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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Keepin' 'Em Locked Up

We like to lock people up. Can't get around it. America likes to send people to prison, and if we can make the prisons absolutely miserable, well, more power to us. Dissent Magazine gives us an informed essay on the price we all pay for our criminal warehouses.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. prisoner population has increased by more than fivefold. Today, the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating a higher proportion of its people than any other country—or about one out of every hundred adults. A staggering seven million people—or one in every thirty-two adults—are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state supervision.

These figures understate the enormous and disproportionate impact that this unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in U.S. society. If current trends continue, one in three black men and one in six Hispanic men will spend some time in jail or prison during their lives.
So what, you might say. If they did the crime, they can do the time. OK, but what about the ripple effects that each convict's absence causes? The communities which suffer the most from imprisonment are already high-crime areas. Does it make any sense to remove healthy males from communities that already can't support themselves? And what do we do with these people we imprison? Do we educate them, get them off drugs, or, at least, keep them safe from disease and violence? No. We dump them back in the very same high crime communities, where they can import the 'tough love' we showed them to their new surroundings.

Imprisonment costs an awful lot as well. In this current economic crisis, does it make sense to feed and tend to adults who contribute nothing to society, except the occasional license plate or end table? The educational and rehabilitative services which have been cut from state prison budgets nationwide are much more effective at controlling crime than the building of more prisons. There is no reason offenders cannot return to society with marketable skills.

Finally, our nation's prisons are the last great civil rights issue. We in America just elected a black president, and we are justifiably proud of this. But we still imprison an extraordinarily high amount of black men. We need to stop looking at crime as the cause of problems, but as the effect of years of governmental ignorance. Give poor communities jobs. Give inner-city schools appropriate funding. Give increased student aid to underprivileged youth who want to go to college. Yes, this will cost an awful lot of money, but it is an investment in their future and our safety. Because what kind of investment is a prison?

This is a personal issue for us at Shambollocks. We have both been the victims and the loved ones of crime. So has most of America. It's time to make a more compassionate decision.

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