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    Op-Ed
    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Prison isn’t the answer for protesters

    Over the years, Day columnist Mike DiMauro and I have agreed on some things and disagreed on others. His recent column about the Travelers Championship protesters is one where we will have to disagree.

    I distrust the desire to confront fear and uncertainty with the authoritarian impulse to cage people.

    The urge to lock ‘em up is not about rehabilitation. A month or six months in jail will not change the convictions of the person who so thoroughly understands the threat of and urgency of climate change science as to put their liberty at stake for it. Nelson Mandela served 18 years and it did not change his mind about the injustice of the apartheid system.

    When I read Mike’s column, I felt like he argued for punishing the protesters for scaring the crowds you allege to speak for. To me, prison should be the last resort for anything, given the torture that we know has happened there. We should, as a society, never advocate to lock anyone up except in the worst cases.

    Where I think this opinion crossed a boundary for me, though, was when Mike said we need prosecutors and judges to be angry like he is, and throw more people in prison. The question, to me, is always how many more?

    Put another way: In 1980, Connecticut had enjoyed a steady population of about 3.5 million people for 40 years or so. During that same four-decade span, the steady prison population remained 3,500 people. After the election of Ronald Reagan, Connecticut’s prison population (like the rest of the nation) shot through the roof, and by 2009, state prisons held almost 20,000 people.

    After the hard work of Gov. Dannel Malloy to empty prisons, our incarcerated population went down to around 9,000. During Gov. Ned Lamont’s term, it has hovered around 11,000 or so.

    This is still three times who we jailed before the Reagan revolution. I challenge anyone to prove to me we are safer today than we were in 1979. Advocating incarceration for protesters like this strikes as a knee-jerk reaction that may appeal to factions of your audience. It may make you feel better in the short term, too.

    But it is not good journalism to spew the same cruel mass incarceration propaganda that has numbed us to the reality of holding more people than anywhere else on the planet in captivity. Good journalism is reporting as many sides of the story as possible, not in using discomfort as an excuse to proselytize for a failed policy.

    Good journalism is about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Do you think the people suffering from record heat waves in the Asian tropics, 120 degree heat for weeks, are as scared as you were? Who can they lock up?

    Ken Krayeske is a Stratford-based civil rights attorney.

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