The Truth About Prisons.

AuthorLueders, Bill

Fish, whose story was told in the December/January issue of The Progressive by freelance writer Victoria Law, has stopped using drugs and alcohol and taken part in self-help groups and other prison programs. Her health history includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which put her at a higher risk from COVID-19. She's a little old lady, for crying out loud.

Yet, even if the current push to "reform" the nation's prison system advances, Fish may not see a reprieve. That's because Fish, like nearly half the 1.5 million people in U.S. state and federal prisons, has committed violent offenses, which in her case tied back to her abuse of drugs and alcohol. And this, writes Law in her ironically tided new book, "Prisons Make Us Safer," leaves her "excluded from the narrative that mass incarceration is driven by nonviolent drug offenses," which in fact make up just 22 percent of the whole. She urges policymakers to move past pronouncements about nonviolent drug offenders "to include the more complicated and nuanced scenarios involving violence."

Law also torpedoes the demonstrably false beliefs that prisons promote rehabilitation; that the threat of incarceration serves as a deterrent; that stiff sentences reduce the incidence of murder and sexual assault; that smaller prison populations mean higher crime rates; and that publishing the names of sex offenders on public registries enhances public safety.

The author of an earlier book titled Resistance Behind Bars, Law goes after prison myths on principle, even challenging commonly held assumptions such as seeing privately run prisons and immigration detention centers as a main driver of mass incarceration. "In reality," she writes, "privately run prisons incarcerate [only] between 8 and 8.5 percent of the U.S. prison population."

Law, in her issue-by-issue approach, writes about the "invisibility" of incarcerated women and trans people, even as the rate of incarceration for women has...

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