Prisons: Two Opposing Views

prison-alcoholicStrangely, the New York Times and California’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin both carried commentaries on August 20th regarding our prison system and the wisdom of keeping so many people incarcerated. Compare and contrast — have fun!

Nicholas D. Kristof, in the Times, suggests that we could probably afford better and more universal health care if we used our criminal justice money more wisely. He cites the example of Curtis Wilkerson, serving a life sentence in California for (hold your breath!) stealing a pair of socks worth $2.50. (Yes, it was his “third strike.” I’m not claiming he’s an angel. At the age of 19 he abetted robbery — twice.) Kristof wonders whether we really need to spend $216,000 annually on keeping people like this in prison, comparing that sum to the $8,000 the State of California spends annually on each child in the Oakland public school system.

Citing a study indicating that 82% of those sentenced to state prisons were convicted of non-violent crimes, Kristof asks why the U.S. incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average.

U.S. Senator Jim Webb, in introducing a bill to establish a commission to study the situation, says “There are only two possibilities here. Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States, or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.” (I have another hypothesis: in our predominantly selfish society with a wide gap between wealthy and poor, the former will go to just about any lengths to protect what they have from the latter.)

Well, enough of rational thinking. Let’s see what California State Senator Bob Dutton has to say about the situation. “Everyone knows that liberals have a soft spot for criminals,” he (or his ghost writer) begins, apparently having been inspired by the very first post on my Musings from Claremont blog to make a bold attempt to emulate famous writers who encapsulate entire universes of knowledge into their initial sentence. He goes on to criticize “unelected liberal judges” for requiring the state to release 43,000 inmates in the next two years. (Even assuming that the “liberal” label actually provides legitimate information, I can’t help wondering whether conservative judges aren’t selected in exactly the same manner. A fine point, I know.)

Never mind that legally constituted federal courts, attempting to enforce the U.S. Constitution and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, have mandated after years of delay and inaction (during which time Dutton has been accepting public money as both a State Senator and a State Assembly member) that the time has finally come to stop the prison overcrowding that inevitably leads, as it did recently, to riots.

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Dutton says that “California already has an abysmal 70 percent recidivism rate from rehabilitation programs.” Not true. We might have a 70 percent recidivism rate from prisons, but just about everybody knows (not including the Senator, apparently) that very little money is spent in this state on rehabilitation. Dutton also says it would be a crime (so to speak) for a “rehabilitated” inmate (the quotes are his, implying that a “rehabilitated inmate” would be an oxymoron) to re-enter society and accept a job during this deep recession that might otherwise be taken by a “law-abiding constituent.” With attitudes like this, no wonder recidivism is high!

Not embarrassed at using fear tactics, Dutton states that unless California’s liberals come to their senses soon, someone could become the victim of another wanton killing. Parolee Charles Samuel, he says, has been arrested by police and is suspected of slashing the throat of a 17-year-old high school student. (Note that he doesn’t say that Charles Samuel has been convicted of this crime, only that he’s been arrested; another great American principle — innocent until proven guilty — bites the dust.) “Releasing hardened criminals to make prison more roomy and comfortable for the remaining criminals is both foolish and short-sighted…[T]he liberals’ love affair with criminals now risks the safety of every Californian — including themselves.” Perhaps the conservatives’ hate affair with social justice is just as much to blame.

ron-wolff

Suppose, hypothetically, you had to be in the same room for a couple of hours with a politician who can’t use the word “liberal” without combining it with character-assassination-style insults or a guy who stole a pair of socks worth $2.50. With whom would you feel safer?

ron-wolff

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. says

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  2. says

    INCARCERATING PEOPLE “FOR PROFIT” IS IN A WORD….WRONG!
    Even if one does not ask or pretends not to see the rope and the flashing red flag draped around the philosophical question standing solemnly at attention in the middle of the room, it remains apparent that the mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to “job-out” its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing “The Single Voice Petition”
    http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

    Please visit our website for further information: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com

    –Ahma Daeus
    “Practicing Humanity Without A License”…
    .-= strayarts´s last blog ..Private Prisons keep On Growing =-.

  3. says

    INCARCERATING PEOPLE “FOR PROFIT” IS IN A WORD….WRONG!
    Even if one does not ask or pretends not to see the rope and the flashing red flag draped around the philosophical question standing solemnly at attention in the middle of the room, it remains apparent that the mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to “job-out” its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing “The Single Voice Petition”
    http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

    Please visit our website for further information: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com

    –Ahma Daeus
    “Practicing Humanity Without A License”…

  4. says

    There’s a better way, go back to what the bible proposes. Restitution and execution.

    theives, burglars and car jackers pay a fine, 3 times the value of stolen goods, 5 tiimes the value of destroyed goods. f they can’t pay for it, put them to work doing community service. They’ll learn a trade and benefit at the same time.

    Murderers, rapsts, child molesters, ETC hang em. let them die. Save us a lot of money and put some fear into these people.

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