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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, January 29, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesPunishing the Innocent Is Unfair

Punishing the Innocent Is Unfair

Dear Source,
There appears to be a commonly-held perception regarding the recent sit-in protest at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility. The idea is apparently that prisoners are in prison to be punished, not pampered and that until they learn to follow the rules their privileges are and should be suspended.
It should be remembered that prison actually serves a dual and competing purpose. We do not send people to jail solely as a punishment. We also send people to jail in the attempt to rehabilitate them so that they are no longer a threat to society. Therefore, we provide them a very regimented life with many rules and limited freedoms. After all, one would not normally describe getting to hug or kiss one's loved ones as being pampered.
With respect to prisoners following the rules, it must be remembered that this lockdown occurred following the actions of individual inmates. Various individual inmates stabbed other inmates, escaped the prison, stole and attempted to sell bulletproof vests, and brought narcotics into the prison. However, this lockdown applied to the entire facility, all 500 inmates, and has apparently been in place now for six months. That means six months during which not one prisoner was allowed to even see a loved one, much less hug or kiss a loved one. That also means that even those prisoners who have followed the rules religiously have been punished by this sanction. Think about that a moment. That means even the two inmates who were the victims of those prison stabbings are being punished for the actions of the inmates who stabbed them and the actions of other inmates who broke the rules. Even if you were one of those prisoners who had guards ready to sign statements attesting to your wonderful rehabilitation and perfect behavior, you still suffered this prison-wide sanction.
Most importantly, however, I think we should think about how their behavior fits into our society's rules. Normally, when we hear about a prison protest, it comes in the form of a riot, which society finds unacceptable. Here we are faced with a peaceful, non-violent sit-in to contest a patently unfair practice. If they were free, we would commend them for being political activists. Instead, we are berating them for their peaceful, non-violent sit-in as though they had taken guards hostage and threatened people's lives.
At the end of the day, would you be patient if you had not been able to see, much less touch your loved ones for six months? What message are we sending to these prisoners who have followed society's rules in making their concerns known to a wider segment of the public? How many people even knew about this prison-wide lockdown prior to their sit-in? We have a tendency to hear the word "inmate" and feel that they deserve whatever they get. We must never forget that not every inmate is in prison for a violent crime, not every inmate is a repeat offender, and some inmates have genuinely learned their lesson and are trying to better themselves. Those inmates took a chance, knowing they would pay a price, in order to send us a message. If we disregard the message because we apply a stereotype to the messenger, we are teaching those inmates that rehabilitation doesn't work because their words will forever fall on deaf ears because of their prior actions. We are telling them that they will never have changed enough to be anything but a contemptible criminal in our eyes, deserving only of our scorn. We are pushing them into the arms of the violent hard-core repeat offenders, who are only too glad to teach them a thing or two about life as an enemy of society. The question is simple: Do we want our prison to be both punishment and a path to redemption or simply a training ground for the worst kind of career criminal?
Mark Hodge
St. Thomas

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