Learned helplessness

A poor woman with seven children was put in jail for two days. Her crime besides being poor was that her children cut school and she was fined for their crimes. She was too poor to pay the fines and too poor to prove she was too poor. She had high blood pressure but her jailers never gave her medication. Anyway she is dead. Who cares just one more poor person gone. Her kids are now wards of the state.

Learned helplessness was observed as a side experiment with rats – back in the day when B.F. Skinner’s loopy theories ruled psychology. Rats where put in a box and were basically tortured for extended periods of time. The behavioral scientists assumed that when the torture stopped that the rats would get up and run away. This expected behavior did not happen. The rats had to be physically picked up and removed from the torture boxes. The behavior anomaly became know as learned helplessness.

Why is it that some humans simply become passive and don’t fight back? Human being can suffer from learned helplessness just as the lab rats did in that long ago behavioral experiment. Years of torture and psychological abuse can lead to the human equivalent of learned helplessness.

We don’t know all the details surrounding the death of this mother and since the state officials who are in part responsible for her death – we may never know the truth. That is unless a plucky lawyer takes her case on behalf of her children. My guess is that poverty had a hand in her death as well as the lack of proper health care. Did she try to tell one of her jailers she was unwell? Would the jailers even listen, or care? I don’t know the race of this woman – other than she was part of the human race.

Learned helplessness – put people in boxes and torture them. Sort of sounds like a prison system – or something. Google “learned helplessness.” There is a book by that title – I’ve read the book and it lives in my library.

There is another behavioral experiment that all psychology students learn about. The jailer and the inmates experiment that took place at Stanford University. A group of male students was randomly assigned to play the role of inmate or jailer. Turns out the students took their roles very seriously. Some of the jailers discovered their hidden sadist. The professor who dreamed up this experiment ended the role playing long before the experiment was due to end. This research was funded by the U.S. Navy in 1971.

In real life we see this experiment happen in jails and mental hospital – anywhere one random group of individuals has ultimate power over others. In Los Angeles the jailers are basically on trial and the witness for the government is one of the jailers who got caught smuggling something into the jail for an undercover informant.

In another case of sadism by jailers against inmates we have inmates stripped naked and pepper sprayed. Left that way for hours. This behavior was caught on tape – the jailers did this to an unknown number of inmates. Torture, learned helplessness, but sometimes the inmates fight back with the help of lawyers. Sadistic guards stripping a complaint female who was not convicted of any crime. On the outside of the prison walls what happened to her (and others) would be called sexual assault.

Something is wrong with America – too many people are in jail on frivolous charges. Why is my tax dollar supporting a huge prison population. I’m not arguing that jails shouldn’t exist or jailers. There are dangerous individuals who have most their right to live outside prisons walls.

So a woman who had seven children is put in jail because she couldn’t pay a fine. She is dead. How much did it cost the tax payers to keep her in jail? Why? What century are we living in?

Additional links

A footnote in the Wikipedia entry about the Stanford prison experiment references unethical human experimentation:

It seems that some U.S. prisons are still experimenting on humans. Then there are the private prisons for profit which seem to have very little oversight.

America’s new Apartheid – an article about the massive percentage of the U.S. population in jail.

Many people associate the mass imprisonment of a population with authoritarian regimes. Consequently, many Americans are surprised when they learn that the country that incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other is the United States. With 2.3 million prisoners, the “land of the free” has more people in prison than China, which has a population four times the size of the United States. A hugely disproportionate percentage of those incarcerated are African-Americans as Washington’s war on drugs constitutes the latest incarnation of racist policies that have existed since the country’s founding.

. . .
A quarter of America’s 2.3 million prisoners are in jail for non-violent drug offenses—more than the total number of prisoners in the European Union. In 1980, there were 41,000 imprisoned drug offenders but that number had skyrocketed to more than half a million by 2011, according to The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organization that analyzes the US criminal system. The race and class bias of the 1986 sentencing laws soon became apparent as the ratio of Blacks who were imprisoned compared to whites increased dramatically. Because crack was much cheaper than powder cocaine it became popular in poor urban neighborhoods, many of which were Black. In contrast, most of the principal users of powder cocaine were middle- and upper-class whites living in relatively wealthy suburban neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods have also endured the
Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300militaristic presence of heavily-armed police narcotics squads carrying out “zero tolerance” drug policies. And so, while record numbers of low-level urban drug dealers and users are being sent to prison, most middle and upper class white suburban dealers and users remain free to indulge their habits with little police harassment.


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