The Human Rights Violations in our Neighborhoods

Freedom!  Liberty!  Justice for all!  We are America.  We are the greatest country on Earth.  Anyone that is born here is lucky to be an American, because it can get no better than this.  We encourage voting and participating in the political system.  And maybe we’ve done unsavory things in Guantanamo, but they’re terrorists.  We would never violate the human rights of our own people.

Except we do.  Every single day.

Mass incarceration, US-style, is a violation of basic human rights.According to Human Rights Watch, “Prisoners and detainees in many local, state and federal facilities, including those run by private contractors, confront conditions that are abusive, degrading and dangerous. Soaring prison populations due to harsh sentencing laws—which legislators have been reluctant to change—and immigrant detention policies coupled with tight budgets have left governments unwilling to make the investments in staff and resources necessary to ensure safe and humane conditions of confinement. Such failures violate the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

To paraphrase the above video, being hard on CRIME is not the same as being hard on CRIMINALS.  Criminals are humans.  Some are evil, yes.  Some make bad decisions.  And some just had the unfortunate disadvantage of being a minority.

And here are some human rights those minorities (and others in incarceration) can expect to have violated (as defined by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights):

The Right  to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being (Article 25) – Solitary confinement, a widely-used penitentiary punishment, can have severe psychological effects, even exacerbating those with previous mental illness.

The Right to equal protection of the law (Article 7): Unless you’re a black male.

The Right to take part in the government of his country (Article 21):  This is the most direct reflection of Jim Crow laws.  Criminals can’t vote, and criminals are again overwhelmingly minority races.  The US has disenfranchised 13% of black men with this method.

The Right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3): The US is one of the top 5 countries for death penalty sentences.  Most of the Western world sees the death penalty as inhumane, discriminatory, and a failure as a deterrent for crime.  And again, who bears the brunt of this brutal policy?  Minorities.

This video is a little long, but John Oliver nails the problem with prison in the United States.  There is a human rights crisis here, in the Land of the Free.  And it disproportionately falls on young, black men.

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10 Responses to The Human Rights Violations in our Neighborhoods

  1. nicksalute says:

    Great post – this is an extremely fascinating issue that is definitely becoming more significant in the United States. The video that you included was a perfect supplement to your post, and the illustrations certainly assisted in understanding the convoluted American incarceration system.
    I have been aware of the fact that our incarceration system in the U.S. is in need of reform for some time, but the facts and videos that you provided certainly solidified that issue. I was not aware of the fact that solitary confinement was such a contentious practice and actually violated some human rights.
    This particular issue is tricky to deal with properly. While it is clear that comprehensive reform to this institution is completely necessary, it remains extremely difficult to acquire support for this reform. Not only is it challenging to eradicate the societal stigma that all criminals are horrible, unrecoverable people, but it is also difficult to convince people that these criminals deserve more rights.
    We can only hope that knowledge on this issue continues to spread, and individuals continue to push for positive reform. You are absolutely right in stating “being hard on CRIME is not the same as being hard on CRIMINALS,” and once this understanding is achieved, progress can be made.
    Good job on the post!

  2. anapuri11 says:

    I think this is a great post. It really highlights the institutionalized hypocrisies that occur within the United States. I think something that can be expanded upon would be what resources those with minor offenses receive after their release. I feel like as a country that prides itself of opportunity then we should potentially expand our work towards rehabilitation and ensuring those who have served time’s success.

    This was a really great post and it really got me thinking about the solutions that we might be able to implement to move us forward instead of this backwards lifestyle we’ve been leading in regards to prisons.

  3. gchanneyla says:

    What an insightful post, and I think that you did a great job presenting such a big issue in our country that we tend to ignore. I will admit that I was not well informed of both the number of prisoners and the politics of prison. The John Oliver video was great and explained an issue that we tend to ignore because as in most cases if it doesn’t affect us we don’t really care. It’s unfortunate that prisons have been setup in a way in which someone actually benefits from a system that does nothing but keep people on another side of a wall. Clearly the system is broken, yes it keeps people who are actually dangerous off the streets, but prison does nothing to correct the problem. Your post really provoked me to think of ways we could approach incarceration differently.

  4. cindylyon says:

    Awesome post. I’m so happy someone wrote a blog post about this topic. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of jury nullification. It’s one of the smallest powers we have as citizens to voice our displeasure with law and/or lawmakers. I agree with what you said about not wanting to be like herded sheep. Thank you for including such interesting media. I had never heard that quote from Jefferson before but thought it was perfect. Overall great post and I can’t wait to have the class discussion about this.

  5. pizza says:

    Awesome and great post!
    I’ve been interested in this topic for a very long time and it is nice to know others are interested as well. The prison system is such are vicious cycle that it is difficult to get out. I personally know a women who committed a crime at a young age but was then convicted once she was no longer a minor and now it is extremely hard for her to find a job or become successful just because of a mistake she did at a very young age. She cannot pursue her dreams of becoming a veterinarian and it pains me to see her so broken by that. The prison system expects them to find a job right off the bat and starts collecting their money if they are given a job. It’s horrible. I understand there are some bad people but this will only push them back to crime then back to jail. It’s this broken record that’s playing with American lives. As you stated, Americans will not allow others outside of our boarders to violate our rights but we ourselves will violate the rights of Americans.

  6. Awesome post and extremely intriguing topic that will affect many people. The United States has always put people in prison and they always will. There is not debate that those that break the law deserve to have a consequence. The issue is the way in which our society views inmates. The idea that society believes we need to teach people lessons with longer sentences does not apply to every circumstance. The reason being is that we are making their life difficult forever due to this being put on an individual’s record. It does not matter if the crime is possession or murder. The systems to do not rehabilitate instead, they cause them to go further into crime. I could go on a rant about the dysfunction in the system and statistics regarding prisoners and recidivism, but I will just end by saying this. Those that do struggle to maintain a livelihood in the US are obviously the more likely to be incarcerated. As a result, the poor get poorer and end up in prison. They struggle to find jobs to succeed and they go back to crime to survive.There is a prison industrial complex in America and the people need to wake up to make a change.

  7. azucenagonzalez598 says:

    Kira, magnificent post my friend! The videos really nailed it home and the short sentences throughout. Made. Their. Point.

    The audacity of a system investing more money in a prison versus an education institution is simply outrageous to say that least. As the first video states, we (I am not too fond of including myself there but alas, I like to think that I am working on changing the way prisons operate.), are really good at punishment, instead of correction which I believe is counterproductive. What blows my mind is the ridiculous expectation that is held for people who come out of prison. We ask them to act like “normal” citizens, after having treated them like the scum of the earth. That does not make sense and they, criminals”, are set up for failure since the correction facet of the pie displayed in the video is short changed. I am astounded to learn that a person of 13 years, an adolescent, has been sentenced to life in prison. This is exemplar of the fact that correction is obviously not a priority in the prison pie. Much like Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, states on page twelve that an invisible caste system has been put in place, negatively and purposefully degenerates the lives of many, in particular minorities.

  8. This is a wonderful post because it addresses an issue for citizens that have lost their voice within the American political system. Not only are criminals stripped of so many of these rights, but no one is willing to fight for the rights of these citizens. A stigma has been created against criminals, saying that these are bad people. Should bad people deserve these rights? However, things are not that black and white. There are tons of grays in between. Criminals are created by the society they live in. If this is the case, it should be the society’s responsibility to rehabilitate them, instead of removing them from the society that failed them in the first place.

  9. smbockrath says:

    This post ingeniously summarizes the major issues that our system of mass incarceration presents out society, and it truly forced me to confront how broken the system is. We simply should not lead the world in the amount of people incarcerated. The War on Drugs has not been a success, and has not made our streets any less filled with drugs; all it does is put more young, black men in jail for minor offenses. Also, these videos helped me view the despicable ways we treat prisoners as a human rights issue. Yes, there are some people in prison who deserve to be there for committing horrible acts, but I do not believe that means we should punish all prisoners so violently and harshly. Whether we like to admit, criminals are people, just like the rest of us. In this regard I appreciate how you emphasize that being hard on crime does not mean that we need to be hard on criminals.

    So, why hasn’t reform happened? Isn’t it fairly easy to see that the system doesn’t work, at almost every single level? I think the answer here is two-fold. John Oliver points out that most citizens are free to ignore the problem, as they cannot imagine themselves in prison, and cannot imagine the people that they know in prison. This leads to a large amount of the population that is able to see that the problem exists, but are isolated enough to not feel compelled to mobilize for action. Which leads to the second reason, a lack of political courage. Politicians are also usually able to see that out system is broken, but because of various reasons — prisons in their districts or campaign contributions from businesses that control the prisons — they ignore the problem. We cannot allow ourselves to be continued to be fooled by the image of the tall prison fence protecting us from all that the problem entails. Just because we are isolated from prisons does not mean we should allow ourselves to remain isolated from the problem.

  10. wdaghist says:

    Let me begin by telling you that you just made a very interesting post.! I really was shocked by the number of prisoners here in the US, and have never thought that it could be this big. I think the main reasons behind that is because the system puts away too many people for too long and many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them or not. Having around 10 million prisoners around the world today, I think the legal systems must highly consider alternative ways of punishments rather than imprisonment such as conditional discharges, status penalties, economic sanctions like fines, confiscation, restitution, suspended or deferred sentences, house arrest, probation or judicial supervision, community service/unpaid work, drug treatment, hospital order.

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