Casey Anthony and the Price of Hysteria

In my earlier discussion of the Casey Anthony trial, I expressed my fear that the public hysteria over the trial’s verdict would lead to more unnecessary “tough-on-crime” legislation. Well, clearly my powers as a Nostradamus are vastly greater than those of Phil McGraw, for this has come to pass. In state legislatures across the country, “Caylee’s Law” legislation is being considered. These laws would make it a felony crime if a parent or guardian fails to report the death or disappearance of a child within a twenty-four period, regardless of the circumstances. So more people will be going to prison. All this just because people didn’t like one verdict in one trial.

The U.S. already incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other industrialized nation. California’s prison system is in crisis because it cannot adequately house and feed all its prisoners. Inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison have gone on a hunger strike to protest the inhuman conditions in which they live. This is how Wikipedia describes the place:

    Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) is a supermax California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison near Crescent City in unincorporated Del Norte County, California. The 275-acre (111 ha) facility is explicitly designed to keep California’s alleged “worst of the worst” prisoners in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation.

Uh, isn’t sensory deprivation a form of torture? Wikepedia also tells us:

    Pelican Bay was built with little legislative or judicial oversight. The California legislature delegated building and design decisions to Department of Corrections administrators. These administrators toured high-security prisons across the United States. They identified Florence, Arizona’s Secure Management Unit (SMU), as a “model” prison and collaborated with prison architects to copy its floor plan and high tech design for PelicanBay’s SHU [Secure Housing Unit]. (Pelican Bay was one of 21 new prisons built in California in the 1980s and 1990s.)

    Correctional administrators purchased land in rural Del Norte County, California, on the northernmost border with Oregon. Its lengthy distance away from most prisoners’ families was considered a plus. It is in a remote forested area 13 miles from the California-Oregon state line and far from California’s major metropolitan areas, 370 miles north of San Francisco and more than 750 miles north of Los Angeles. One of the few legislative comments recorded about the institution concerns whether to call it Dungeness Dungeon or Slammer by the Sea. There was no legislative discussion of the novel punitive design of Pelican Bay nor that it would be the site of indefinite SHU commitments. The original planners did not contemplate that some prisoners would spend decades there.

    Federal district courts in California first heard about the prison after it opened in the early 1990s, when they started receiving letters and legal complaints from Pelican Bay prisoners detailing the draconian conditions at the institution, along with the egregious constitutional violations taking place there. Originally designed to house 2,550 prisoners, as of 2006, Pelican Bay houses 3,301 prisoners.

Of the Secure Housing Unit, we’re told:

    The 8 x 10 foot cells of the Pelican Bay SHU, or Secure Housing Unit, are made of smooth, poured concrete. They have no windows. Instead, there are fluorescent lights, which stay on 24 hours per day. For at least twenty-two hours every day, prisoners remain in their cells, looking out through a perforated steel door at a solid concrete wall. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door.

We live in a society that believes that locking people up is the solution to every problem. This inevitably leads to abominations like Pelican Bay.

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