The American obsession with revenge affects prisons

Jaclyn+Fabing
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The American obsession with revenge affects prisons

Jaclyn Fabing

Jaclyn Fabing

Jaclyn Fabing

Jaclyn Fabing

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America has more prisoners per capita than anywhere else in the world. One can make the argument that many of these people are wrongfully convicted because of our country’s obsession with revenge, or that this system does little more than breed more crime. These are both true. But today, let’s think about one thing: What does it truly matter if they’re criminals?

Americans gawk at the comfortable prisons of countries like Norway, where it feels more like a luxury resort than a prison. Meanwhile, Illinois’ largest prison floods yearly and California’s prisons were found by the Supreme Court to be violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Many Americans write these facts off the same way they do with laws that make ex-felons continue to pay for their crimes long after their release by rescinding their right to vote.

Expungement, or sealing off one’s criminal conviction, is extremely complicated and expensive, making it harder for ex-felons to find jobs even decades after their release because of their records. America has made it nearly impossible for a person who has committed a crime and is not wealthy to rehabilitate truly ever, hence the phrase “revolving door prison.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 76 percent of prisoners are rearrested within five years.

Any change in such laws is met with hostility; it appears as if Americans do not believe a criminal can rise from their crimes. If they committed a crime once, then that must be all they are—criminals. Some even advocate in favor of the death penalty, even for relatively minor crimes. ‘What good are they to society?’

This is the underlying reason for our overcrowded prisons that do nothing to prevent crime further down the road. America has a problem with revenge. We do not believe in change and want to make sure all criminals are punished to the fullest extent of the law. But, in reality, change does happen. Lighter sentences do not mean more crime, and a prison system more like Norway’s begets a 20 percent recidivism rate- one of the lowest in the world. It’s been proven that people age out of crime; most arrests peak at late teenage years, before the brain is fully developed. So what point is there for keeping people locked up until they’re 85 years old when rehabilitation is a tangible solution? There isn’t, unless your goal is revenge.

America needs to deal with its revenge problem, and perhaps then we’ll see a change in our prison systems.

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