The internet went crazy yesterday.
News broke that Jared Fogle, the former Subway spokesperson convicted on child pornography charges and paying for sex with two minors, was beaten in prison by another inmate who despises child molesters. The 38-year old Fogle is serving a fifteen-year sentence at the Englewood Federal Prison in Littleton, Colorado. Not surprisingly, Twitter users started a #JaredFogle trend with comments like "Even prison has a code of ethics, Fogle will get beaten up many many times. Good!"
This outpouring of support for Fogle's attacker is part of a disturbing societal habit of elevating criminals to celebrity status. Rather than letting Fogle fade into much-deserved obscurity, he's remained in the public eye — in both the blog and twitter-spheres. In Fogle's case, it began with a bizarre fascination with his incarceration eating habits, menu options, and weight gain.
After his altercation in prison, this attention snowballed into gleeful speculation about his assault. Jimmy Nigg, Fogle’s attacker — who has been convicted of weapons trafficking — has similarly been turned into a celebrity of sorts. Story after story is being published providing photos of him, biographical information about him, and quotes from his family.
Although I identify with the feelings of rage towards someone who has harmed and violated children, the very public support for inmate against inmate violence in prison is wrong. This attention sensationalizes and glorifies Jimmy Nigg who is a criminal and embraces and glorifies the culture of violence in our prison systems. It's not hard to imagine other inmates, in a quest for fame, following in the footsteps of Nigg.
The United State has a flawed, but fairly advanced penal system, but it wasn’t always this way. At one time whipping posts were an indispensable part of American towns. However, as our country matured, corporal punishment was eliminated from our justice system and the last judicial flogging took place in Delaware in 1952. I, for one, think this is a good thing. We’re not living in the 1950's or in present day Saudi Arabia, Sudan, or Nigeria where the government condones issuing a good old fashion lashing or caning for criminal conduct.
Jared Fogle was sentenced by a judge to fifteen years in prison for his crimes. I don’t like that Fogle will be released from prison in my lifetime, but if as a society we think pedophiles and sex offenders should receive harsher sentences then we should advocate for stricter laws instead of applauding other criminals to impose violent sentences on their fellow inmates.
I am also of the opinion that we need to create a better system for dealing with child sexual predators like Fogle. Although research doesn’t seem to support that there is a particularly valid way to rehabilitate sex offenders, there has to be a better way to treat them than by cheering while they're beaten or allowing the cycle of violence to continue once they're released.
For example, years ago an ordinance in Miami was created that banned sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of places that children gather. Many residents felt this was effective. The so-called social deviants were out of sight and out of mind. However, the policy forced sex offenders in the city to move to the only option available — a shanty town of tents and shacks underneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
Why should anyone care what happens to a person convicted of a sex crime? Because even though we all may feel strongly about Jared Fogle’s crimes, ultimately the attitudes and climate that allow prisoner abuse to continue only reinforces the worst part of humanity and allow for more societal dysfunction in the end. In the case of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, this means sex offenders with no physical addresses. The forced transient nature of Miami sex offenders makes it difficult for law enforcement to monitor and track them — the exact opposite of what is needed for public safety.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world due to extreme sentencing laws. With more and more Americans moving through our jails and prisons, and back into our communities and neighborhoods, we as a society can’t afford to be ignorant about the realities of prison life and the criminal justice system.
It means moving out of the arena of cheap jokes and the appearance of being tough on crime and into the realm of making actual policies that work.
Jared Fogle (who I don’t think received a long enough sentence), and the vast majority of people convicted of crimes will be released back into society at some point. Unfortunately, many of our prisons are currently dangerous and traumatic places, that cause mental health issues like anxiety, depression and PTSD in prisoners who had no prior psychological issues. If prisoners don’t receive the therapy, monitoring, and the support they need to reintegrate back into the world, they'll be released as angry and hardened men after years of being jailhouse punching bags.