What Does It Mean to 'Serve Your Time' in the Modern Justice System?


Maya Schenwar's Mother Jones article about the "quiet horrors of house arrest" should strike a chord for those whose lives involve the American criminal justice system, not to mention those among us in the wider population who believe that once you've "served your time" you should be allowed to get on with your life.

Not so for more and more people under surveillance after serving time behind bars.

As Schenwar describes the case of Marissa Alexander, when Alexander walks out of jail a few days from now after serving three years for a weapons offense in which she fired a warning shot against her husband (who is alleged to have been abusive), she'll now face two years of house arrest.

This house arrest will involve 24/7 electronic monitoring and roughly $100 per week in maintenance fees for the privilege of being monitored. This is, as Schenwar writes, "certainly preferable to being caged in a prison cell," even though the conditions of Alexander's release look more like that of a surveillance state out of the pages of a dystopian novel. Indeed, Schenwar references the "Panopticon," the fictive modern prison where inmates are watched 24/7 and the guards remain completely out of sight.

"By the end of her sentence," Schenwar writes, "Alexander will have spent $16,420 on her own imprisonment and constant surveillance."

Schenwar's article covers some important topics: electronic monitoring, drug testing, predictive policing and the sex offender registry. It's worth a read. To be fair, Alexander's house arrest was part of a plea deal in which she traded jail for house arrest, but the issues Schenwar raise remain valid: What does it mean in today's world to "serve your time," and do we ever stop serving it?

(Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/oaLWEs) 

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