Our justice system is criminal

I have always known that prisoners have access to the best medical care. I knew this for the first time about a year ago during a very precarious personal medical situation.

Let me be more clear. I was sitting in a doctor’s chair, scared shitless, about to have a needle stuck in my eye, when I saw two things approaching: 1) A world-renowned ophthalmologist, and behind her 2) A man in an orange DOC jumpsuit, feet and hands shackled, clambering to the room next to mine under the close watch of two armed guards. I thought I was nervous checking my SAT scores…

I confess. In that moment I was not thinking about America’s inhumane and ineffective criminal justice system. I was not thinking about the lockup quotas that all but require “justice” system employees to ensure that prison beds are full. That there are more than 2.7 million children in the U.S. living with an incarcerated parent. Or that a former President decided to apply some of the rules of American’s Pastime to sentencing practices.

No. In that moment I was terrified. And maybe fear is the reason I kept thinking “he doesn’t deserve this type of care,” but that reaction disgusts me. And more than a year later, I haven’t been able to shake it. It disgusts me because I didn’t mean it. I was just scared. And, as I think about, our country is just scared. We’re scared because we don’t know what to do, and our approach to crime and punishment is stuck back in ancient times when civilizations used prisons “as a temporary stopgap before sentencing to death or life of slavery.” Sound familiar? Though we don’t “mean it”, this is what we’re doing right now, and it’s disgusting.

Obama’s clemency initiative is great, but his executive power is a Band-Aid. The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is a rare non-profit with the structural heft to provide re-entry services across the country, but it remains dramatically underfunded and underutilized. Innovative companies like Quartet Health are changing how we provide behavioral healthcare, but it will take time to impact the criminal justice system.

Our scared, old-fangled approach to criminal justice is destroying communities across our country. Rather than succumb to this fear, a deeply un-American proposition, please propose ideas that we can work on together to help fix our criminal justice system.

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