I recently read Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. It was another book club suggestion, though I was surprised to see it. I had heard of the Netflix show by the same name and watched a few episodes. Ultimately, my husband liked it enough to watch ahead, and I lost interest at that point. The book was a fast read. I was initially a little hesitant to read it as some Amazon readers found it boring. One person described Ms. Kerman as “a bit smug.”
I think that sometimes when people put others down, they’re doing it because they feel that skeptical = smart. I thought her tone was honest and refreshing, and not the least bit smug. What I really liked most about the book is that it touched on something I’m pretty passionate about, which is how our justice system isn’t really about justice.
I’m not going to get into length of sentence or whether or not the punishment fits the crime. To be honest, I’m not qualified to cover those things. What I do know is that half the people in prison are struggling with a mental illness (Bureau of Justice Statistics) and that many of them don’t get the treatment they need. Ms. Kerman talked about how the rehabilitation programs telling people how to get jobs and housing are a joke and completely irrelevant to these people. I’ve seen people come to the clinic I work in, completely unprepared for “the real world.”
Some people say, “so what? They committed a crime, so who cares about them?” The problem is that 40% of people return to prison. It costs an average of $20,414 per year to house a nonviolent offender, and that money comes from taxpayers. Wouldn’t it be more cost efficient to provide rehabilitation services to inmates, or even better, programs for high risk youth?
I have a friend who’s a great guy. He’s funny, outgoing, and caring. He also has a criminal past. In his misspent youth, he did a few things and ended up with a nonviolent felony. He’s stayed out of trouble for a long time now. He filed for the charge to be “set aside,” and it was granted. Now, the charge still exists on his record, but it’s basically like he has a court order saying “forget that.” He wants to be a nurse, but he can’t. The hospital he’d have to do his internship is refusing to hire him. The guy works, has a wife and kids, wants to get higher education and get a job helping people, but can’t because he was a dumbass when he was a lot younger.
Is that fair? How long should people have to pay for the consequences of their actions?
I’m not saying any of this to excuse criminals from what they do. I’m not saying it’s okay or justified to lie or steal or cheat or sell drugs, just because these things aren’t “violent.” They still hurt people. Ms. Kerman talks about the addicts that she met in jail, and how she realized the impact of her carrying drug money. But she was jailed 11 years after she did it, when she had a job and fiancé. She had friends and family. Was that really the best way to teach the lesson?
If punishment is our goal as a society, then I think we’re doing an okay job. Taking away people’s freedoms, taking them from friends and family, stripping them of dignity and choices… those things are punishment. But is that really what we want? Punishment only teaches people that they don’t want to get caught. Rehabilitation teaches people how to live.
What do you think?