April 20, 2020
Joseph Margulies, Boston Review
The author argues the preference of elected officials to make “carve-outs” for those prisoners incarcerated for “non-violent crimes” is thwarting our ability to address the impact of COVID-19 . He cites evidence that “violence is a young man’s game,” and older prisoners are “much less likely to recidivate.” He also notes a guiding narrative that “a person who committed a robbery is a robber” rather than simply “a person who committed a robbery is . . . a person who committed a robbery.” This, he argues leads to prolonged incarceration that denies “what all of us know to be true: people change.”
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Yet for some reason, we persist in believing it is not true for a person who has committed a serious offense. Instead, we imagine that a person in prison is, irrevocably, the crime they committed.
We invest their detention with a deep moral and psychological purpose, freighting it with meaning far beyond what is necessary to keep society safe. To question this arrangement is to challenge something profound in American life. To accept that they change like we change, that they regret as we regret, that they grieve as we grieve is to realize that there is no space between them and us but for the walls we built to shut them away. They are us, and we are them.