I am in the process of trying a case in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of a little girl who was forced to be born in a jail cell because her mother was imprisoned and denied necessary medical care by a local hospital. As I was taking the drive to court this morning I heard a radio report of a hunger strike among prisoners in California protesting that state’s practice of condemning large number of prisoners to solitary confinement. That state already is under a court order to relieve massive overcrowding. I wonder how it is that we have become a country that imprisons more people than any other nation in the world.
In Michigan, one of the largest segments of employment, especially in the Upper Peninsula, is corrections. In a state with more prisons than some countries have, more prisons are being built. If one were to base a guess on what is happening with the prison system based on who is there, one could say that our country has decided to imprison African-American males as a social policy, and the mentally ill, and non-violent drug users.
Violent crime is at an historic low, yet our prison population is at an historic high. I wonder if imprisonment has become the default setting on a society that refuses to address the social problems that require more effort and long-term investment. Just like the medical and prison staff who turned their eyes away from a woman and child in need, as a society we turn our eyes away from those in need: the mentally ill and homeless, the impoverished, the marginalized in our society.
Or when we can’t avert our eyes, we imprison them.