by Eyal Press published in The New Yorker
Read original on The New Yorker's website
Press writes about Andrea Armstrong, an attorney l...Show description
Posted 583 days ago
Press does a very good job at revealing a terrifying reality: Louisiana prisons and jails seem to be perpetuating injustices that have plagued them for centuries. Press's reference to Tocqueville, who was appalled at the conditions of these same jails back in the 19th century, indicates that although we have advanced with the help of poverty programs and Civil Rights movements, there is still evil that lingers in some places.
Press, through the attorney Armstrong who is leading these efforts, is trying to pry apart the reasons for numerous deaths in jails and prisons that could have clearly been prevented. The problem is largely transparency and getting the message out to a public that seems to not care very much about these inmates. As Press writes:
There is a connection between police shootings and deaths in custody, she said, but the latter don’t arouse the same indignation, because people assume that incarcerated victims somehow “deserved” their fates.
I can somewhat understand that argument, at least logically. If somebody is in jail, they don't deserve the same resources that those who follow the law deserve. Resources are finite, and priority should be given to law-abiding citizens. This argument is hard to refute.
But the thing is, is that it doesn't really apply to these deaths. As Press writes:
Nearly two-thirds of those who died were Black. Most strikingly, nearly ninety per cent of them—twenty-two men—had not been convicted of the charges that had led to their imprisonment. They were pretrial detainees, still awaiting their day in court—a situation that often happens because people cannot afford to post bail.
That means that these are innocent people who are dying in an unjust system. Some may say that they just hadn't been officially convicted yet, but that doesn't matter. Our system is one that everybody should be pressumed innocent until proven guilty. No matter our prejudice, we are required to treat any person with the assumption that they are innocent and should not endure wrongdoing (even if they are guilty too, but that's much harder to convince people on).
The article ends with a quote that puts this idea very eloquently:
In another law-review article, Armstrong summons the words of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger to emphasize this point. When a prison official “takes a man from the courthouse in a prison van and transports him to confinement,” Burger observed, “this is our act. We have tolled the bell for him. And whether we like it or not, we have made him our collective responsibility. We are free to do something about him; he is not.”