Arrest, Condemn, Incarcerate

The case of Sandra Bland shows just how broken the justice system in the U.S. is. Racism rules. Obama’s planned reform is overdue – and is not enough.

The death of African-American Sandra Bland in a prison in Texas will likely never be fully cleared up. Solving the case is highly unlikely given the way the justice system works in the U.S. The “Black Lives Matter” activist was found dead. According to the police, she hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag. She was locked up because of a minor offense. That, alongside the tragedy of her death, is a scandal, because Bland’s case shows just how broken the U.S. justice system is.

Arrest, condemn, incarcerate – that’s the system. No other developed country has such a high number of people in prison compared to the population. That number is 2.2 million, an increase of 500 percent over the last 30 years. Incarceration is easier than rehabilitation or even clemency for smaller offenses. An African-American is six times more likely to land in prison than a white man. Sixty percent of inmates are minorities – and they receive harsher sentences. Racism rules the system.

The consequence is completely overfilled prisons and an overburdened state, which increasingly hands off the running of prisons to private companies whose only interest is to maximize profit. Even a visit to a state prison is an ordeal. The security precautions are so absurd that infants are frisked to the soles of their shoes and chewing gum is prohibited. The fact that one only gets to meet the inmate separated by bullet proof glass – irrelevant. Fear and control dominate.

Barack Obama is now the first president who wants to take action against these failings in the system. Last week he visited a prison to promote a planned reform of the justice system. Among other things, overly harsh sentences for drug offenses should be reduced. A long overdue step, with which Congress must also agree.

However: It can’t be the only measure. As long as punishment is society’s only conceivable concept, police, prosecutors and judges will enforce this understanding of the system and carry on acting and reacting overzealously. As with Sandra Bland.

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