Sunday, January 27, 2008

Prison dependency

By Libby

One of the big reasons it's so difficult to generate the political will to end the war on some drugs is while we fill our prisons with addicts, our municipalities are addicted to prisons. Jeralyn has the specifics but here's some general numbers.

Some stats: The U.S. accounts for 5% of the world's population but is responsible for incarcerating 25% of the world's inmates. In the last 30 years of our get tough on crime policy, our state and federal prison population has jumped from 300,000 to 2.3 million.

The book examines who profits from our policies of mass imprisonment. The answer ranges from "investment banks that issues bonds for prison construction to the companies that staff and manage the prisons to the organizations that provide health care."

The book finds that $186 billion tax dollars a year "intended for the public good" goes to "private prison companies, churches, investment banks, guard unions and medical corporations."

Bottom line: 1 of every 137 Americans is in prison today. And we're paying for it.
I might also note that the price we pay for this comes at the cost of schools and firefighters and police, among other municipal services.

All across America, rural towns and even entire counties are dependent on the prisons for jobs, local business trade and government grants. They are going to fight tooth and nail against any common sense policies that would shut down that gravy train.

The obvious solution, since the prison population largely exploded on drug offenders would be for some prisons to be refurbished as treatment centers for addicts which would fill an huge unmet need, would probably provide pretty much the same economic stimulus and would have the added benefit of actually solving the problem of drug addiction. Unfortunately, I've noticed that people who have no trouble with the idea of addicts who are jonesing for a fix being locked up, and possibly escaping, within traveling distance of their homes, often object strenuously to the idea of addicts who are actively trying to kick the habit being 'free' anywhere near their community.

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