Differences in the Criminal Justice System

August 5, 2015

After visiting the Salinas Police Department last week, I was eager to see the other sides of the criminal justice system and analyze the different factors that contributed to the massive incarcerated population in our country.  I expected there to be differences in the level of security, my general comfort level upon entering the area, and an attitude that was overall more negative and less friendly when arriving at the prison.  Some things I was not surprised by, like the massive amount of inmates or the way that the prison was structured.  But what I found most surprising was the difference between the attitudes of the police officers and the prison guards.  When we visited the police station, I noticed a level of willful blindness related to issues of race when it came to policing methods.  The police portrayed a positive attitude, and a can-do attitude in the sense that they wanted to help everyone they could and that no person was more or less deserving of fair treatment.  But they seemed oblivious (whether by choice or pure ignorance) to the clear facts that demonstrate the inequality present in our prisons and policing systems, especially when it came to young men of color.  I was expecting this same blindness when we got to the prison since I figured that the attitude of the people in charge would be similar, but I was surprised to see how up front the prison guards and officers were when it came to race and gender issues and how those played out within the prison system.  While I was unable to specifically observe the relationships between the guards and the prisoners very closely, it was clear that everyone who worked in the prison was not trying to pretend that people are treated differently because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.  This was demonstrated by the guard’s ability to talk openly with our group about who the different groups within the prison were, who tended to align with which groups, where those groups would hangout, and how figuring out how to take care of transgender inmates can become a complex issue to deal with when your prisons are split into either all male or all female facilities.  While I do not believe that the workers in the prison were without any bias on many of these social issues, it was clear that they were much more comfortable talking about these things as issues instead of things that don’t exist.

As I was contemplating why this might be, something that one of the guards said stuck out to me.  One of them mentioned the level of respect he has for police officers who are performing their jobs out on the streets because they are constantly working in an environment that is unpredictable.  Within the prison system, everything is controlled.  For the most part, all of the people working there know what to expect and when to expect it.  They know which groups exist and how they respond to others as well as the workers.  Aside from occasional events like riots, the environment within the prisons does not come with any surprises.  Out on the streets, police officers constantly have to make split second decisions when it comes to enforcing the law, protecting the community, and protecting themselves.  At the police station, Chief McMillin mentioned the challenge that police officers face to make these split second decisions rationally and safely.  It is only human to make mistakes when you know that somebody’s life might be on the line if you don’t take action immediately.  But more importantly, I think this shows how internal biases are hard to look beyond when you are thinking this quickly.  If a police officer judges a suspect based off of their skin color or what they are wearing, it is nearly impossible for that bias to not be imposed on their split second decision making, whether they know it or not.



From a psychological perspective, I think this says a lot about the impact of high stress situation on police officers and prison guards.  When it comes down to the moment, people will act differently in the fraction of a second, and judgments that we may argue do not have logical backing will likely overtake the thought process of someone in an authoritative position.  Police officers face these high stress situations much more often than prison guards do.  Therefore it is easy to see how police officers have more of an attitude of blindness, because they do not want to recognize that their biases have control over their decision making in such a quick moment.  But if prison guards don’t recognize that people are treated differently in our society, it could mean being totally unprepared to control a violent situation that breaks out due to these biases and tensions and oblivious as to why it happened or how to stop it.  This could be something as prevalent as why the Northerners hangout at a certain picnic table to why transgender inmates need an extra level of protection and support within prisons, but they are all things that cannot be ignored.

Earthbound Farms

July 31, 2015

The site visit to Earthbound Farms in Carmel today brought me back to my “roots” in more ways than one.  I have always been an advocate for organic eating and healthy living.  I come from a family where KRAFT mac&cheese and soda were things that I didn’t hear about until I started primary school.  We have always had a garden in our backyard and I have lived in multiple communities that are based around central gardening and emphasize supporting each other through healthy farming practices.  As I grew up and became more and more focused on my studies, I have drifted away from a simple lifestyle.  While I still try to maintain a healthy diet, it is often dependent on convenience.  The moments where I stop to appreciate my meal and where it came from are increasingly few and far between.  But visiting the farm today caused me to take a huge step back and think about my connection to the environment.  Just stepping onto farmland sparked a warm feeling inside of me.  I felt familiar with my surroundings and comfortable in a way that I hadn’t been in quite some time.  I remembered that a healthy lifestyle, working outside, community support, and not sitting at a desk are all things that I want my future career to encompass.  When I was younger I assumed that gardening would always be a part of my life, but as I get closer to making big career decisions, a farming lifestyle seems further away.  I am now trying to brainstorm of ways that these can still be components of my future career despite my other strong interests in law and human rights.  This visit made me feel that a blend of all of my career interests can easily come together since it demonstrated how effective small change (like starting an organic garden) can be.  I feel as though these thoughts and reflections will stay with me as I continue to work towards completing my education and searching for the right career path for myself.