Thursday, March 03, 2005

There's a line going around that you judge a society by the way it treats its least. Or weakest. Or worst. Well, here's how we do it:

Victoria Williams Smith, the mother of a teenage boy, was booked into another upstate jail, in Dutchess County, charged with smuggling drugs to her husband in prison. She ... had only 10 days to live after she began complaining of chest pains. She phoned friends in desperation: The medical director would not prescribe anything more potent than Bengay or the arthritis medicine she had brought with her, investigators said. A nurse scorned her pleas to be hospitalized as a ploy to get drugs. When at last an ambulance was called, Ms. Smith was on the floor of her cell, shaking from a heart attack that would kill her within the hour. She was 35.

This was not an isolated incident: another guy at a different jail in upstate New York, charged with taking skis from his ex-wife, had died earlier when the prison literally would not let him take the medicine to control his Parkinson's disease. And there were eight other deaths last year attributable to malfeasance by the same prison health service. Which is not the government, by the way. Under a Republican governor, New York State's prison health service has been privatized.

Zsallia Marieko had a few things to say about the state of our prisons a while ago:

The rantings of radio talk show hosts bring an end to education programs in penitentiary systems, or programs designed to reintegrate released prisoners in to the general public. As these trends progress they are exacerbated by laws, passed with public acclamation, which further ostracize and perpetuate the offenders' punishment far beyond the lawful prison term or probation served. You Americans are rapidly approaching a system of punishment in perpetuity that shall not only fail to curtail crime, but likely lead to even more social unrest and violence down the road.

... I submit to you that should you feel such punishment in perpetuity is a just and worthy thing, you might wish to be completely honest with yourself and begin to advocate execution for all but the most minor of offenses. It seems to me that such a system would in the end be far more humane than the abattoir-for-the-soul that currently enjoys such favor and support.

Of course, Zsallia does claim to have been living long enough to see people get hanged for petty theft. But that aside... well, I'm not sure I'd go as far as she does. But a society that routinely tolerates prisoner-on-prisoner rape ought to be willing, at least, to rethink its attitude toward formally sanctioned corporal punishment...

via Amygdala.


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