Why The US Prison System Is In Desperate Need Of Reform

Our Prison System Has Some Not-So-Secret Problems

How the prison system fails to protect citizens inside and outside of bars.

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On August 21st, inmates in prisons across the country commenced a strike which is quickly becoming one of the most prolific prison strikes of the modern era. The demonstrations, which are slated to run until the 9th of September, mark the one year anniversary of a bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York, which left several inmates dead. Striking tactics during the demonstration period have included refusal to work, and in some cases refusal to eat, also known as a hunger strike.

One of the highest priorities of the inmates is the securing of a fair wage for their labor. Prison laborers are often underpaid for the work they do, which included prison chores, basic trades, and sometimes dangerous tasks. According to Vox, some California prisoners have been voluntarily recruited to help combat wildfires during the state's worst season in history. These firefighters are paid a minuscule wage of $1 per hour plus $2 per day, far below the pay grade of a civilian firefighter.

On one hand, I sympathize with many of these prisoners' aims, and if I were in their situation, I would certainly feel as if I was being treated unfairly. On the other hand, I recognize that these men have committed crimes against their counties, states, and even the federal government. The fact that their labor is compensated at all could be considered an undue kindness. As a whole, however, I believe that the US prison system is in dire need of reform. Generally, prisons should only serve the purpose of restraining individuals who pose an immediate danger to themselves, others, and society. Nonviolent offenders, even those convicted of federal crimes like counterfeiting and fraud, have no place within correctional facilities.

This is not to suggest that justice not to be served. In any functional society, individuals who break the law must be punished, and justice must be upheld. All I mean is that jail time is not an ideal punishment for individuals who pose no danger to average citizens. Not only does it fail to dissuade these offenders in any way, the cost of housing these prisoners is a drain on the American taxpayer and country as a whole. I am no legal expert, and certainly not creative enough to envision punishments suitable for various crimes-such a thing is for judges and lawmakers to decide.

Whatever the crime and following consequences, reformed prisoners should be able to live normally after they have paid their debts to society. Too often, ordinary citizens are turned into criminals by the prison system, which makes no distinction between people who have committed acts of horrendous violence and individuals who made mistakes, broken the rules, but wish to simply atone for their actions and move on. The dangerous prison conditions and lack of focus on rehabilitation lead many to dive deeper into a life of crime, often ending in extended sentences and repeat offenses.

We all know this to be true within our cities and communities. For years, It's been an unspoken truth that the US prison system currently harms far more people than it helps. I am unsure how effective these strikes may be in reforming such a rooted and gargantuan system in the short term, but I am confident that with continued determination on the part of inmates, activists, and rational citizens, the prison system will slowly make strides towards justice for people on both sides of the prison walls.

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An Open Letter To Democrats From A Millennial Republican

Why being a Republican doesn't mean I'm inhuman.
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Dear Democrats,

I have a few things to say to you — all of you.

You probably don't know me. But you think you do. Because I am a Republican.

Gasp. Shock. Horror. The usual. I know it all. I hear it every time I come out of the conservative closet here at my liberal arts university.

SEE ALSO: What I Mean When I Say I'm A Young Republican

“You're a Republican?" people ask, saying the word in the same tone that Draco Malfoy says “Mudblood."

I know that not all Democrats feel about Republicans this way. Honestly, I can't even say for certain that most of them do. But in my experience, saying you're a Republican on a liberal college campus has the same effect as telling someone you're a child molester.

You see, in this day and age, with leaders of the Republican Party standing up and spouting unfortunately ridiculous phrases like “build a wall," and standing next to Kim Davis in Kentucky after her release, we Republicans are given an extreme stereotype. If you're a Republican, you're a bigot. You don't believe in marriage equality. You don't believe in racial equality. You don't believe in a woman's right to choose. You're extremely religious and want to impose it on everyone else.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are rooted in truth. There are some people out there who really do think these things and feel this way. And it makes me mad. The far right is so far right that they make the rest of us look bad. They make sure we aren't heard. Plenty of us are fed up with their theatrics and extremism.

For those of us brave enough to wear the title “Republican" in this day and age, as millennials, it's different. Many of us don't agree with these brash ideas. I'd even go as far as to say that most of us don't feel this way.

For me personally, being a Republican doesn't even mean that I automatically vote red.

When people ask me to describe my political views, I usually put it pretty simply. “Conservative, but with liberal social views."

“Oh," they say, “so you're a libertarian."

“Sure," I say. But that's the thing. I'm not really a libertarian.

Here's what I believe:

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in feminism. I believe in racial equality. I don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. I believe in birth control. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in welfare. I believe more funds should be allocated to the public school system.

Then what's the problem? Obviously, I'm a Democrat then, right?

Wrong. Because I have other beliefs too.

Yes, I believe in the right to choose — but I'd always hope that unless a pregnancy would result in the bodily harm of the woman, that she would choose life. I believe in welfare, but I also believe that our current system is broken — there are people who don't need it receiving it, and others who need it that cannot access it.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms, because I believe we have a people crisis on our hands, not a gun crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, I do believe in science. I don't believe in charter schools. I believe in privatizing as many things as possible. I don't believe in Obamacare.

Obviously, there are other topics on the table. But, generally speaking, these are the types of things we millennial Republicans get flack for. And while it is OK to disagree on political beliefs, and even healthy, it is NOT OK to make snap judgments about me as a person. Identifying as a Republican does not mean I am the same as Donald Trump.

Just because I am a Republican, does not mean you know everything about me. That does not give you the right to make assumptions about who I am as a person. It is not OK for you to group me with my stereotype or condemn me for what I feel and believe. And for a party that prides itself on being so open-minded, it shocks me that many of you would be so judgmental.

So I ask you to please, please, please reexamine how you view Republicans. Chances are, you're missing some extremely important details. If you only hang out with people who belong to your own party, chances are you're missing out on great people. Because, despite what everyone believes, we are not our stereotype.

Sincerely,

A millennial Republican

Cover Image Credit: NEWSWORK.ORG

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?

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Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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