Three decades ago, a federal judge in St. Louis used a beach metaphor to describe the cruel nature of mass incarceration in the United States.
“The police have no difficulty in finding these offenders,” U.S. District Judge Clyde S. Cahill wrote in 1990. “They scoop them up from the corners of North St. Louis like shovelfuls of sand from a beach; however, they still need assistance and deserve treatment even while they are in jail. These persons are still men and women who are entitled to be treated with dignity as human beings.”
Cahill, the first Black federal trial judge from St. Louis, was sitting in judgment on a lawsuit alleging horrific conditions at a jail in his city known as The Workhouse, but he could well have been describing New York’s Rikers Island in 2021, where 11 people have perished this year while in the state’s care. Cahill continued: