Letter: Prison labor criticism is unfounded

In wanting to end the supposed use of “unjust” prison labor at Iowa State University, I’d like to weigh in as a former inmate.

Don’t stop allowing inmates to leave from jail to go to work.

The jobs are completely voluntary. Inmates sign up for them. They then get perks such as leaving jail, and showing they did something besides sit around all day and playing cards. Ending a jail work program, while focusing on a key issue affecting the millennial generation, seems to have missed the forest for the trees.

Rather than simply point to one of the less painful symptoms of incarceration — getting time away from incarceration and getting paid at the same time — why not rather focus on why inmates are being incarcerated in the first place?

40 percent of millennials today have a criminal record by the age of 24. Minorities are arrested at a higher rate in the state of Iowa for drugs than any other state in the country. Scholarships are taken on an annual basis, and students, barely adults by society’s own standards, are left with a lifelong blemish that stops them from job opportunities, housing and employment for at least a decade.

Student organizations such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy or ISU NORML have fought on behalf of these issues for years, in order to reduce and prevent the damage caused to society by the unnecessary and arbitrary incarceration of non-violent individuals, without any victim other than an imagined “greater good” that has been reimagined on such a frequent basis that we are now seeing multiple white flags being waved on policy and police levels due to acknowledging the reality that we can’t arrest our way out of drug problems.

And with the majority of inmates today being placed in jails and prisons because of drugs, it’s important that these issues are kept at the forefront of the debate even as the new administration pretends that it has any legal grounds to crack down on recent changes to drug laws that now see 95 percent of Americans having access to medical or recreational cannabis in some way, shape or form.

It turns out that science and reasonable discussion surrounding the international scope of knowledge concerning medical cannabis has led people to realize it does not, in fact, cause you to assault people as claimed once upon a time, and that resulting policies can actually be based upon the actual damages done to society — anybody remember the 1972 Marijuana Commission’s recommendation to Nixon that was ignored? — and not just be used to further some kind of conspiracy to have everyone work for free as a slave of some kind. 

The discussion the socialist group Van Fosson has started is one that I am very glad to continue concerning criminal justice reform. Please do not take away what little opportunity prisoners or inmates have to get out of jail free. That’s an olive branch I’d rather you didn’t break — try to first step back and look at the rotted tree.