When I was young, my parents explained to me that “hurt people, hurt people.” In that situation, it was about bullying, but this sentiment reigns true in more ways than one. Knowing this, one must come to understand that throwing people in cages and denying them their humanity is the way to create more crime, not less. Being placed in today’s correctional facilities is often a traumatizing experience. Incarceration is deeply rooted in racism and classism. The criminal justice system, for many, serves as a revolving door, not a place of rehabilitation. For all the men, women, and children who have experienced incarceration, it is often a place of pain and trauma. As a society that markets itself as free, we need to overhaul a system that takes the freedom of millions.
The racist, classist, and sexist policies that impact the lives of low-income people and people of color reak havoc on members of these communities. These people hurt by the system, at times, go on to hurt people, whether that be through violence, with drugs, and through theft. Punishing them without fixing the issues that continually cause harm, the behaviors we are trying to avoid will persist.
The incarceration system is punitive. This focus on punishment is not conducive to rehabilitating people that commit crimes. I by no means am advocating for serial killers, mass shooters, and terrorists to remain free, but people committing non-violent offenses should not pay their debt to society by being snatched out of it. They should have to give back that which they took through restorative justice practices. Those of us that advocate for a transformation of the criminal justice system do so not because we don’t believe people must pay for their actions but because we think that payment should benefit those who were harmed.
Those who are rich and white more often get to evade the trauma associated with their crime but those who are poor and minority, usually, have to pay for what they’ve done through a system that violates and exploits them. It is time to abandon punitive ways of addressing crime and embrace humanity.