Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 11

Okay...I've covered gun laws a bit, and there's the hope that word of increased sentences will deter people from committing gun crimes. As nice as it is to have hope, jails and prisons will likely fill up with criminals anyway.

We should be clear on the difference between a jail and a prison. The former is a temporary holding place for short-term convictions or pre-trial people. (Innocent until proven guilty, and all that.) The latter if long-term housing for convicted felons.

Here's where I have a little story for you. My Dad used to own an auto parts business in Brooklyn. A really bad part of Brooklyn. As Dad was getting into his 50's, he would start leaving the store early, leaving it in the capable hands of his manager. Amazingly, Dad was still putting in an eight-hour day, sometimes getting to work as early as 5 AM, and leaving somewhere around 1 or 2 PM.

One day, Dad left work around 1 PM, and once he was gone, the police converged on the store. The entire staff was arrested for guns and weapons possession, with intent to sell. In the days that followed, I lent a hand restoring the shop to working order; search teams don't clean up after themselves. I found a .22 revolver, which we turned in to the cops. As an added joy, my grandmother died within three days of the arrests, and my father was the only one available to claim her body. While driving to Staten Island, Dad was unable to avoid something in the road, so he centered the car over it in the hopes of simple passing harmlessly over the debris. It tore out his transmission pan and put a hole in the gas tank. They say disasters come in three, and Dad's disasters seem to all come up spades.

Back to the felons...

Jose...Hmmm...The entire staff of five, with the exception of one, was named Jose. Anyway, Jose made it clear my father had no idea what had been going on in the store. He and the others had taken it upon themselves to use the family business as a front for dealing drugs and weapons. (Lovely.) He was sentenced, if I remember correctly, to eight years in prison.

While he was released after five years for good behavior, it's what he did in jail that has me absolutely floors. I am not joking in any way when I tell you that Jose earned a law degree! Oh, he can't get a license to practice because of his felony conviction, but he earned a law degree! How one earns a law degree in prison is beyond me, but he earned a law degree!

Excuse my language use here, as it's not very Presidential, but...WHAT...THE...FUCK?!?

It had to be the easiest prison sentence of which I'd ever heard. He had a cell to himself, a radio, conjugal visits once a month from his gorgeous wife, access to cable TV outside his cell, and he earned a freakin' law degree! This whole thing makes me crazy. He did all of this on taxpayer money, while law-abiding college students basically do the same thing for thousands of dollars!

If you're not outraged, something is wrong with you, and you should seek professional help immediately.

Enter "America's Toughest Sheriff," Joe M. Arpaio. He's right here, in Maricopa County, running the Madison Street Jail the way jails and prisons should be run. These are the things that I like about Sheriff Joe. (There are some issues now, but we'll focus on the positive for the moment.)

1. Oddly, white underwear labeled "Maricopa County Sheriff's Office" was being stolen and sold on the streets. It was a tough guy's badge of honor, and allowed for the likely false claim, "Don't mess with me; I survived a stint in the county jail." To take the masculinity out of owning a pair, Joe had the underwear dyed pink. (He even sold commercial pairs with "Go Joe" printed on them for fund raising, and I was once given a pair as a gift. I'm not sure if I was supposed to be insulted when I got them.)

2. Introduced surplus food and ostrich bologna sandwiches as part of the menu of the prison's two meals a day. He also removed coffee, salt, and pepper from the prison. He is now feeding detainees for much less than $1 a day per prisoner.

3. Banned all sexually explicit material from the jail.

4. Banned smoking and weightlifting equipment.

5. While he kept cable TV in the jail, he limited the channels to only educational material. Prisoners can watch A&E, Animal Planet, CNN, the Disney Channel, the Weather Channel, and the local access government channel.

6. He started an in-house radio station that operates four hours a day, five days a week. "KJOE" plays classical, opera, and Frank Sinatra.

7. He established "Tent City." This put an end to early release due to overcrowding. To quote my source, "As an announcement to future inmates that they should not expect early release upon overcrowding, but more tents instead, Arpaio added a (pink neon) 'Vacancy' sign to the outside of Tent City."

8. Joe uses volunteer chain gangs, where low-risk disciplinary inmates can work for 30 days and earn the right to rejoin the jail's general population, instead of remaining in lockdown and sharing a cell with three other guys. These chain gangs work to create fire brakes (during our fire season), clean graffiti, remove trash, and bury deceased homeless in county cemeteries.

Now THAT'S how prisons and jails should work! Want to earn a GED through correspondence courses, fine. But you don't get to earn a law degree!

Alas, Sheriff Joe is stirring up a hornets nest with his policies on illegal immigration. Laws were passed in 2005 making if a felony to smuggle illegal immigrants across the AZ/Mexico boarder. There has been a lot of controversy, with people screaming about racial profiling. Personally, I think they might be correct. The laws fell in favor of Joe's personal opinions, and now he's using those laws to his advantage. Thus, while I'm a fan of his work, my view of the man is becoming soured, as I believe he's a bit too zealous in having his men pull over so many people that simply appear to be Mexican.

But Joe's jail is a JAIL! It's not a motel. It's not a college. Those that are eventually released are either enraged at the fact it wasn't "three hots and a cot," (three hot meals a day and a place to rest), or humbled by their experience. Time spent in Tent City with only a fan and water to cool you off during the brutal AZ summers will have those effects. In 2005, when summer temperatures averaged 110 F (43 C), inmates complained that it was inhumane to live in the heat that gathered and increased inside the tents. Arpaio's responds was, "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."

Yer dang tootin', Joe!

Prison reform should see such actions nationwide. The only alteration I would make is an increase to three meals a day. If they're all bologna sandwiches, so be it. It's a place of punishment, not the Marriott.

But while I take a strong stance of proper punishments, another thing that needs fixing in the prison system is the attention that special needs inmates have. Patients shouldn't be denied medication or dietary requirements if they have specific medical needs. I've heard a few too many tales from different people to think such things are being imagined. It's cruel and unusual punishment, and it shouldn't be tolerated anywhere. If a special medical prison needs to be established somewhere in the middle of the United States (for easy transport by all States), then that's what we build.

In fact, such a place would eliminate such claims as, "My client is too old/sick to go to prison." *BZZZT!* Wrong! Our "special needs prison" has a place for your client just waiting for him, and he will serve his sentence. If he's too old, he may well die there. Be it sickness or extreme age, he'll receive proper care. He'll have a cell, a bed instead of a cot, meals brought to him if he can't walk, and have plenty of reading time. Nurses, escorted by armed guards, will help to meet those special needs, and that's it. After that, it will remain a prisoner, where the luxuries of life are denied.

I could go into other details, but it's probably wisest to keep my extremist ideas of punishment to myself. Besides...The above prison reform should be enough to help deter crime...or so I hope.


Firestar27 said...

I have to say that I agree with you on prison reform. Currently, prison is a step up for some criminals. However, I do think that keeping the prisoners in tents with only a fan in 110 degree weather is a bit inhumane. The tent idea should be kept, but not in 110 degree weather. The soldiers in Iraq don't have the opportunity to move into better conditions if they want to stay successful. Prisoners do.

morbidwombat said...

110 degrees, with proper hydration, is perfectly acceptable. I've done drills in that. The tent environment actually increases safety. Everybody's visible all the time; there's no opportunity for drug trafficking or violence.

Prisoners should be making back for the state at least as much money as is being spent on them.
Prisons are supposed to be correctional. So they should be deterring reoffense. Therefore, prisoners should be doing community service, and learning how to be productive members of society. Not milling about, lifting weights, etc. A prison sentence shouldn't be an exercise in boredom, but a learning experience, and a fairly unpleasant one at that.