Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Message from Mike Farrell

The below article comes courtesy of actor Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus:

"Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, 'The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.' Try it, I dare you.

Working to abolish the death penalty over the past 30 years has created deep frustration. Don't get me wrong: we're winning. State killing is on the ropes today. The frustration I'm talking about now comes from continued exposure to the sickening, demeaning human corruption suffusing our so-called criminal justice system. It's so awful I've begun telling audiences to think of capital punishment as the lid on the garbage can. Once it's gone, Americans will be forced to look into the rotten, stinking, maggot-infested stew that is our prison system today.

Though it should come as no surprise, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any nation in the world, a fact that should make us hide our heads in shame. The once hopeful notion of rehabilitation has long since been discarded in favor of punishment and revenge, despite the occasional posturing of a governor like Arnord Schwarzenegger who, in a fit of political legerdemain worthy of George Orwell, resuscitated the word but not the practice in what he now calls California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Children tried as adults are housed with adults, suffering every indignity nightmares can conjure up. We're one of the few nations that sentences kids to life in prison without the possibility of parole, with over two thousand of them serving a sentence that eliminates their future. And California has ten percent of these kids, almost three times the number in all other countries combined.

The mentally ill behind bars, per a Human Rights Watch investigation, outnumber those in our mental institutions. Non-violent drug offenders, who any rational society would treat as a public health concern, fill prisons to overflowing, causing gaseous politicians, eager to show how tough they are, to bleat for more money for more prisons.

Ill and infirm inmates languish in misery and die in despair. California's prison health-care system is such a wretched failure the feds are threatening to take it over. Violent, dehumanizing, crowded, corrupt, with ill-educated guards earning more than our children's teachers, our prison-industrial complex gets more of your tax dollars than our universities, a threat to everyone's future.

Again, per Dostoyevsky, 'A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.'

We must do better. Eliminating the death penalty is the first step on a long road."