Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paying for incarceration? What stops demands for better accommodations?

I’m not overly concerned about prison inmates – many of whom probably do have a screw or two loose and would think nothing of bashing my skull in if they thought there was something in it for them.

Is there really big money in suing former inmates?
But I can’t help but think the only people with more loose marbles rattling around in their skulls are those amongst us who get all hung up on wanting to make inmates' lives as miserable as possible.

PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY envision they’re a part of the society that’s never going to have to do time (they can afford the legal representation that gets them probation when they screw up in the eyes of the law).

So it is with a sense of outrage that I read a Chicago Tribune report about the lawsuits the state files on behalf of the Department of Corrections in order to seize any financial assets a prison inmate may obtain – even after being released.

The idea is that the state is trying to recoup the living costs it had to pay in order to actually house that particular individual.

After all, having to feed and clothe and house the tens of thousands of people who at any given time are inmates of the state prison system is quite an expense. And particularly at a time like now when state government finances are tight – every dime counts.

YET THERE IS something repulsive about the concept of trying to get money from these people. It is embarrassing because I believe it lowers all of us in Illinois to the base level of the criminal element.

It feels like Illinois is trying to run a scam that feeds off people who, because of their own circumstances, don’t have much to offer.

Balancing budget on inmates' backs?
And let’s be honest, because of the expense of keeping people under high security (even those in minimum-security facilities), the amount of money likely to be obtained through such lawsuits is NOT going to cover the full cost of their incarceration.

Which, to me, makes it seem like the state is trying to ensure that those people who wind up doing prison time are never capable of rebuilding their lives.

THAT’S NOT A ludicrous thought. I remember one time talking to a state legislator who once was a Chicago police detective who told me he believed that people who went to prison (regardless for what or how little time they served) ought to carry a stigma for the rest of their lives.

What goes through their minds at times?
As though the idea of someone rebuilding their lives and putting their past behind them is somehow a subversive idea. Perhaps they think having a permanent “inmate” class is somehow a key to success.

It may make the rest of us feel better about ourselves that we have someone to look down upon. Until we realize that we as a society are really no better off than our weakest links.

We probably want to think that all the schoolyard bullies grew up into criminals and are now in prison somewhere. Although actions like this make me think those bullies grew up into government officials who use their official authority to terrorize those they can to make themselves feel stronger.

BESIDES, WHENEVER I think about the idea of suing inmates in order to get any money they may obtain, I think about all the corrections officials who view any lawsuit by an inmate as frivolous. Why are these not as bad?

Particularly since I wonder what would stop an inmate from trying to sue the state for better living accommodations during their period of incarceration – particularly if they’re expected to pay for it with money they earn after their imprisonment.

Better quality food? Perhaps do something about the cockroaches and rats that run about in the older prison facilities? Some people may think prison inmates deserve to live under perpetual fear of assault by their fellow convicts, but it has the potential to make us appear as barbaric as we’re often willing to say other countries are with their incarceration procedures.

I’m sure the attorneys can argue against such a lawsuit. But requiring people to live under such conditions is punishment enough – particularly since such lawsuits are uncollectible because many former inmates aren’t capable of rebuilding their lives into anything, what with all the negatives they will face in life.


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