Prison life is bad for many reasons. This post will explore three that receive inadequate attention.
First and most obviously, when folks are in prison, they are not in their communities. For instance, 1 in 3 black baby boys can expect to spend part of his life in prison. The absence of these black convicts, criminals, inmates, “low-lifes,” (aka fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters) can damage black communities, especially low income neighborhoods in inner cities.
The second reason why prison is bad has to do with how the presence of convicts in other districts takes power and money away from a convict’s own community, who often need it more. Allow me to explain: remember how the constitution originally did not give black slaves the right to vote, but allowed them to be counted as 3/5 of a person in census data? This constitutional law, in addition to disenfranchising people, gave slave-populated states and slave-populated counties greaterand unproportional representative power in state and federal governments. In the same way, prisoners count as a person when it comes to districting and funding, but most often they also cannot vote. In this way, displaced inner-city prisoners bolster the voting power of rural districts, where prisons are located, while being unable to vote themselves. Rural whites, ironically, are statistically the most punitive demographic, and the power and money that would be allocated to inner-city, minority communities, often flows to the very districts that tend to advocate for harsher sentencing.
The third issue I want to mention in regards to prison life is rape. In 2008, the Justice Department estimated there were 216,000 victims of rape in the prison system that year–nearly 10% of all inmates (my own calculations 216k/2.3 mil). This was up from 140,000 rape victims in 2001 (as estimated by the Human Rights Watch). These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. Consider this story:
“Roderick Johnson, a petty thief who was attacked by his roommate shortly after arriving at a Texas prison. Johnson asked to be transferred to a different section of the facility, and got his wish. But news of Johnson’s physical availability had spread throughout the complex—after you’re raped once, you’re marked—and he was soon enslaved by a gang. In addition to passing Johnson around among themselves, Johnson’s new overseers sold his ass and mouth to a variety of clients for $3 to $7, a competitive enough price that it resulted in multiple rapes every day for the eighteen months that Johnson spent in prison.”
Because of a trend of sexual slavery, 216,000 victims of rape a year might translate into exponentially more actual instances of rape. Yet, amazingly, there were only 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse in 2008. I am no expert, but this mind-blowing disparity only makes sense to me if victims feel that the only thing worse than getting raped is getting raped and seeking help. By allowing this ridiculousness to continue it seems to me that society, that is you and me, is making a clear and icy statement: crimes against criminals don’t count.
Fun fact: it is very possible, even likely, that the majority of all rapes in the United States in 2008 were committed against male victims, making the United States the first country in the history of the world where men are getting raped more often than women. Consider these premises:
- There are around 208,000 victims of rape outside of prisons per year.
- The substantial majority of prison rape victims are men and the vast majority of non prison rape vicitms are women, though estimates vary.
- Imprisoned rape victims tend to be raped more often per year than non-prison rape victims, though estimates vary.
The next post will explore issues related to life after prison.