By Christopher Zoukis
There is a plague in the prisoners’ rights community that will destroy us all, from the inside out, if we don’t find a cure. Slowly it creeps into our minds, then our interactions and advocacy, and finally our organizational policies. It’s like institutional racism, just of a different breed. This is the disease of selectivity, of triaging the freedom of various groups of prisoners, and it is very prevalent.
As I sit to write this, I’m coming off an intense few days. Someone I trust and respect shared their thoughts concerning prisoners — more specifically, prisoners convicted of violent and sex related offenses. In her mind, there was perhaps no punishment strong enough or complete enough to adequately fulfill retribution for these sorts; to say nothing about the social stigmatization of having contact with these sorts. While I was saddened to hear this, I was heartened that she isn’t a prisoners’ rights warrior, but more of someone who works in this field due to circumstances — a reliable and dedicated helper, but not a true believer. In any prisoners’ rights organization, there are bound to be a few of these non-true believers who are incredibly hard workers but do not share our zeal for reform. She is one of them.
While my personal interactions concerning this were unfortunate — after all, I am a true believer in the power of education and rehabilitation to reform even the most damaged of characters — what is alarming is that there are actual organizations in the national spotlight that do the exact same thing. In fact, there are several name brand prisoners’ rights organizations which plainly refuse to advocate for all prisoners, and instead focus on very targeted groups. While this is their prerogative, it’s more harmful than many believe.