People lost in the criminal "justice" system, often for months at a time. I use the scare quotes advisedly.
I caught part of this story on the news as I was driving home from work this evening, and it was classic NPR--I was shouting at the radio as I cruised down the no-longer-quite-as-quiet streets of the college town where I work and where I used to live. It's bad enough that they're talking about people who were swept up into the prison system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and languished behind bars for up to eight months without ever seeing a lawyer or the inside of a courtroom. It's worse that the Louisiana Department of Corrections only allocates, at least if I'm remembering the figures correctly, $22.50 per prisoner per day to board those in its not-so-tender care.
But the part that really got my blood boiling was the story of a young man who was evacuated from New Orleans to Texas during or shortly after the hurricane. Because he was not in the jurisdiction, he missed his court-ordered drug treatment. And so, when he returned to New Orleans, he was arrested--and someone promptly lost his court file.
Yes, of course, when you're on probation you must comply with the terms of your release, whatever they are. But when the government scoops you up from the floodwaters and plunks you down several hundred miles away, I should think they would also have the responsibility of notifying your parole officer that you're going to be missing a few meetings, and also of setting up something at least reasonably similar for you in your new home, so that you could remain on your program. For that same government to arrest a man for failing, due to circumstances totally beyond his control, to comply with one of the conditions of his release seems to me extraordinarily callous and cold-hearted.
And that, I would argue, is where a lifetime (my lifetime) of "get tough on crime" rhetoric has gotten us. Prisoners no longer count as people. They're scum. They're a social problem. They're predators to be locked up forever, or subjected to onerous release conditions and limitations on their freedoms that any self-respecting citizen would balk at. We've successfully dehumanized anyone who is currently or has recently been in the criminal
justice retribution system.
Hell, no, we don't have to provide them with some means of human interaction while they're in jail. They should sleep on concrete platforms in brightly lit cells painted a stark white, and given no opportunity to hear the sound of another human being's voice--or much of anything else, either--for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four. We shouldn't have to spend money on their education, or means of providing for their health and welfare. They should either be working in conditions barely better than slavery, or else rotting away in idleness, out of sight and out of mind of all "decent" people.
I'm sorry, but that's just not cutting it for me. (I'll pause here for the obligatory accusations from Right Wingnuttistan that Democrats and lib'ruls are soft on crime and only want to coddle killers, child molesters, rapists, and the like. I'll even forego the customary riposte that the only criminals whose welfare the Republicans are interested in are their rich campaign contributors and lobbyist friends who've gotten more than usually unlucky.)
Those that are a danger to society (or to themselves) must of course be segregated from the rest of society, for their protection and/or ours. But that does not permit us to take a "file-and-forget" attitude toward those who have landed behind bars. Prisoners they may be, but they are still human beings, and as such just as entitled to all the legal and civil and human rights that go along with that status. No, we need not provide them with conjugal visits while in the clink. But we should have to provide them with something to do besides sit around and watch crap TV or stare blankly at the blank walls all day. We should have to provide at least minimal counseling and other rehabilitative services to those in need of them--and we absolutely shouldn't be placing people (like Jose Padilla most recently in situations where they're going to develop mental illnesses they didn't already have when they came in. That's a guarantee of recidivism, which is already a big enough problem in our system of crime and punishment, without our adding to it.