A million different crimes could send you to prison. Depending on who you ask, the length of that time will either be too short or too long. Teaching the offender a lesson in order to correct their behavior — it’s right there in the name, Vermont Department of Corrections. Punishment and correction, these dual missions drive the juggernaut of law enforcement and our state court system. The actual success of these systems — it depends on who’s asking and who answers. Is the crime rate up or down? Do you feel safe? Are the sentences too lenient? Is enough being done for the victims of crime?
I would argue that treating people in prison as irredeemable, with no value now or ever, is a mistake. I further argue that that incarceration alone, without added intensification by prison policies or staff, is punishment enough. We know we are guilty, and every second inside these walls reinforces that. Imagine locking yourself in your bathroom with a total stranger, and sleeping within five feet of the toilet. Covid restrictions might keep you there for 23 and 3/4 hours a day. This over-pressurized living takes its toll on incarcerated people, staff, family, and friends. It’s no secret: jail life breaks people down. Incarcerated people’s reaction to stress may range from total withdrawal to targeted violence. (more…)