Friday, February 29, 2008

Prison Planet

Or, Where our Money Goes

You might have seen this already, since it's around the 'sphere: it concerns a late study which shows that one American in a hundred today is in prison.

One in a hundred.

“While we certainly want to be smart about who we put into prisons,” Professor Cassell said, “it would be a mistake to think that we can release any significant number of prisoners without increasing crime rates. One out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every 100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense.”

But of course, this is not actually the case:

"We have 5,500 D.W.I offenders in prison,” [The State Senator from Texas] said, including people caught driving under the influence who had not been in an accident. “They’re in the general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should segregate them and give them treatment.”

Why does this matter?

[T]the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

And that, of course, ignores the cost of human suffering: not only the human suffering of the prisoners. As the report notes, we imprison in a racist manner: 1 in 9 black men are in prison; 1 in 46 Hispanics are in prison. If nearly 1 in 10 black men are in prison, what happens to their families? What do they suffer? What do they learn, about America, about our culture, about our justice system, about their own chances in this country?

And they are right, of course.

We also imprison in a classicist manner -- that is, people from the lower classes end up in prison more often than rich folk do. What's that teaching Americans? (Nothing, probably. Probably I only wish it were.)

My main point: if we're spending money on prisons, we don't have money to spend on schools, on health care, on scholarships, on public transportation, on libraries, on alternative fuel sources.

On rehab, for fuck's sake.


Anonymous said...

I'm of two minds. On the one hand, my MIL works in the corrections system and I can tell you for fact that, as far as prisoners health care goes, they've got a sweet deal and it pisses me off that they can't abide by the rules of society and are fed, clothed and cared for by those of us who can. Where's the justice in that? OTOH, my cousin was damn near killed by a drunk driver who, while she was still in a coma, was arrested less than a week later drunk (again) only that time he didn't cause an accident. Quite frankly I think rehab only works when the person going wants to get better. The best way to reduce the prison populations is to kill off the rapists, child molesters, etc. because, really, it would be doing society at large a huge favor, no?

delagar said...

Well, yes, if the prisoners were filled with rapists. But it's, what, nearly half of the prison population now in there for drug-related offenses? And while maybe DWI guys going to lock-down rehab might make sense, where's the sense in putting someone who does heroin in prison? Or pot? Beyond the cost of human misery, there's the actual cost: we spend that on prison, we can't spend it on hospitals for us, out here in the free world, or schools either. Also, check this out: prisons don't work. They don't make anyone better. They make people worse. Maybe rehab doesn't work very often either, but it works better than prison.