Prison USA

by david on September 5, 2010

Prison USA

I read somewhere the United States has more people in jail than any country in the world. Does that mean we have more criminals than any country? That would seem contrary to common sense. I rather expect it has to do with what an old psychology teacher of mine once told our class. He had us debating the question of what turns someone into a criminal. After the class had offered up all the sociological and psychological possibilities we could think of, his response was “no”, “all it takes to make a criminal is to pass a law.”

I would guess when we combine our local, state and national laws we probably have more laws than any other country and therefore more criminals. Do we have too many laws? Was Hobbes correct when he said it was government’s job to protect humans from their own destructive instincts or was Rousseau on the right track when he said man is born free, yet everywhere we see him in chains?

It seems such a shame we are so ready to see potential criminals lurking everywhere, just waiting for an opportunity to break the law. Here are a few things for the holier than thou among us whose behaviors are not yet considered criminal to think about. How long will it be before being obese becomes a criminal offense requiring either confinement in some “fat” hospital or the payment of a fine?

Being obese is already a politically correct category of scorn and derision as if obesity was a chosen goal of a group of particularly weak willed persons. What nonsense. It is no more a choice to become obese than it is a choice to be emaciated or physically fit. These are all accidental outcomes of those three horsemen of our Apocalypse, genes, life history and present circumstance.

We have let the mentally ill who deserve our understanding and unconditional help slip from the category of patients into the world of criminal offenders. Our prisons are overcrowded primarily because we dare not regard the mentally ill as being genuinely ill. We believe if they really, really wanted they could chose not to be mentally ill.

Perhaps it is out of fear we treat the mentally ill so poorly. Somewhere deep inside we understand as Darwin observed, the mentally ill are reflections of our own possible selves under different circumstances. Instead of recognizing the randomness of mental illness we have allowed ourselves the ridiculous, irrational rationalization the mentally ill choose to live lives of misery out of some form of masochistic deviance.

Is smoking on the hangman’s future list? Will those we have already conditioned into self-destruction be considered criminals for doing what we pleaded with them to do? Will the lazy move beyond condemnation and into the criminal category of being detrimental to society? What other groups are being eyed as potential criminals? What about those who don’t get enough miles per gallon with their gas guzzling cars? What about those who use too much water on their flower gardens or those who complain against the government too vociferously?

It won’t be the “winners,” who except for a few sacrificial lambs regularly escape the clutches of the law who will become the incarcerated of the future. They will continue to abuse and plunder with utter disregard for the justice faced by us losers who do no more than succumb to the temptations designed by the winners to turn us benign losers into deviant criminals.

Previous post:

Next post: