The manner in which society has dealt with mass incarceration in California can be compared to how someone deals with cleaning a dirty room. When someone is expecting company and doesn’t want their guests to view them critically, they abruptly stuff all their mess of disorganization and neglect into a closet. This is always just a quick fix. The problem doesn’t go away, it’s just temporarily out of view. By doing this, society creates an illusion that we are dealing with issues pertaining to mass incarceration. The truth, however, is that all we’re doing is putting the problem out of view. We’re beating around the bush instead of addressing it head on. Rather than dealing with the social issues that have brought us to this ever flowing cup of misery, we exacerbate the problem.
Through the realignment program, California sends non-violent offenders to serve their time at local jails instead of state prisons. Places like the L.A. county jail have become a type of closet where society is attempting to hide from view its giant mess of social injustice. Here, we’ve attempted to deal with the overpopulation of California’s massive prison system by merely shifting the burden from state to local law agencies. By doing this we shoot ourselves in the foot.
When we implement policy like that of the realignment policy, it brings to light the effects of a program where non-violent offenders do state time in local jails. We deny not only the person who is incarcerated, but society as a whole, the opportunity to heal and progress.
When we acknowledge that we’ve taken a wrong step, we’ve taken our first step in the right direction. The illegitimacy of the realignment policy brings to light the broader problem of a greater lack of access to things that would work to rehabilitate a person in the LA County jail system. We must acknowledge that the majority of people who find themselves in the county jail system are there for grasping for something that was out of their reach. Whether they’re reaching for stability or comfort, almost all of the people who pass through these doors are in a desperate need of help.
In a place like the LA County jail system, with so many people trapped in a perpetual merry-go-round through its doors, Los Angeles has a huge opportunity to heal and to grow. Instead of embracing fear politics and our knee-jerk reaction to punish, let’s exercise compassion and work toward certain understanding on a social problem that affects us all. At the local level we can take the initiative to provide rehabilitation to those who most need it. If we’re taking on the burdens of the state, we might as well make the best of it. Instead of waiting for the state to take action, the community of Los Angeles must take the initiative to reform. This issue is interrelated to many other pressing social issues, like homelessness. Let us not simply stuff all these issues in a closet. If we do, we’ll regret it once we smell the stench of our indifference.