I struggle to pay for housing and medical care, on what possible basis could it be morally right for the government to take my money and give those things to rapists and murderers for free? That's not "the price we have to pay" for imprisoning them - they broke the law! If they didn't want consequences for their actions, they shouldn't have done those things!
First thing, most people in prison are not rapists and murderers. If you do your reasoning about prison by thinking ‘what do I think the worst people in prison deserve? I guess that’s what prisons should be like’ then that will really suck for the vast majority of prisoners who are not rapists or murderers and the substantial share of people in jail who have not even been convicted of anything.
95% of people in prison never got a trial - they were advised to plead guilty, which is often the best thing to do even if you’re innocent.
Secondly, I also want you to have access to medical care, and you being denied access to medical care is bad. Saying ‘prisoners being denied access to medical care is wrong’ does not mean it’s fine with me that you struggle to pay for housing and medical care. I want access to basic medical care to be universal.
Thirdly, if you want the government to spend less money on incarceration, well, making prison conditions less torturous, and ensuring that prisoners when released are able to integrate into society, is going to drive down prison costs in the long run. U.S. prisons make people likelier to commit crimes. Even if you don’t see any moral reasons to change that, it will also save the government money.
Fourthly, when we send people to prison we make it illegal for them to work for money to support themselves or pay for their own medical needs, and we make it illegal for them to access medical care even if they somehow could pay for it on the $.10 an hour we might allow them to earn, and we subject them to violence. Lots of people think that you have an obligation to people who you strip of their rights and lock in a cage, such as the obligation to feed them and provide them with basic medical care, which you do not have towards people you have not stripped of their rights and locked in a cage.
Fifthly, it is possible that it would benefit your economic situation if you didn’t have to compete with free forced prison labor. I don’t know how many Americans would be benefitted by this, it’s a bit hard to study, but it’s at least possible that you are struggling financially partially because it is cheaper for companies to use free forced labor than to pay employees.
Sixthly, denying prisoners healthcare is an inefficient way to torture them even if you think torturing them is just! For example, consider a man who gets behind on child support. We lock him up, of course, because he’s a criminal, and he dies, because why would our taxpayers’ hard-won earnings go to insulin for criminals?
Meanwhile someone who murders someone else but isn’t diabetic doesn’t die! If you think our prison system should be more punitive, that’s one thing, but surely you don’t think it should be more punitive specifically for diabetic people.
Lastly and most importantly, at least to me:
they broke the law! If they didn’t want consequences for their actions, they shouldn’t have done those things!
I think that this mindset is incredibly harmful and incredibly widespread and if I accomplish anything at all with this blog I want to get people to rethink it.
The law is not just. The law is not right. There are laws that are deeply unjust; there are laws that are impossible not to break if you’re in a sufficiently bad situation; there are innocent people serving long prison sentences because they thought it was better to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit than risk even harsher sentencing if they lost at trial. The vast majority of people in our prisons did not get a trial.
I will disagree with you if you say “people who have raped or murdered someone deserve to be slowly tortured to death at taxpayer expense and with a thin veneer of respectability, because, I mean, rapists and murderers, fuck those’. But I understand why you’d feel that way, and I want a legal system that works for you as well as for me.
But if you say “because people broke the law - because they are criminals - regardless of which laws they broke, or whether those laws should exist at all, or whether the punishment is remotely in line with the crime, or whether they got a fair trial, they do not deserve rights and should be tortured in a horrible inhumane catastrophe of a prison system -”
Well, when I say it like that it sounds terrible, right? But it’s an absurdly common way of thinking. People who broke the law are criminals, and criminals are bad, and if they didn’t want to be denied rights then they shouldn’t have broken the law, and I’m not a criminal, and I’m better than criminals, so why should I care about how we treat criminals?
The law is not just. Lots of things are illegal which shouldn’t be, and lots of punishments are more severe than the crime warrants, and almost no one gets a trial anymore, and whatever you think should happen to rapists and murderers, I beg you to realize that our system is not just doing that to rapists and murderers, it is doing that to everyone, and it gets away with it because people keep thinking ‘well, they’re criminals. In a world where people stopped automatically writing off anyone who has broken any U.S. law, regardless of whether they hurt anyone or did anything wrong or whether their sentence is remotely in line with the crime, as no longer worthy of moral concern, then these things would stop happening.