A devastating storm and freezing temperatures have caused chaos and hardship for millions of people across the state of Texas. People have been without food and water, and even children have frozen to death in their own homes. Amidst all this hardship, it’s perhaps not surprising that the most forgotten subset of society – inmates in prisons – have been effectively abandoned. But the abysmal conditions inside Texas prisons during this crisis demonstrate what many have been arguing for some time. When it comes to holding human beings inside prison facilities, cruelty is the point.
Hellscape inside Texas Prisons
Reports from inside Texas Prisons indicate that inmates are living surrounded by feces and urine, with no way to wash or even sanitize their hands. Freezing temperatures have forced people to huddle together for warmth, despite the risks of COVID, and treat the floors with table salt. There is little food and water and – unlike citizens suffering outside prisons – no option even to melt snow. Despite these appalling conditions, a juvenile detention center rejected a donation of extra blankets. The reason? Staff were concerned that inmates would use the extra blankets to attempt suicide. The risk of suicide in such a facility is so great that it’s actually higher than the risk of hyperthermia. The solution is to let the children suffer. Hopelessness is a feature, not a bug.
What is Justice Anyway?
It’s difficult to define what is just. Some people believe that justice is served when an appropriate punishment is doled out for a crime. In this view, the universe is a sort of enormous balance sheet, where reciprocal pain must be added to one column if added to another. But pain is immeasurable, as are the fallout consequences of any particular crime. If I commit an armed robbery, there’s more than just the loss of property that must be accounted for. I also must answer for the trauma of my victims, the burden placed on their loved ones, and so forth. By this calculation, the reciprocal punishment for a singular crime could theoretically go on infinitely. Enter the US Justice system.
The current crisis within Texas prisons serves to highlight the reality that conditions within prisons are almost always unbearable. From inedible food, to violence and physical and sexual abuse, those we deem unable or unworthy of remaining part of general society are subjected to endless unnecessary indignities in the name of justice. But justice is not an enormous metaphysical balance sheet.
True justice is, at it’s root, an assertion of human dignity. A system designed to engineer despair cannot be just.