Perry: Siding with the sheriff on jail food
February 5, 2013
A somewhat well-known writer once said “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” If any of the assertions made by Mark Campion in his letter, “Appalled by jail food” are to be believed, based on the state of affairs in our jails, American society is doing none too well in the civilization department. Apparently we are a society of gluttonous ass-kickers, somehow bent both on punishment and over-zealous reward, not to mention constitutional cherry-pickers, sticking to some amendments while discarding others. According to Mr. Campion we should be more cruel to our prisoners, in addition to making them do the completely un-glamorous but totally necessary jobs most of us would scoff at, we should feed them as if they are animals in a zoo requiring nothing more than basic sustenance to keep them fueled for more manual labor. After all, despite an entire constitution to the contrary, Mr.Campion seems to imply that prisoners somehow forfeit all their basic human rights once they are purported to commit a crime. I guess it would logically follow then that jail folk simply do not deserve (gasp) baked ziti! Right, Mark?
As a former to-be criminal defense attorney, I was pleasantly surprised that the sheriff, of all people, seems to be a supporter of making our jails and prisons places that we would do well as a model and extension of our society and core values. One of the defining features of American society, what truly separates us from third world countries, dictatorships, regimes of total oppression, is that we safeguard the rights of even the hardest criminals because, in part, we accept some of the blame, as a society, for failing them on some level and also because criminals are still human beings. While I whole-heartedly agree with putting limitations on the rights of those we have probable cause to believe committed a crime and those who have been proven to have committed a crime, fundamental human rights should always be maintained. Additionally, as Sheriff Minor points out, and what Mr. Campion completely disregards, is that many inmates in jail have not yet been proven guilty because they are awaiting trial, thus it stands to reckon that we should be trampling on their constitutional rights as little as possible given the possibility that they have not even committed the crime(s) of which they are accused.
The criminal justice system has always sought some sort of acceptable balance between deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation. Although it is a struggle, jails and prisons should reflect this. Being in jail is punishment in and of itself, as it inherently limits the most basic and sacred fundamental right of all: freedom. Add to this work, limited socialization and time outside and constant surveillance and it seems the emphasis begins to fall heavily on punishment and deterrence while straying from rehabilitation. Having inmates prepare and serve their own meals, and, in the case of Summit County, allowing some of them to perform work hours on farms and see what goes into their meals is beneficial for them and for the community economically and environmentally. Equally as important, structured meals and meal times with built in socialization helps create a routine and undoubtedly can assist with helping inmates understand how better to exist in society and adhere to society’s rules once they are released. Additionally, allowing inmates the small pleasure of not having to eat gruel three times a day should function as one way we accept the fact that they are still humans, despite the fact that they may or may not have made some glaring mistakes. It’s nice to know that someone on the more prosecutorial side of the spectrum shares some of these values, and that hopefully, for every Mark Campion out there there is a John Minor. It makes me feel a little more confident to know that John Minor is out there serving and protecting the people in this county. Well done, sheriff.