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The Geography of Justice: Aspen's Pitkin County Jail vs. Maricopa Tent City in Phoenix

Matthew Seyler's picture

Aspen, CO - If you're going to steal a car, do it in Aspen; only an amateur desert thief rolls the dice somewhere like Phoenix. There is a complex web of competing philosophies on the purpose of jail – punishment, rehabilitation, to deter, to preserve the rights of the innocent, or some hybrid – none of which I care to get into with any depth here; there are entirePhoenix, AZ - Inmates of the Maricopa Tent City Jail taking it easy, as usual. [photo by Nina Rehfeld] books devoted to the ethics of incarceration. No, I aim to point out a vast dichotomy that exists by comparing two nearly opposite institutions. Even while disagreeing on what constitutes just punishment, we can all recognize that the type imposed on a criminal may vary drastically depending on nothing more than location. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the geography of justice.

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Aspen, Colorado's Pitkin County Jail:

“...persons are sentenced to jail as punishment, not for punishment.” -Pitkin County Jail website

Say “jail” to yourself. What are the first images and emotions that pop up? Vertical bars and hopelessness? Apathetic guards and extreme lack of privacy? A drab environment, where the only things not black or white are some intermediary gray? Perhaps some cliché shower scene.

When I stumbled across aAspen, Co - One of the Pitkin County Jail cells that Charlie Sheen nearly occupied.Aspen, Co - One of the Pitkin County Jail cells that Charlie Sheen nearly occupied. picture of one of the 65sq foot rooms cells-with-a-view Charlie Sheen was to stay in after his latest brush with the law (which he didn't, but “rich justice” is an article for another time), I couldn't help but notice a resemblance to my apartment – though there isn't a toilet placed conveniently ten feet from my bed. I have no resentment of Sheen for living better than me out in the world, but the uncanny similarity I saw sparked, and then begged an answer to the question: when he breaks the law, why should I start footing the bill (as a non-criminal taxpayer) for his superior lifestyle?

It's not just the “balanced,Aspen, CO - My apartment (which I pay money to live in).Aspen, CO - My room (which I pay money to live in). hot, varied, dietitian approved” meals (which can be supplemented by shopping at the jail commissary), carpeted floors (to reduce bothersome noise), gym (with treadmills, basketball court, and weight machines), or even cable TV (which I don't have) that struck me. These beyond-necessity services being so readily provided grants a freedom that almost compensates for what is lost through confinement: the freedom from individual responsibility.

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