Why Prisons Should Be Abolished

So You've Been Publicly ShamedTen minutes after introducing himself, [Clive Stafford Smith] was walking me through the corridors of Vanessa Branson’s labyrinthine palace telling me why prisons should be abolished.

“Let me ask you three questions,” he said. “And then you’ll see it my way. Question One: what’s the worst thing that you have ever done to someone? It’s okay. You don’t have to confess it out loud. Question Two: what’s the worst criminal act that has ever been committed against you? Question Three: which of the two was the most damaging for the victim?”

The worst criminal act that has ever been committed against me was burglary. How damaging was it? Hardly damaging at all. I felt theoretically violated at the idea of a stranger wandering through my house. But I got the insurance money. I was mugged one time. I was eighteen. The man who mugged me was an alcoholic. He saw me coming out of a supermarket. “Give me your alcohol,” he yelled. He punched me in the face, grabbed my groceries, and ran away. There wasn’t any alcohol in my bag. I was upset for a few weeks, but it passed.

And what was the worst thing I had ever done to someone? It was a terrible thing. It was devastating for them. It wasn’t against the law.

Clive’s point was that the criminal justice system is supposed to repair harm, but most prisoners — young, black — have been incarcerated for acts far less emotionally damaging than the injuries we noncriminals perpetrate upon one another all the time — bad husbands, bad wives, ruthless bosses, bullies, bankers.

—Jon Ronson
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

2 thoughts on “Why Prisons Should Be Abolished

  1. Those questions are brilliant. Obviously we need protection from random acts of violence. It’s not at all clear any criminal justice system is the most effective way of providing this protection (it may be, I don’t know.) Certainly ours is borderline useless. And all of us have done more serious damage to others in ways that could never be classified as “criminal,” which, when we look back at them, it’s hard to imagine behaving any other way (although we wish there was another way we could have behaved.)

    “Never thought I could act this way, and I’ve got to say, that I just don’t get it” as mentioned before.

    • I think it’s brilliant too. However, I’m afraid it is also useless. For most people, our criminal justice system is about controlling “those” people. But there clearly is a better way. I think even most violent crime is mostly due to economic insecurity and related issues. But if you are in the power elite, what are you going to do: lose some money or continue to lock people up almost randomly?

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