Dr. Chenelle Jones: Why Everyone Needs to go to Prison
by Dr. Chenelle Jones
After visiting a maximum security prison in Ohio, I have come to the conclusion that everyone should go to prison.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, I would encourage you to continue reading.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), over 1.5 million people are locked away in prisons across the U.S. African Americans represent a staggering 38% of the total prison population even though they only comprise 13% of the total U.S. population. More disheartening is the fact that African American males comprise 39% of all males incarcerated even though they only represent 6% of the total U.S. population. Oftentimes, we hear these statistics and think, that’s disappointing but, seldom do we fully conceptualize the magnitude of the problem that is often masked behind these numbers. For this very reason, you should go to prison.
Last Thursday, I took a group of college students to a maximum security prison where nearly 50% of the inmates were housed in segregation units. In other words, a majority of the inmates were locked in solitary confinement, a form of punishment comprised of 23 hour confinement, limited contact with other humans, limited access to rehabilitation and/or educational opportunities, and mental torture. Studies of solitary confinement have found that inmates often report sensory deprivation, visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, psychosis, insomnia, paranoia, distortions of time and perceptions, and increased risk of suicide. Unquestionably, this is cruel and unusual punishment but because inmates are often dehumanized, rarely are the terms “cruel and unusual” ascribed to their punishment. However, if you were to go to prison, and witness the perpetuation of the inhumane treatment that is afforded to inmates in these segregation units, quickly will you realize that the conditions of such punishment, is beyond cruel and unusual, it is depressing and it is torture.
Even more upsetting is the fact that inmates who are placed in segregation units are typically not the most violent, they are often the most vulnerable. A special report titled Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates, produced by the U.S. Department of Justice found that over half of all prison and jail inmates have mental health problems. That’s an estimated 1.2 million inmates suffering from mental illness with 55% of African Americans in state prisons and 46% of African Americans in federal prison reporting some form of mental health issue. Regardless of whether these problems originated from sociological or biological causes, prisoners with mental illness often experience the most difficulties adjusting to the prison environment, controlling their anger, and/or following the rules of prison. As a result, they are more likely to experience disciplinary infractions, penalized, and placed in segregation units. More times than not, these inmates are disproportionately African American. Once in solitary confinement, they are often unable to cope with the mental stress of isolation and are likely to experience a complete mental breakdown.
Although these facts are disconcerting to read, they are even more disturbing to see. There is an old saying that “seeing is believing” and for this reason, you should go to prison.
So go to prison, so you can witness African American men caged like an animals in 8×10 cells.
Go to prison, so you can see African American men pace back and forth in their cells because they have been stuck there for 23 hours, only to leave for an hour of recreation and a shower.
Go to prison, so you can observe African American men struggle to lift their feet as they walk down a corridor because they can’t go anywhere without shackles on their feet, hands, and wrists.
Go to prison, so you can watch African American men plead and beg to have a simple conversation with you because they rarely have contact with people on the “outside”.
Go to prison, so you can see the strategic dehumanization of African American men as they are stripped of their name and reduced to an inmate number.
Go to prison, so you can see the depressing, destructive, and deleterious effect it has on everyone there.
Go to prison, so you can observe the countless fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, etc. who are suffering from mental illness and are lacking appropriate treatment.
Go to prison…
So you can get angry,
So you can advocate,
And so you can be the vessel that facilitates change
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