Ethical Treatment of Prisoners Is a Complex Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Ethical treatment of prisoners is a complex question, involving the nature of the prison system in the U.S. And the nature of those incarcerated in it, as well as ethical obligations that individuals owe to society as well as those that society owes to those who are imprisoned. Deontological ethics might hold, for example, that those who have violated the law and the basic moral norms of society deserve to be punished but at the same time even those convicted and imprisoned have certain basic human rights. For example, they have the right to food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and cannot be tortured, abused or brutalized. Another problem from a deontological perspective would be to criticize a society where blacks and Hispanics are a minority of the population but also the majority of the prison population, including those on death row. Indeed, they are more likely to be profiled, arrested, convicted and receive harsher sentences than whites. Emotivist ethics are not particularly helpful in resolving all these questions, either, since a person adhering to these might feel very strongly that murder, theft and drug dealing are wrong and should be punished severely. On the other hand, they might also feel and emotional sympathy for those who are incarcerated or revulsion toward prisons and the death penalty. An emotivist might also strongly condemn the injustices of society, particularly its racism, poverty and mistreatment of minorities. In short, neither of these rel="follow">ethical theories can offer any concrete or absolute answers about what the ethical treatment of prisoners really means.

Since 1980, the U.S. prison population has increased over 400% due to the War on Drugs and mandatory sentencing laws, and over 70% of inmates are young black and Hispanic males. No other Western nation has this level of imprisonment, and in many areas the majority of black men are in jail or on probation and parole. In 2002, the total number of prisoners in state, federal and county jails surpassed two million for the first time in history, with five million more on probation or parole. In 2009, the total number of state and federal prisoners was 1.4 million, of which 479,000 were white, 563,000 black and 303,000 Hispanic (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2009).

In the last thirty years, the U.S. has become the only Western country that still has capital punishment and one of the few countries in the world that puts juveniles to death. Given the conservative domination of political and economic life in recent decades, there has been little sympathy or attention for dealing with the social and economic causes of crime, or rehabilitating criminals. Blacks are also far overrepresented among death row inmates, but racism in criminal justice is hardly unusual in U.S. history. They have always been more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated than whites, to be lynched, and to receive harsher sentences for the same crimes. Death row inmates have almost never been presented sympathetically in popular culture or the mass…

Sources Used in Documents:


Capital Punishment (2011). Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Prison Inmate Characteristics (2009). Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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