The Eighth and 14th Amendments are meant to prevent cruel and unusual punishment, as well as discrimination and unequal treatment—including for the incarcerated. But that's not what's being applied in America's prisons, Cheryl Smith writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she lays out the "soul-chilling inhumanity" that awaits inmates in many of the nation's jails and detention centers. Smith's own son is behind bars in a prison in California, where temps are currently hovering in the triple digits. She writes that the sweltering heat, exacerbated by climate change and lack of AC (especially in Southern states), is just one of many issues plaguing US prisons. She also cites virtually "nonexistent" health care, subpar nutrition, cramped quarters, limits on exercise and recreation, plumbing issues, and poor allowance for personal hygiene.
One 60-year-old NC inmate Smith talks to puts it thusly: "If I was a German shepherd I'd be treated with more basic regard for life." Smith notes that in America, the incarceration industry is just more "big business," whose main interest lies in raking in lots of cash through for-profit prisons, bail, and the like. Contrast that with prisons in Germany and some Scandinavian countries, where the punishment is incarceration, not additional punishment while incarcerated. One German warden says the goal is to treat inmates as "normal" so that they're ready to reassimilate when released. Smith implores readers to start taking action, including by blasting out posts on social media, writing to lawmakers, and penning op-eds like her own to raise awareness. "We need to stop closing our eyes and turning away from suffering," she notes. (Read her full essay here.)