The deplorable treatment of people in prisons and jails

Sandra Bland should have been watched more closely, and a failure to follow proper procedures allowed her the opportunity to kill herself. Former pro wrestler Brian Lawler was also not monitored as closely as he should have, allowing him to commit suicide. Because of the failures of the state, these two people made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) are dead. But it is far worse than just those two deaths, because suicide is a far too common cause of death in prisons and jails.

For the sake of argument, assume that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. The series of events leading up to his death – taking him off suicide watch, not doing the required wellness checks, and other failures – demonstrated staggering incompetence by the jail where he was held. One does not have to believe in a conspiracy to see that this is a major scandal, and only one small part of a much bigger scandal.

Our society does not regard prisoners well. Society does not care about their safety or their lives. In addition to suicide, rape is an epidemic in prison. The attitude of far too many is “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” as if rape and extrajudicial murder is assumed to be part of a prison sentence, or that we should not care if someone commits suicide. One less mouth for taxpayers to feed, right?

Wrong. We should demand humane conditions not because prisoners “deserve” them, but because of what it says about us as a society when we allow anarchy and violence to reign in our prisons. We need to do better. That involves a commitment to holding wrongdoers accountable, and yes it involves spending more money. If we have to cut spending elsewhere to pay for it, then we need to do that. But above all else it means seeing the people in our jails and prisons as lives that matter, no matter what they have done to get them in there. Keep in mind that I say this as an enthusiastic advocate for humane capital punishment.