Friday, November 15, 2013

Life Sentences for First-time, Non-Violent Offenders

I'm hijacking Shrink Rap for a moment.  I feel like I'm justified in linking to an article about mandatory minimum prison terms because the correctional system is where many people obtain psychiatric services in our country. 

Nicholas Kristof writes in Serving Life for This?
about some egregious stories of people serving long prison terms for drug-related offenses.  

One woman had no prior legal history, was not found with any drugs, but was convicted based on the testimony of others who testified against her in exchange for reductions in their own sentences.  So the 32 year old mother, with no prior arrests, was sentenced to life in prison, not because the judge thought that was fair, but because minimum sentencing laws left him no choice.  Mr. Kristof has other stories, including one of a man who transported meth to pay for his son's bone marrow transplant, after a community fundraiser brought in $50,000 falling quite short of cost of the procedure.

It's time to end the minimum sentence experiment for non-violent crimes.  If you don't care about the lives of those lost to prison, about the effects this has on them or their families, then care about those of us who pay taxes.  A person in prison is supported by the government: they get free housing, food, clothes, heat, medical care -- all at the expense of the taxpayer.  It's not cheap. People in prison don't work, they don't earn money, they don't pay taxes -- it's a lose-lose proposition every way you consider it, and it hasn't worked in our so-call "War on Drugs."   Long sentences?  As a mandated minimum with no consideration of the circumstances?  For a non-violent crime?  It's time to reconsider these laws and question whether they make sense or should be repealed. 


Zoe Brain said...

A person in prison is supported by the government: they get free housing, food, clothes, heat, medical care -- all at the expense of the taxpayer.

YMMV on that. They're supposed to, yes. In practice... not so much in some places.

A year after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging grave medical neglect of prisoners by Arizona’s private prison health care providers, prisoners have continued to die or endure unnecessary suffering after lack of basic treatment. After asking for medical assistance, many prisoners were told to “be patient” or “pray,” according to a new report.

In other jails and prisons, inmates are compelled to pay for their own medical expenses out of their commissary fund. Courts have ruled this reasonable, despite its facial violation of the 8th amendment.

Zoe Brain said...

A 22-year-old man serving a short jail stint for pot possession died after corrections staff neglected his intense dairy allergy and seemingly ignored his frantic pleas for medical assistance, according to videos obtained by a local news channel.


After nibbling the breakfast, Saffioti immediately began using his inhaler and asked to see a nurse. But the guards on duty, believing there was nothing wrong with him, sent Saffioti back to his cell.

From within his cell, Saffioti pressed the call button several times. The video footage even shows him jumping up and down in front of his cell window, hoping to draw the attention of the guards. They ignored his increasingly frantic calls for help.

Just 35 minutes later, Safffioti was found unconscious in his cell. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Snow said Snohomish staff “absolutely knew” about Saffioti’s allergies ahead of time.

Jail officials initially lied about the existence of video footage of the incident, but reporters and lawyers finally prevailed through the public records request process.

Dinah said...

Zoe, these stories are poignant and sad, but I'll contend it's a totally different issue.

The judge does the sentencing in one world and forcing specific long sentences without the possibility of parole and without regard to the situation and having no recourse for something we all see as unjust is, well, unjust.

Treatment of prisoners inside the correctional system is a separate world and a perfectly valid one to explore. But still, we don't want a judge saying to a mass murdered, well I'll give you pass this time because I understand you have a really severe peanut allergy and the guards may be incompetent.

It's like Robert Whitacker's book I'm reading -- he starts by condemning psychiatry because a couple took their spirited 4 year old to a specialty clinic at a university where she was seen for 10 minutes and by a nurse practitioner, told she had bipolar disorder and needed lithium, depakote and zyprexa. He takes an example of one (really really) bad practitioner and he generalizes it to all of psychiatry-- he doesn't even use a psychiatrist to make the case.. One bad jail, or one bad guard doesn't mean they are all incompetent, uncaring, or even malicious.

If the inmates are earning enough to pay for their medical care or anything else in their lives, then I'm down with that. If those who can't are not getting medical care because of this procedure, then I'd be against it. Obvioiusly telling people to pray without also offering medical care for potentially serious symptoms is completely wrong.

Zoe Brain said...

One bad jail, or one bad guard doesn't mean they are all incompetent, uncaring, or even malicious.

All? No. Not even most. But many, yes, and the number is growing, based on the increasing number of medically preventable deaths in prisons. These are not single, isolated, unrepresentative examples. In many states such situations would be unthinkable, in others, it's the norm.