"Too often the social policies of the United States government
benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Law protects power and
prosperity; it safeguards wealth; and, by the same token, it
perpetuates the subordinate status of the people on the bottom
(Friedman 1993, 13).
This is particularly the case with the penal system. This
system has penetrated all aspects of the lives of the poor. While
wealth and material success are valued by our culture, the poor are
There's a lot going terrifyingly wrong with the American penal
system. The Supreme Court (they that bestowed personhood on
corporations) has declared potential proof of not guiltiness not
sufficient to stand in the way of the death penalty. We lead
industrial nations in percent of population doing time. Policies like
three strikes mean people can serve felony sentences for
misdemeanors. The school to jail pipeline has kids in juvie for
normal teen behaviors that my generation would have been given
detention for. And now we have for profit prisons that, like hotels,
need full houses to make money.
Why is no one putting the brakes on this out of control
devastation of lives, families, and communities? Probably because the
people who can do something are mostly well off whites. Most of the
people destroyed by the system are poor people and people of color.
They're pawns in a system in which people compete for our votes by
giving us law and order based security. The kicker: it's only an
illusory safety. Laura Magnani and Harmon L. Wray present a thoughtful
analysis of the whole sorry mess in Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith
Paradigm For Our Failed Prison System.
Magnini and Wray contend that prison reform can never be
enough. It's sort of like trying to cure cancer with a bandage. Our
current punishment based system enshrines and perpetuates racism,
sexism, xenophobia, and every other prejudice known to human kind. It
maintains the widening division between haves and have nots. Even
though laws are broken at all levels of society and white collar crime
(say a ponzi scheme that impoverishes thousands of retirees) can cause
much more harm that blue collar crime (say shoplifting), it is the
latter that will be zealously prosecuted. Also, by focussing on
jailing the (presumably unreformable) "bad guys" to keep the "good
guys" safe, those at the top of the system absolve themselves of the
need to ask the hard questions.
"We reject the concept of criminality that supports the myth of
a criminal type--a concept that grows in part out of ignorance and
fears based in biases and prejudices. This concept of criminality
represents a gross distortion of the nature of those caught up in the
criminal justice system and provides a simplistic explanation of
highly complex social problems..."
After showing all the dangers and evils of the current system,
Magnini and Wray advocate replacing it with a restorative/peace
building justice system. Rather than putting the "bad guy" away,
there is a focus on healing victim, perpetrator, and community. A
twelve point plan helps to show interim steps between where we are and
where we need to be.
I strongly recommend this book to all leaders in religious and
secular positions and all people in all walks of life who hunger and
thirst for justice. Although it speaks of a strongly entrenched
system of evil, it points strongly to a means of hope and redemption
for all Americans. It is a book to read slowly and thoughtfully and a
great choice for adult Sunday school classes.
On a personal note, this week my major project is visiting local
thrift shops. This is not just for shopping (though I'm doing a
little of that). I'm creating a guide to thrift shops for
international students, most of whom will need cold weather clothes
and apartment furnishings, so they won't have to spend too much
shopping retail. It's a good thing I'm doing the leg work. One has
shut down and several have made major changes.
A great big shout out goes out to all who advocate for a more just
system of justice.
Sent from my iPod