Fix the Prison System


Jake Yencik , Opinions Editor

In a middle class suburban area such as North Hills, many students grow up unaware of what life is like both for inmates and for kids growing up in poor families in high crime areas.  After doing some research on this, I can confidently say the current American prison system is totally inhumane and horrifying. In addition to this, our financially based court system makes it nearly impossible for people living in poverty that are wrongly convicted to be able to defend themselves.  To say the least, the entire judicial system in our country is completely flawed and needs change.

A great example is the famous “Central Park Five” case.  In 1989, a jogger in Central Park named Trisha Meili was beaten and raped by a group of men in Central Park which left her in a coma for 12 days.  Five young men, four African American and one of Hispanic descent, were arrested and tried as suspects for the rape of Trisha. DNA evidence before the trial confirmed that they were not guilty, however the District Attorney claimed the results were inconclusive and all five men were tried anyway.  Unable to afford expensive lawyers that could help prove their innocence in court, they were heavily encouraged to take plea deals in which they pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence. After the men wrongfully spent 13 years in prison, a man named Matias Reyes confessed to the rape of Trisha and the convictions were vacated.  Had these men been able to afford good attorneys, they most likely would have won the trial and not been falsely convicted. Also, considering that all five men arrested were minorities, it is likely that racism was also a factor in this false conviction. This case clearly shows that the judicial system in America is designed for those with more money (take OJ Simpson for example) to be able to fight their way through a case regardless of their innocence or guilt, while those living in poverty are encouraged to take guilty plea deals (where they must serve time in prison) out of fear of being locked up for even more time if they are to plead not guilty.

One may be confused as to why someone would plead guilty to a crime they did not commit.  This is because of something known as a plea bargain that is common among defendants who are not able to afford an attorney.  In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for the prosecutor dropping some of the charges.  However, in some cases such as the Central Park five, the defendant is not guilty but will take a plea bargain out of fear of being wrongly convicted and having to serve a longer sentence.

In addition to this, the conditions in American prisons are shockingly bad and inhumane.  After researching many different ex-cons stories of prison, it seems very clear that prison will damage one’s brain much beyond the point of repair, leaving them unable to form any type of relationship with other people once they are released, as well as constant nightmares, flashbacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  It is a well known fact that rape, assault, stabbings, and riots are all commonplace in prison. In addition to this, I’ve learned from watching many different ex-cons’ YouTube videos discussing prison that the majority of prison guards are racist and many will even participate in drug trade involving the inmates to make extra money.  Many guards will also abuse inmates. One of the most popular of the post imprisonment YouTube channels, “Fresh Out – Life After the Penitentiary” stated in one of his videos that searches from prison guards are “the most dehumanizing and humiliating thing imaginable.”

So when an innocent suspect takes a plea deal and pleads guilty because they are unable to afford a better attorney, they are living in these extremely harsh prison conditions for months, years, or even decades for a crime they did not commit.  This is because the judicial system in America has gotten to the point where it is literally designed to let wealthier people slide through cases while low income individuals have almost no chance of being able to prove their innocence in court.  If we want our country to treat people like humans and treat them fairly, we need to make big changes to our court system as well as the way inmates are treated and the conditions they live in. This is just one step in making America a better country.