This year at CPAC the American Conservative Union partnered with criminal justice advocates to provide a very moving virtual reality experience that lets the viewer see what juvenile incarceration is like. I was able to sit down with Xavier McElrath-Bey from the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth to talk about his experience in the system at the age of thirteen and the challenges that our children from high-risk backgrounds are going through.
One of the most shocking revelations in the experience was that children are being held in solitary confinement, away from all human contact, in order to “protect” them in adult populations. There has to be a better solution than this. Keeping children in such an environment is extremely damaging to their development and mental health. Further, children in adult prisons are regularly subjected to rape and abuse that should never be a part of rehabilitation.
Conservatives are often on the side of law-enforcement with no interest in exploring the plight of people in our prison system. Often there is a sense of surety that if a person is in prison, they deserve to be there. But even a cursory investigation into people’s experiences in this very flawed justice system shows that many people are forgotten and abused due to unjust sentencing, like Edward Eugene Simms, a Virginia man who was granted parole and released from prison after spending over three decades in prison for non-violent offenses he committed when he was 16. The president has shown that he cares about this issue and is leading the way for conservatives to open their eyes to the unjust and overly harsh conditions in our prisons. Listen with an open mind and ask yourself if there can be justice without mercy. People are not disposable.
Below is a preview of the VR experience that was shown at CPAC.
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter