The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Amnesty Hosts Presentation on US Prison System

Did you know that the United States locks up more people than any other country in the world? That the country has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of the world’s prisoners? That between 1970 to 2006, our prisoners increased from 200 thousand to 1,479,179–a whopping 700 percent increase, even though the overall United States population during that time period only increased by a mere 50 percent?

But that’s not all the irony that occurs in the United States prison system.

The Amnesty International Club held a presentation about the United States prison system and the death penalty during third and fifth period today, February 16. Michael Mitchell, a former warden, came to speak about his experiences working with prisoners and discussed the necessity of urgent reforms to the current policies regarding the prison system in the United States.

History teacher Seth Donnelly also contributed to the presentation by creating a slide show containing facts about prisoners in America.

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In 2002, 76 percent of state prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes–more for drugs than for actual murder. To provide resources for inmates in California, taxpayers pay around $50 thousand for each of the 144 thousand Californian prisoners every year.

However, it’s not all about numbers. It’s about human rights. Prisoners in America are stripped of their privacy and many jails are overcrowded.

“They were called by their numbers, not their first name, not their last name,” Mitchell said. “It was almost as if they had lost their identity.”

Mitchell had worked as a warden in Wyoming, in charge of a boot camp. In Wyoming, an individual is considered an adult at the age of 14. Mitchell reminisces about his past as a warden.

“I remember asking, ‘What are we doing to keep them out of prison?’” Mitchell said. “Well, they can march. They can march quite well, but that’s not going to cut it. The people need education.”

During his years as a warden, Mitchell made it his top priority to make sure that all his prisoners left the institution with a G.E.D. He got the program extended from 120 days to about one year. 94 percent of his prisoners graduated with a G.E.D.

“Most of the people were not educated,” Mitchell said. “74 percent of my graduates stayed out of crime after they had left my camp.”

The national average of prisoners who stay out of camp is about 50 percent.

Although the presentation focused on highlighting the flaws on the current US prison system, it also covered the death penalty. One death row inmate requires $150 thousand per year. Tax payers pay $184 million extra in order to house and feed death row inmates.

In California, the death penalty law was reinstated in 1978, and since then there have been 13 executions–$380 million per execution. California is currently on hold for executions due to a previous judge’s ruling of executions as immoral.

“By repealing the death penalty, it will save $200 million per year, one billion in the next five years,” Mitchell said.

Sixteen states in the United States, such as Illinois and Oregon, have outlawed the death penalty and have found that the crime rates in those states have decreased.

Along with an engaging and moving presentation, “An Interview with an Executioner” was played. This video, which focused on the story of Edward Johnson, showed the execution of innocent individuals and the reaction of an ex-executioner who quit his job because it went against his morals.

However, stories like these are common, as it takes about 17 years to affirm one court case. 46 percent of all homicides are unsolved. On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis, an innocent man who even had the evidence to prove his innocence, was executed.

Based on the presentation delivered by Mitchell, Donnelly and the Amnesty International Club, the United States prison system is in need of radical reforms. But what can a student at LAHS do?

“Be involved with your community,” Mitchell said. “If you see something that you don’t agree with, is wrong, say something. Take a position and let your voice be heard.”

[Photos by Tiffany Choy]

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