Dr. Oz, who is running against John Fetterman in Pennsylvania for a seat in the U.S. Senate, has recently advertised his campaign on TV by stating, “Sanctuary cities, weak prosecutors, crime skyrocketing; Failed liberal policies are making us less safe.” The commercials target his opponent, Fetterman, by accusing him of being soft on crime and claiming that his progressive positions on criminal justice reform that favor giving some convicted criminals second chances will make the community less safe. Dr. Oz tries to persuade his audience that keeping ‘criminals’ in jail for long periods of time is the correct political position to take in order to keep the community free from danger.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
An enormous amount of taxpayer funds go into our state and county prisons. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is one of the most expensive agencies to run here. Despite the money being poured into these correctional facilities that warehouse prisoners for inhumane periods of time, do we truly get safer communities in return?
I have spoken to hundreds of potential and existing clients serving prison sentences about the system that controls them while they are incarcerated in Pennsylvania state prisons. For the millions of dollars that go into running our state prisons, inmates get no education and little to no treatment for drug or mental health related issues. While there are very few drug and boot camp programs that aim to rehabilitate inmates, they are held in a select few prisons for which few inmates qualify.
Those who are convicted in Pennsylvania are typically punished in horrific ways, beyond what the public could or would ever want to imagine. Medical treatment is substandard; the delays that inmates experience for serious conditions often lead to more expensive procedures, significant pain and suffering, and eventually in some situations, lawsuits are filed which result in significant payments by the state and their medical providers for the damages that occur. Without any treatment, education, or support, inmates are not able to better themselves. When and if they return to the community, they don’t have the necessary tools to prevent recidivism. As one inmate has put it in a recent article that I just came across: it’s like punishing someone without telling them why. How are people supposed to learn and better themselves without the resources to do so?
Often, the care that inmates receive from ‘corrections’ officers and other staff in our state and county prisons is so inhumane that it hardens them more and makes them more likely to repeat their cycle of criminal activity. I’ve heard stories of guards treating my clients worse than animals: failing to respond to their medical needs, verbally and physically abusing them. In one recent incident, a guard refused to let my client keep his prosthetic insoles in his diabetic shoes when he arrived at a state prison, which ended up causing him a serious foot infection that led to a weakening of his heart and hospitalization – amounting to thousands of dollars and unnecessary suffering. In another case, a guard refused to allow another client to keep his glasses when he arrived at a state prison. Another client was left to languish on the floor of his cell with a migraine headache for days without any medical intervention. How is this abusive behavior against inmates supposed to make us safe?
I have found that when I listen to my clients with compassion and try to help them, they immediately feel not only better, but more motivated to make good choices.
The funding for our criminal justice system should be used to help, treat, support, uplift, and educate those who are serving prison sentences so that they can be well prepared to return to the community to make better choices. This goal treats people like people, something that should appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. It is my hope that someone will hear my plea.