Justice in Jail

In class the other day, one of the things we mentioned was prisoners and how just or unjust their situations were.  This is an article about this prison system that I thought would be appropriate to share.

The case about Ms. Cowling brings to light the situations of prisoners who may not be receiving the care or attention they need and whether or not this treatment is just.  The article says that Ms. Cowling was pulled over for speeding and arrested for minor charges.  She had medical issues, but was denied medical attention while in prison.  Like many, if not all situations such as this, there are multiple sides to take into consideration.  Still, can we ignore the fact that 9 prisoners died in the Gregg County jail within the last nine years, a fact that is not as unique as we might think?  Is this just?  Yes, a person may have committed a crime, but does that mean they should suffer while in jail?  It seems to me that the Catholic Social Teachings could inform the conversation.  Many prisoners have lost some of their dignity.  Others have had rights taken away or feel isolated from their communities.  These are all aspects of Catholic Social Teaching and should be preserved for all people.  Still, I think many people feel that if a person commits a crime, they lose the right to have a comfortable life, even in prison–people feel the law breakers need to be punished somehow.  But does that punishment really need to come at the expense of their health or dignity?

Another thing I thought about while reading this article was distinctions among the population.  As a society, we single out those who have committed crimes and tell them that they need to repay society by spending time in jail or doing community service or whatever else the system tells them.  But what about distinctions made between prisoners?  Is there a distinction between “healthy” prisoners and those who have medical issues?  Should there be? What about distinctions between the drugs themselves and which are allowed.  Are any of these distinctions just?  We may be tempted to say that they are all prisoners and they deserve to be treated poorly because they committed a crime, so it doesn’t matter.  But if we want the rest of our society to be just, isn’t it society’s responsibility to ensure that everyone’s rights are maintained?

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