Why We Need Prison Reform: a Teen Perspective

Op-ed

American teen’s see the world through the lens of opportunity; the age of youth is essentially like waiting at the doors of an exclusive club with offers consisting of freedom, success and happiness. We are supposedly prepared for our future by legal mandates of education for all, with the intent to give children a chance to prepare for adulthood in this nation. The founders of our nation stated just that, and our system was constructed to fit that same optimistic narrative. As oppression ripples throughout our history, time begins to unveil the unforsaken fate of individuals under the title of American Citizenship. However, some juveniles' eyes are clouded by a wrath of Greed and Inequality. Human rights are supposed to be granted at birth, but our justice system upholds an institution that is a literary oxymoron in comparison to just that. The past few Generations have been exposed to a culture that was heavily influenced by the art of oppressed personas. The music scene of the 90s, that of which can be credited for present day artist’s discography: presented to us a system that was meant to re-inform and hold people accountable as promotion for just and moral actions, the exploitation that really took place. An influential rapper, Tupac Shakur’s third studio album, "Me Against the World,'' Shared with us a first-hand account of just what exploitation he endured. He himself who had inhabited beneath the Prison roof of Clinton Correctional Center for 8 months, he rapped about how he struggled to find a path in society because of social neglection leading him to a life of gang violence, etc. despite legislative representatives writing off the injustice claiming that everyone had fair access to equality. Although his message was clear, let alone widely heard: I believe it hasn't fully been correctly interpreted by our members of society. Because if it had, the privileged conscience wouldn't remain guilt free. Tupac, who is credited for influencing mainstream artists such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar, have promoted and obtained a similar narrative and because of the advancements made to the reach of mainstream media, they have been able to widely distribute said messages. So why is it still going unheard, you may ask? Let's explore this. Unfortunately, Racism in criminal justice goes hand-in-hand. This is because racism systematically influenced our nation. It is a truth that may be hard to swallow, but many movements have seemingly challenged systemic racism from the front lines. In recent times, Black Lives Matter responded to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, provoking a shadow of the demand of necessary change. Despite there not being a lot of change effective, it demonstrated the intricate issue at hand. Those who are not directly exploited by the system, do not have a grasp of the power to which it holds over it’s victims. Voters are allowed to cast ballots that dominate and control the lives of millions of people who they may have never met. This detachment prevents a sense of empathy which I claim is the intent of the system. That is exactly where we go wrong. Correctional facilities, despite its name having the root correction, only breed more immorality in crime. This is evident as most convicted people reoffend. It is not because they are unchangeable, it's because we don't change them even though we are individually responsible for their previous actions as our society as a whole does not condemn, it rather further enforces a culture of crime. This is the sentiment of “not in my backyard". However, it's a lot of responsibility for an individual to hold, but not speaking against it allows it to continue and expand. Take a look at the War on Drugs. Cities worlds dominated by drug culture, and the police system took advantage of this and even turned a profits off of it. Where there is a demand, oh, there certainly will be a supply. We saw this, and we knew it to be true, and instead of rehabilitating we enacted acts that were debilitating. Fearing authority in America is embedded within our culture and society. From the institution of slavery, antagonizing people of African descent, which would later leave to the creation of a police system still in place, has not been condemned. By the means of binary politics, many Americans encouraged and continue to support police and prison systems. The American Prison System endangers more people than it keeps safe. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 3 million violent crimes involve alcohol usage. Furthermore, as of 2021, Alcohol Abuse and Dependency has increased to an astonishing 59%. As millions of Americans face a sentence of Addiction each year, many of them may also face a deadlier sentence; A Prison One. Although the Criminal Justice System is intended to keep many safe, it leads to endangerment of others in society without the exemption of the person facing time themselves. Unequivocally, prison can be a scary place. Some may argue that this is a necessary measure to prevent crime, yet, this hasn’t proven to be true. A voice can be heard in our votes, and it's not just a voice: it's the path that millions of Americans will be left to pursue, and it's not a good one. It's important for us to educate the younger generation before they go on to become American voters, because our sense of empathy is deep and undeniable. We should aim to move away from public voting on issues such as prison reform, once the threat of prison systems is finally validated: so that our future Generations can indulge in the luxury of Freedom we have yet to ensue in correlation with an individualized correction approach differing from our current correctional facilities.

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Alyson Nagorniak

Alyson Nagorniak is an aspiring author. She participates in numerous global outreach programs; hence her passion for service and culture. Alyson spends her free time learning different languages & practicing music while also being a political organizer with a passion for human rights advocacy.