Criminal health care – Why we should care.

For most people, the discussion of health care within the prison system is a philosophical one. Not for me.

Inmate health care is a disgrace

While in jail, I got to see the conditions firsthand. I saw the guy coughing his lungs out for days asking deputies to send him to the infirmary only to be laughed at. I saw him struggling to catch his breath night after night, gasping for air in between coughs, making it hard for everyone in the 200 person dorm to sleep. I saw him collapse onto the floor, blood dripping from his mouth and collecting as we all started screaming at the officers to send someone in. They did, finally, and we never saw that guy again. I hope he made it.

After many years of doing little, our government is finally recognizing that leaving inmates to die by attrition within their walled caves is inhumane. In California, there’s a plan to ease crowding and therefore relieve inmate health services to the point they can actually function. Maybe Arnold will do something worthwhile after all. Two birds.

What are prisons for?

The thing is that fiscally responsible conservatives can’t have it both ways. Incarceration is not cheap and as our prison population mushrooms it gets exponentially more expensive requiring support services, the construction of whole cities, and bigger, more secure prisons. The U.S. now has the more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world. Forget China’s human-rights violations, we’re imprisoning ourselves.

Prisons are meant to keep our most dangerous criminals away from society. They’re not meant to be the places where drug users die, or where thieves, cheaters, or dead-beat-dads, go to rot (I met them all there). At least not in my book. Addicts and heavy drug users need help, thieves most often need food or some rehab themselves, dead-beats need a good collection agency and a lien on their income. None of these things are performed in inmate housing facilities. All everyone is trying to do there is stay alive in the mess. Since when was the threat of imprisonment our national parenting device?

Why we should care

“Do onto others” is supposed to be our golden rule, right? Christians proclaim it feverishly, as do my fellow Jews, and as far as I can tell, all other religions have their own versions. Even moral atheists recognize that society functions better when people treat each other with respect. So let’s do it.

When someone is hurting so much from drug use, poverty, and discomfort that they’re willing to steal, let’s give them a hand rather than tossing them to the curb. If they do it repeatedly, let’s figure out a better way to help them. If they seem incapable of stopping, we can revisit this argument. My guess is that those initial steps will greatly reduce the frequency of crime in general. “Bad people” will forever exist in the world, evil will stick around, no doubt, but we can’t live our lives in constant fear of it, jailing anyone who seems to cross paths with it.

Anyway, that’s my opinion.

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