Tag Archives: jail

On War and Prisons

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November 20, 2016

The following is from my files, originally written in 2006, updated in 2016:

Wars have historically accounted for the largest overhead and subsequent debt in this nation’s history.  Each war renders us less free, and the taxation that results is like a whip across the backs of already burdened taxpayers.

Long, protracted wars that look more and more like witch hunts, drain the economy, individual initiative, and forward momentum.  From 2001 to 2010, combined wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan cost taxpayers $4.4 trillion. (Source:  Congressional Research Service, from filipspagnoli.wordpress.com blog site.)

Economists are busy predicting the future they want, but they can’t hide the reality of street-wise individuals whose disposable income is their bottom line.  The bite of excise taxes on the basics–like certain foods, energy, telephone, gasoline–is disproportionately higher on those whose incomes are lowest, so they are first to feel the pinch.  This is the population that becomes desperate enough to deal drugs, work under the table, break into homes, and take other crisis-mode measures to survive.  Drug laws make the black market profitable, without the bother of background checks, drug screens, employer references, and other rules that limit legitimate employment options.  While there may be exceptions, those who now crowd our prisons consist largely of people whose lives are chronically dysfunctional rather than evil.

Society has let them down by not equipping them for survival in a civilized context.  Beginning with elementary school, they are not encouraged to try.  They are allowed to slide by on substandard work until they fall farther and farther behind.  As the distance grows, the child gravitates more towards others like him, those who have no appropriate role models at home or at school.

They often become the casualties of another war, the “War on Drugs.”  The International Centre for Prison Studies (also on filipspagnoli.wordpress.com) blames the War on Drugs and the “Three strikes you’re out” federal policies for the fact that incarcerations have quintupled in the US since the early 1970s.  The United States, with 0.07 percent of its population in jail or prisons, incarcerates more citizens than the top 35 European countries combined.  Forty percent of inmates are black, and 25% are non-violent drug offenders.

Once in prison, these kids, now adolescents and adults, still get no basic skills training.  Nothing is expected of them in prison, either.  Any meaningful activity, education, or work is withheld from them, except in the most token format, so there is no opportunity in prison to re-tool their lives to live differently on release.

Society does itself a disservice by allowing this to happen.  The oversight costs much more than money.  From the prisoner’s perspective, housing and food—two of his biggest expenses on the outside—are covered by his confinement, so theoretically, he might be able to focus on education or training . . . perhaps for the first time in his life.  If society made basic skills, useful work (within reason), or other productivity a part of prison life, it would make more effective use of its taxpayer dollar both in terms of paying current incarceration costs and preventing crime on the streets.

The push to build more prisons is based on this lose-lose scenario that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation.  That’s why crime escalates to fill the available space, but recidivism accounts for a significant percentage of the prison population.

Our jails and prisons have become substitute housing for the homeless.  As “blighted neighborhoods” are replaced by “revitalized areas,” more displaced indigents will find their way to prison, down one path or another, because they have nowhere else to go.