Washington Post Op-Ed: Prison Break

5:59 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t. In the first of what looks like, in spite of myself, will be some kind of series, I expressed my admiration for Marion in Savannah, who is able to read New York Times Op-Eds every single day. I could not do that: It’s true that she has to have all three of coffee, tea and hot chocolate afterwards to recover, but not even single malt would work for me.

However, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and so am precluded from actual intellectual activity like, say, reading a paper in Italian on why Hope was left in Pandora’s jar in the original version of the myth. Besides, the Barbarian himself thanked the second entry for reading WaPo so other FDLers wouldn’t have to. How can I turn up my nose after that?

Today Liberal #2, whom we met discussing the Pope in the first entry, writes on the Republicans vis-a-vis the sequester; Mideast Desk (David Ignatius) discusses relations with Russia; and Entitlement Reformer (Fred Hiatt) waxes on those with Japan, whether or not eloquently I couldn’t say. For I’m not going to read these, much less summarize them for you today. You have the links if any sounds interesting.

But today we also have Baseball Fan (George F. Will) taking a prison break. It is a break from his usual mixture of hot-button conservative demands like abolishing the minimum wage and populist calls to abolish the big banks. It is also a break from his June, 2008 position on prisons, namely, the greater the incarceration rate, the lesser the crime. Instead, today BF inveighs against solitary confinement. Never mind water-boarding at Guantanamo, he says at the outset, for meanwhile,

tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

He goes on from there to cite Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-Il) initiative on the subject (not telling us, to be sure, that this was eight months ago). He cites facts like that the U. S. only has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. He notes New Yorker and NYT articles on the damage to the prisoner psyche of the Supermax facilities such as Marion, Il. He even quotes from the journal of one Charles Dickens, who came from across the pond in 1842 to visit a prison known for solitary confinement.

Finally, BF says, mass incarceration costs too much, and we’re paying just to make psychotics out of people who will eventually get back on our streets.

Great stuff, right? Except that BF has no clue on why all this is going on even after it has been discredited (since he is hardly the first to point out the problems; so have the Center for Constitutional Rights in a recent FDL post, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in an earlier offering, among others). Namely, it is in at least some measure the result of extensive lobbying by the Corrections Corporation of America for stricter criminal laws and against more lenient parole conditions, in order to increase its bottom line. Indeed, in a more cynical moment I might think our columnist was a stalking horse for the CCA. “You say your prisons cost too much? We can show you how to save by turning them over to experts for a small fee.”

But probably not. Baseball Fan is a strange duck. Best to leave it at that.