I am a child from the 70s and 80s and grew up in an era where conservatism ruled the day in contrast with the free love era of the 50s and 60s. Childhood was an insidious time where HIV and AIDS captured the headlines. The root cause of the auto immune outbreak was directly attributed to those living a homosexual lifestyle. This correlation branded homosexuality in a negative light. The daily attacks were stifling and the stigma against the gay community was fervent.
Others irresponsibly expanded that stigmatization to improperly state, those who engage in such wreckless behavior aren’t fit to parent and disparaged those individuals as predators and child abusers whom couldn’t be trusted. It wasn’t until decades later that society at-large stood up to rebuke those mischaracterizations.
Fast forward to today and the wide acceptance of the gay community. The transformation of societal beliefs was a slow but steady progression driven by the public’s demands for inclusion, factual transparency debunking misrepresentations, and equal rights as any other loving, committed couple would be afforded. Any dramatic change toward reforming the penal and criminal justice systems are going to require the same level of effort and public outcry for sweeping reforms to be legislatively passed in this country.
Politics need to be removed from any conversation involving reform efforts because in most instances politicians have a conflict of interest which can’t be reconciled. No different than the religious right effort’s to marginalize homosexuals back in the day, only to eventually have those misperceptions be refuted, politicians continue to perpetuate false stereotypes about those incarcerated and pass fear mongering legislation that enhances punishment disproportionately. The fact remains, the U.S. holds 5% of the World’s population, but incarcerates 25% of the World’s prisoners. All officials, whether elected by the public or appointed by those voted into office, share responsibility for the failure to address the issue of mass incarceration and effectuate change.
The issue no one wants to speak publicly about, in spite of it being the ELEPHANT in the room, is the simple fact there’s no incentive for change. Mass incarceration is BIG MONEY. More often than not prisons are built in poor, rural communities and typically is the largest employer around. The taxes are merely one facet of the revenue generated for the surrounding communities. Inmates are another commodity which generates federal, state, and local income. Let’s not turn a blind eye to the eye dropping sums of money profiteered by judges, politicians, and law enforcement authorities by their financial investments in the prison industry. These examples are barely scratching the surface to the plethora of conflicts of interests permeating every web, tangibly and intangibly, linked to the prison industry in this country.
Between the lobbyists that represent all of these entangled groups, and the overwhelming revenue generated by them, there is little hope for dramatic change until society rises up and and has an epiphany; if we’re not spending upwards of 50% of our state’s resources on law enforcement, criminal justice, and prisons, simply imagine how much of an investment could be made toward education, infrastructure, mental healthcare, health insurance, among other services, while simultaneously reducing taxes. The fundamental changes would alter the landscape of the World we currently reside in and profoundly change the current view of lock’em up and throw away the key, to nurture, educate, and rehabilitate.
The fact remains, what’s currently happening in this country is not a by product of effective policy, but ineffective bureaucracy at its most baneful. Time’s Up! Come election time make your demands known to your representatives. If they refuse to follow the desires of their constituency, in order to pursue personal gain and power, remove them from elected office by voting for another candidate willing to listen to his or her constituents. Embrace change, refuse the status quo, and watch resiliency work, driven by the people, for the people.
John Hamilton, #1442949
Virginia Dept. of Corrections
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Rd / P.O. Box 488
Burkeville VA 23922