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Saturday, July 13, 2013

California Prisons, Lawmakers Making Controversial Decisions for Inmates

Posts on this blog have been intermittent (at best) since my senior capping class ended. I suppose that without expectations looming over me I lost motivation to post regularly, let alone at all. But lately the itch to write has come back. And, after all, to become a better writer you need to write. Writing just to write without really having something to say is boring and, at least for me, produces poor writing.

However, something in the news recently sparked my interest. I saw two separate articles about California prisons, which I'm sure almost everyone has seen. One was about supplying condoms in male prisons to cut down on the STD rate, the other was about forced sterilization of female inmates. Obviously, both of these articles bring forth questionable issues. I'm going to come right out and share my opinion about the sterilization: I absolutely believe that forced sterilization is 100 percent ethically wrong.

One hundred and fifty women were reported sterilized in California over the course of five years. No one can say for sure if every one of these women did not willingly agree to the procedure, but the general assumption in the media is that it was forced sterilization for the most part. Not only was it forced, but it was also illegal since the prisons did not go through the state's proper channels to legally perform the procedures.

While I understand the legal seriousness of the issue -- misuse of funds, mis-documenting procedures as "medical emergencies" -- I feel the ethical seriousness has been downplayed. I have read some quotes from inmates, saying things about how they overheard prison nurses pushing sterilization on other inmates and such. One sterilized inmate said that doctors convinced her that sterilization was the best thing to do since she already had five children, but that she later regretted the decision. I understand that these women are inmates, in prison for crimes. And criminals should be punished -- I am all for solitary confinement and the like when circumstances warrant it. But basically stripping a human being of their reproductive rights is heinous. This is comparable to a civilian's right to choose an abortion being taken away.

The beliefs of some should not dictate policy for all. Meaning, in this case, inmates' reproductive rights should not be abolished simply because some think it is the right thing to do without medical criteria backing it up. Criminals, drug addicts, homeless persons, a mother of 10, I don't care. Unless a medical professional has solid, indisputable evidence that sterilization of an inmate -- or anyone-- is necessary, forced sterilization is wrong. This is my ethical standpoint. I can foresee people reading this tearing their hair out, citing statistics about unfit mothers who have more children just for the welfare check and then use the money for drugs, et cetera. I get that, I really do. Those kind of situations are horrible, and those mothers should have the welfare cut off and their children taken away. But as much as I agree with such concerns, I cannot condone the act of a human being taking away an inherent, biological right from another human being.

All this being said, my view on condoms in male prisons is not nearly as clear-cut or lengthy.

Having sex in prison is a felony. Clearly, this is not stopping many inmates, consensual or not. By giving them access to condoms, California is sending one of two message: "Go ahead, we condone this." or "We do not condone this, but at least be safe." Either way, I do think that the premise for such an action is justified; the state wants to cut down the STD rate. This concept is great! And California wouldn't be the first state to try something like this. Vermont (my home state) has had condom accessibility in prisons for years. Other states have more restrictive rules, such as those involving conjugal visits.

Again, the concept behind the idea is great. But I think about how often men get raped in prison and I worry that by supplying condoms the state is giving rapists another reason to rape. I do not think that lawmakers are considering supplying condoms in order to validate or encourage inmate rapists. However, I wonder if these abusers will see it that way. On the other hand, a small part of me thinks that perhaps giving out condoms is more about protecting the inmate victims rather than the rapists. Though that may be little comfort if they are still getting raped.

When it comes to inmate rapes, my view on supplying condoms is murky. Consensual relationships are definitely a different story. Maybe if prison couples disclosed their relationships the state would feel more justified in supplying condoms for consensual sex. Unfortunately, that still leaves rape victims unprotected and may even make them feel discriminated against.

This post isn't about coming up with answers to the condoms issue or sterilization issue, but they are two things that people should think about. We tend to discard people once they are sent to prison, disregard them as human beings deserving of rights. And in some cases like cold-blooded murder I'm sure one could create a strong argument for it. Another debate for another post. In the two instances presented here, when you get down to it, one is about reproductive rights and the other is about sexual health. Just think about it.

(Citation: Specific information in this post gathered from the two articles linked above.)

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