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It all depends on what one means by 'treat like an animal'. If one takes it to mean that prisoners should be treated like the average domestic pet, thus fed and pampered and cuddled more than some human beings, then the following points become irrelevant.

If, however, one takes it to mean that prisoners should be should be herded, beaten, maimed and generally treated with disrespect, then my points take on the meaning that I intend them to.

'One by one we were stripped naked and minutely examined during the ritual known as 'shakedown'. In full view of, and in sickeningly close proximity to, three Oklahoma rednecks, I ran my fingers through my hair, shook my head, tugged my ears to show the wax, opened my mouth, pulled out my Bureau of Prisons denture plate, pulled up my balls, pulled back the foreskin of my dick, turned round to display the soles of my feet, and finally bent down, pulling the cheeks of my bum apart, so that the rednecks could treat my anus as a telescope. A federal prisoner has to perform this series of indignities before and after he is visited by his family, friends, religious counsellor, or lawyer, and each time he enters or leaves any prison'

Taken from the autobiograpy of cannabis smuggler Howard Marks, 'Mr. Nice', I think this shows that far from prisoners 'should' be treated like animals, they already are.

After all is said and done, prisoners are not animals, they are human beings - if their rights as a human being are denied them, then what is left?

The United States of America is the most incarceration-happy of any nation in the world. A survey was performed by a guy called Tom Wicker, for the introduction to his insightful book, 'Prison Writing in 20th century America'. He found that out of every hundred thousand people living in the United States, five hundred and nineteen are incarcerated - if you apply this survey to African-American men, it rockets to three thousand, eight hundred and twenty-two, but that's for another node. As the world average for incarceration is ninety six people out of every hundred thousand, and South Africa, with all its political upheaval, incarcerates three hundred and sixty-eight, this gives you some idea of the scale.

As for the attitude of 'They're in prison, so they have to be horrible people, and don't deserve even the smallest courtesy'...rubbish. While I do not doubt for a moment that there are some very real monsters incarcerated right now, as I am typing, for the majority of prisoners, the small time dealers, the drunken drivers, the burglars, the attitude of 'get my head down, do the time, get the hell out of here' prevails. Only bad behavior is publicised on the local news, the times when the fact that they are treated like animals gets too much - again, this is not one hundred percent of the time. As your average citizen sits horrified, thinking 'oooh what nasty men, they deserve to be in prison, in fact they deserve all they get' it is another convert for the incarceration happy judge.

The conditions within the prison justifies the existence of the prison

Is it a coincidence that the nation that prizes liberty above all else has the highest rate of incarceration in the world? Of course not. As human beings, they have the right to vote if they want, to drink alcohol if and when they want, to make love if and when they want, to do anything they want when they want, in short, they are free. If this freedom is removed, they are deprived of the rights of the average human being - they are not treated as people.

Is there any need to go one step lower and treat them like animals?

Some good points have been made in this node already - especially about the use of incarceration as a means of justice. Clearly it doesn't work very well, but unfortunately no one has come up with a better workable solution at the moment, so it has to do. At least it acts as some kind of deterrent - I'm certainly worried when I'm driving my friends around and I know they have drugs on them.

However the examples of 'treatment like animals' (the crux of this node) are rather weak. Aside from the vast amount of money Howard Marks made from his book - and the moral debate this provokes considering the experiences it is based on, I really don't think your example constitutes treatment like animals. Cavity searching criminals is rather essential considering the rampant drug problems prevelant in many jails. It's a shame drugs get in despite these measures, but, unpleasant though they are, I think it's rather clear why they are utterly necessary. Especially in the case of a rather well known drug dealer.

I also have no sympathy whatsoever for criminals such as big time dealers like Mr. Marks. I am actually pro-legalisation of soft drugs, BUT if you choose to break the law as it stands now, not out of necessity or perhaps accident - like a careless drunk driver, but through out and out choice, then you should be willing to take the punishment. I often break the law (speeding, I'm afraid) and was caught a couple of weeks ago, and so I have to say it's a fair cop and pay up.

Treatment of criminals varies greatly from prison to prison and I think it would be unfair to claim that petty thieves get treated the same way as murderers and rapists since the prisons they are put in are often of different security levels and therefore conditions. In fact I think many people would claim minor white collar criminals have it too easy, at least in the United Kingdom. And at the other end of the scale, no, I don't think Myra Hindley should be released.

Where one UK prison (Blackenhurst) was praised for having a positive and healthy regime, another (Feltham Young Offenders Institute) was described as rotten to the core, in a recent (1999) prison survey. Many offenders assessed as being safe (ie not a danger to society - esp. many fraudsters etc.) are also housed in open prisons in the UK (about 4000 people currently), that being a prison with no locks at all, with 'prisoners' free to wander the complex and with more communication privileges to the outside world than those in closed prisons. So I think one can clearly say there is a link between how people are treated and the crime they have committed. Drunk drivers are not put in prison next to rapists.

sources: http://news.bbc.co.uk archive & my vitriol.
Disclaimer: I almost certainly come across as more conservative than I really am in this writeup :)

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