Should Jails be Punishment?

by Garret Ean
Dec 30 2012

Yesterday I called in to Keene’s open-phones local news show, Talkback, after the main host, Cynthia Georgina suggested jail telephone systems were too expensive. She didn’t understand why such an expense was necessary where jails are ‘supposed to be punishment’.

In the program, we were only able to touch on a few aspects of her belief, when there’s so much that could be said about that mentality. People who are not affected by jails can fail to recognize the unnecessary strain on human life created by conditions of caging. In the nation that has 25% of the world’s institutionalized inmates, it is still easy to ignore the plight of others when they are removed from sight and mind.

Staff photo by Don HimselThe state prison, ConcordBecause Cynthia was specifying jails, she was endorsing punishment of people held for either misdemeanor convictions (facing a penalty of under a year of incarceration) or those being detained pending trial. Detention pending trial could simply mean one is too poor to afford bail, or that they were in violation of any number of stringent bail conditions. When I brought up that New Hampshire jails are occupied by a large number of individuals convicted of driving infractions, Cynthia was surprised, unaware of the mandatory minimum prison sentence written into state law for those designated habitual offenders.

Dale and Cynthia leaped to the point that driving infractions are sometimes dangerous. This is true enough, but New Hampshire law does not discriminate between a lost license over a speeding ticket versus an aggravated DUI. Enough rolling stop violations can get your license taken from you, and if you drive thereafter, you will spend a minimum seven days in jail. Drive following the conviction, and your misdemeanor just became a felony, and a mandatory year in state prison. While there is a provision allowing for the sentence to be served through home confinement, the exception is only granted if the offender has served a consecutive 14-day period in state custody.

I wonder if, in saying that people in jails should be punished by not having access to telephones, Cynthia failed to see how punishing an involuntary incarceration already is.

Something else to consider about New Hampshire’s license suspension laws is that,

Evidence that the notice of suspension or revocation was sent to the person’s last known address as shown on the records of the division shall be prima facie evidence that the person was notified of the suspension or revocation.

Which means that it is not unheard of that someone is pulled over for a menial driving infraction, and finds themselves in handcuffs for driving after revocation. Fortunately the law is not so stringent as to tie these two offenses together into a habitual offense, which indicates an infraction following a primary conviction of operating after revocation.

So just in case it was not clear, you can go to prison on a felony charge just for racking up enough victimless driving violations and continuing to drive. In 2013, should cages continue to be used for such purposes?


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4 Responses to Should Jails be Punishment?

  1. Pingback: Should Jails be Punishment? - Unofficial Network

  2. Well, jail/prison is de facto punishment (deprivation of liberty) so ‘supposed to be punishment’ is a mere tautology. But the purpose of such punishment is supposed to be reform – that’s plainly stated in the Bill of Rights. If a government actor is inflicting such punishment with the intent to humiliate, belittle, dehumanize, or cause suffering, then they’re acting illegally.

  3. Christopher Booth says:

    Pointing out that the United States has one fourth of the worlds prisoners and only one 20th of the population points out that we are way out of touch with the rest of the world. No where else are sentences routinely longer than two years. No where else are sentences decided by politicians, each who campaigned on a get tough on criminals campaign (calling it get tough on crime), each making the sentences longer and adding more “crimes”. By international law no one can be incarcerated other than to hold them for trial or for their own rehabilitation – no other reason. Punishment is forbidden. Retribution is forbidden. Even murder does not deserve a sentence of longer than eight years.

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