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Criminal Injustice: Death & Politics at Attica

The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. With best practices, it could have been ranked criminal justice system in the world. Yet, it has not been the case for a long time now. Undoubtedly, inmates deserve humane treatment. It is illegal and unethical to extend politics into our prisons. Even as the country seeks to keep the cost of running the criminal justice system down, it has to ensure these human rights do not get alienated in any way. Notably, social work in criminal justice emerged from Jane Addams and Hull House Staff’s progressive contributions (KKC Social Work, 2021). These two and other individuals assisted in the development of the Juvenile Justice System. Social casework got introduced in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, first in the 1930s. Police social work developed about 40 years later. Since then, prisons have continually employed forensic social workers to work as private practitioners. This reflective paper will address the issues highlighted in the documentary ‘Death and Politics at Attica’, pointing out the prevalence of human rights in prisons and the role of social work and government in improving the criminal justice system.

As evidenced by the documentary ‘Death and Politics at Attica’ (Marshall, 2012), the criminal justice system in the U.S. has been faced with numerous legal, economic, and ethical challenges. A sentence of imprisonment constitutes only a deprivation of the fundamental right to liberty. At the same time, it might constitute several human rights violations within the prison. It is becoming increasingly customary to hear of prison facilities housing more prisoners than the recommended capacity. Overcrowding could be pernicious for these inmates, but many politicians and authorities justify this with economic terms. Inmates have a social life that must get protected despite them being in prison. They psychologically deserve a good prison environment to facilitate their eventual reformation to fruitful citizens once again. Comparative to profits, most self-centered officials would take the economic side of the debate. In the United States, most states have total control over prisons. Politicians and those in authority over such institutions increasingly disregard the violation of human rights that happen there. For instance, during the Attica uprising, State Police Detectives did not want to be accountable for the happenings, and then there was the cover-up by the officials (Marshall, 2012). A vital cause of this cover-up was the presidential aspirations of the then government of New York City, Rockefeller.

The government has to address the issues surrounding the criminal justice system through reforms and better management. For instance, it is necessary to avoid abuse of authority by all means possible and ensure social workers uphold ethical values and respect the law. The authorities must not coerce inmates to conform to their ideologies without seeking democratic means of ending conflicts. During the Attica uprising, the inmates had genuine concerns, but those in authority neglected them. They were worried that the system was increasingly turning them into slave laborers and demanded freedom of worship. Instead of President Nixon addressing the issue democratically, he chose to support the action of the state governor. It was a systemic failure of the system, which now necessitates reforms.

In agreement with my perspective, the documentary shows how the President and the state government approached the issue violently, ignoring the use of proper mechanisms to negotiate a truce. With this in mind, the privatization of prisons in the U.S. will not end the injustices witnessed continuously in the criminal justice system. Instead, reforming prisons should be the sole focus. The government should create laws that govern actions taken by state officials and other authorities inmates. The reform should depend on the improvement and rationalization of criminal justice policies, including crime prevention and sentencing policies, and on the care and treatment made available to vulnerable people in society. It has to include the criminal justice institutions other than prison service. Without these reforms, it is possible that an uprising might happen again. The documentary mentions that the governor had called the President about an hour before he decided to retake the prison forcefully. The President did not take time to comprehend the consequences.

In conclusion, the documentary drives a crucial insight into the control of criminal justice and the significance of preserving human rights. The Attica uprising affected hundreds of families. The survivors have remained with these taunting memories for decades now. My perspective about prisons has changed towards the support for more reforms in the criminal justice system in the country. I feel motivated to learn more ways that this great nation can prevent similar happenings in the future by building better prison environments to achieve the exact purpose that prison is supposed to achieve.


KKC Social Work. (2021). Chapter 11: Social work in the criminal justice system [Video]. YouTube.

Marshall, D. (2012). Death and Politics at Attica [Video]. YouTube.

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