Who Should be in Prison?

August 25, 2016
Sunyata Altenor

With the highest population of prisoners in the world (we're 4% of the world's population but house 22% of the world's prisoners), it is imperative that we re-evaluate the way our country attempts to create order, peace and stability. Because when the systems that are here to help make society "safer" actually foster more chaos, violence and instability--they cannot go unchecked by the people. On the campaign trail a young sister asked me to follow up on a question about about incarceration for minor offenses. She asked "Well if low-level drug offenders don't belong in prison, who do you think does?" 

I was glad that she asked because in mainstream media and even alternative media there's some conversation about what is wrong with our judicial system and how ineffective it has been in "rehabilitating" or providing tools for living a healthy, productive life, but very little discussion takes place on the practice of isolating human beings from society in general. And even less on the overall economic, mental, emotional and spiritual impacts of our prison system. 

I'm someone who believes in prison abolition -- meaning that I believe we can build a society where prisons are not necessary and restorative justice can be a tool we use as we evolve as human beings. Evolution is simply the characteristic change of a society over generations; and I feel strongly that as we continue to dream and create a world where human rights are at the center of our dealings with one another, we can disengage from the practice of separating individuals from everyone else.

There may be a relatively small number of people who need to be separated--those who have been so diseased and corrupted mentally and emotionally by society that they are imminently harmful to other folks. But I believe that over time we will be in a position to have a human species who can do away with the barbaric practice of confining people to cells as though they were animals for years at a time.

As I always say, this is a struggle that is protractive, or ongoing, but it is also one that is necessary. With the innovations in technology, science the arts and media, I'm certain that the youth of today and the people are ready to begin re-creating an evolved society -- one that is prepared to build with compassion, social, economic & cultural human rights and liberation as it's foundation. No system can change unless we change our minds about it. And we cannot reclaim our power until we define success for our own communities.



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