NZ most would say we're too soft on them but I've met men who've 'done time'

      They would be the first to admit they were 'dumb' but they got straightened out and turned things around. Some were doing the worst jobs society had and happy to do them as it gave them a second chance at life (and the guys who hadn't been there would last one night as it was beneath them!)

      The penal system may not be perfect but we can make things better not just for the inmates but society as a whole.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lawrence: I appreciate the perspective of another country. As you said, it will never be perfect, but that is no excuse to give up and not try anymore.

      Wonderful comments.

    • Josh Ruga profile image

      Joshua Ruga 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Most of this applies to Federal Penitentiary, where I know some people who are prison guards at some of the local prisons in my area. In some of those local prisons, certain of the tougher inmates almost run the place with agreements in place with the warden. There is so much that can be done to improve the prison conditions in this nation, in ways that both punish the criminal for his crime and help to rehabilitate them. Great article overall.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Josh: great comments.

      As you said, prison is a place of punishment, but it is shortsighted not to also put effort into rehab. Most these folks are going to be out amongst us again.

    • Josh Ruga profile image

      Joshua Ruga 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Yes, so the effort needs to be put in to help the rehabilitation process. The people in power find creative ways to screw things up, so it would be nice if they could put the time in to find a creative way to make something better.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Another great article. I like that you moved away from a simplistic death penalty or no death penalty debate, and highlighted other critically important dimensions of this issue.

      As the death penalty opponent, I never really questioned the alternative to it, at least the alternative that we are currently presented with, which is a broken abusive prison system that kills inmates one way or the other, as you've pointed out.

      What I've come to understand is, prison system is treated as a business in the U.S., just like everything else. So while these injustices are morally and logically unjustifiable, they make sense financially to the people who stand to profit from these institutions housing more and more inmates for longer periods of time. Voted up

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      As to the privatization of prison ownership and the injustice of it, I don't know where to even begin.

      It is one thing if we as a people choose to imprison our wrong doers, but when you give that responsibility to corporate entities, wow! All of a sudden we have people making a living by basically owning or at least leasing human beings. I hate to make the comparison, but it's a heck of a lot like slavery.

      Thanks for the comments Kalinin.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Apart from its moral ramifications, I think it is pretty clear that the there are no practical, crime deterrence aspects to the death penalty either, as the murder rates in death penalty states are higher than in states where they do not have it.

      I agree with you on all counts, I think, but I would like to expound upon some things. We have created this ridiculous system where people go to jail to pay their debt to society, but then they come out with a prison record that follows them around for life, which means they can't find a decent job and many times have to resort to crime, which means going back to jail again. Except in the case of particularly violent crimes or particularly abhorrent sexual crimes, I would advocate wiping the prisoner's slate clean of any damaging record, so they could get a fresh start on life and become a productive citizen again.

      Great hub. I admire your willingness to help those convicts.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Mel: wonderful comments. I couldn't agree more with what you said. As to the death penalty, let's call it what it is: revenge. As you pointed out, it has no practical benefits beyond that.

      As I pointed out in the article, that is one more practical effect than a lot of the other nonsense that goes on.

      The crime problem is a complex one, but as you pointed out, we simply must find a way to make productive citizens of these folks, especially the non-violent.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      I would rather a thousand Charley Manson's go free than have one person executed wrongly because they were convicted wrongly because they were accused wrongly. Our so-called justice system isn't perfect and sadly, we have put people to death who were not guilty of the crime they were accused and convicted of. Look at the Innocence Project and all the people who were removed from death row because of DNA. People who rotted in prison for decades is some cases and they never did what they were put in that Hell hole for. Who among us would like to change places with them? Who among us thinks they are not guilty of having taken these peoples lives from them either in fact or by not allowing them the freedom to live their lives?

      When we kill people and allow our prisons to be so inhumane as they currently are in every respect, we lower ourselves to the level of the most heinous criminal, and perhaps below.

      The crime of housing people the way we do in our prison systems has a price to our psyche if nothing else, and I believe we will all answer for the terrible ways we treat each other one day, both inside and outside of prison.

      Those people who claim to believe in The Boss don't really. If they did they would be loudly demanding changes in the way our prisons are run and the way our prisoners are treated.

      Some of the people in our prisons don't belong there because they have been wrongly convicted, but there are many people suffering from arrogance on this side of the bars who are just lucky they haven't been caught, or they would be in that hell hole too.

      If people truly believed in God and the justice He will one day meet out, they would be too scared to sleep at night knowing the moment of reckoning could come for them at any moment because they sat by and let these terrible things happen every hour of every day and didn't so much as whisper an objection.

      So many people who self describe themselves as Christians, yet have never picked the Bible off the floor where it acts as a doorstop, and so they have no idea what is in that Bible. What a shock awaits them when they discover Jesus didn't live according to the Old Testament's Eye for an Eye. Yes, an eye for an eye and pretty soon the whole world is blind,

      I think most of the world is blind anyway because they have convinced themselves that the evil they are doing, or at least quietly accepting, is Christian and God's Will. God is not, nor has He ever been the author of evil.

      Killing people for the satisfaction of getting even with somebody, anybody, without even making absolutely certain they are guilty is evil. Our system isn't careful enough and non guilty people end up being executed, or living worse than it's legal to force animals to live, until they're let out because it is finally discovered they're not guilty. How many live out their lives never being exonerated? Just one is too many.

      I agree that life in prison is at least as bad as the death penalty. That's because of the terrible conditions in our prisons. We will all answer one day, for keeping people incarcerated under the conditions we force them to live in.

      I wonder what is going to anger The Boss more? Treating our fellow humans so abominably when we fall so far short of perfect ourselves, or will He be more angry because so many people masqueraded as His followers and in the end drove people away from Him because no one wants to worship a God whose followers are so arrogant and selfish and vindictive.

      Some people look at those people who call themselves Christians and actually blame God for the evil His self-described followers do when it is a masquerade all along on the parts of the people calling themselves Christians while acting the compete opposite.

      No, we can't allow violent people to live freely in our society, but neither must we force them to live worse than animals. Confining them to a separate space from ourselves is one thing, but making it worse than a living Hell is another. We need to clean our prisons up and we need to stop abusing them by forcing them to live worse than animals. Doing as we are, we lower ourselves to their level or below.

      We will be judged for these actions one day. So many people who imagine themselves to be perfect have committed many wrongs and are lucky they haven't been caught, while others have committed wrongs against God that may not be illegal in our human world, but human law is a funny thing. Things can be legal and still be morally wrong.

      I'm too busy everyday trying to make up for my own imperfections to consider myself qualified to judge the imperfections of other people. I think we should find a humane way to separate people from society when they have committed violent acts.

      I disagree with the death penalty because it isn't enforced fairly and because our legal system, wonderful as it is, is not perfect and non-guilty people are being put to death. Allowing people to rot indefinitely in our horrible prisons is wrong too. We need to fix it.

      Definitely a thought provoking article.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Au Fait: always glad to hear from you. When a person is put to death, and they are a murderer, some call it justice. When a person is put to death and it turns out they were innocent, it is murder pure and simple.

      I don't like the death penalty in either scenario, but the 2nd is inexcusable. When people are left to rot in prison for petty crimes, too me that is disgusting, if just for the shear loss of human freedom and potential.

      It is dang difficult to have a prison that rehabilitates because of costs and those wanting to corrupt the systems in place to help, but that is no excuse to give up on helping, which is what I believe the penal system has done.

    • Missing Link profile image

      Missing Link 2 years ago from Oregon

      I also do not agree with the death penalty. We say we abhor murder and killing but then our judicial system does the same. Seems hypocritical to me. We try to teach children that killing is not the way to go but then our penal system sometimes kills. I think it much more of a punishment to let the person live behind bars for more years. I do agree with a life sentence if it is a terrible, violent crime.

      I found a few pen pal sites awhile back per writing prisoners. I never did this but the sites are fascinating to look at; you should check them out. The thing that shocked me the most was how excessive some sentences were for crimes I did not consider that serious.

      I have a dear friend who has taught Math in prisons...as has his Father.

      I clicked on "useful" and "interesting" and took part in the two polls.

      Well done!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Missing Link: thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate your comments. When I taught English at prison one of the things I noticed is just how long some sentences were for petty crimes and how short some sentences were for serious crimes.

      There just is no rhyme or reason.

    • temptor94 profile image

      Ritu Temptor 23 months ago from India

      Death penalty is a complex topic. For one, it is difficult to judge or punish someone and be absolutely correct about it - for example, a person who has killed another has his own justification, while the court of law has its own.. who is to say which one is correct.

      There are some cases which are perhaps less arguable - like terrorists or mass murderers, child killers, etc for whom we feel no sympathy in spite of death penalty. But then there are those other crimes which could be difficult to judge unless we are in the shoes of the perpetrator. Finally what fate any crime-doer meets boils down to the fact - whether their defence is stronger than the prosecution.

      You have made an excellent point - there are plenty of rich powerful people who end up harming a huge chunk of society - those who mix poisonous ingredients in food or drinks for profit, etc, such people are equally guilty of mass illness or murder, yet they go scot-free simply because they have the influence.

      I chuckled at the irony you brought out in your point about prison food, never really thought of it that way, how it gradually destroys the health of inmates, reducing their life span.

      Prison is indeed more to do with punishment and robbing precious prime years of someone's life, and has very little to do with rehabilitation. My home country is even worse in these matters - the legal system is super slow and the accused ends up living in jail for few years even before getting convicted. The whole system is just wrong.

      The most outrageous part that you have correctly pointed out is that minor crimes (such people in possession of drugs, or stealing, which does not physically harm some) are treated at par with more serious crimes.

      Excellent hub!! and a topic to ponder on.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 23 months ago from Orange County California

      Larry Rankin

      I am sorry but I really don't care about the prisoners, what I do care about are all their victims.

      The death penalty in California is a joke, they have a better chance of dying from old age.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 22 months ago from Oklahoma

      Temptor: thanks for the thoughtful comments. Justification of the death penalty is a muddy ground to ponder.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 22 months ago from Oklahoma

      Brad: I can understand not caring about child molesters and murderers, but what about people with minor characters flaws who wind up in prison? Just because somebody winds up in prison doesn't mean they are a bad person. I would go as far as to say that most of them aren't.

      When we make blanket statements about a group it makes it very easy to justify treating them in a way that is inhuman, but it is almost never or possibly even just never an accurate assessment of the group in question.

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