I write about prisons and prisoners a lot, so you might never know that it’s a really hard subject for me to write about, but it is. It’s not just numbers and statistics and information; it’s family. My mom is in prison, on drug charges, and would be much better off in a drug treatment program or in a psych hospital. But, like more than 1% of the adult population in the United States, she is in prison.

It’s even worse here in Texas, which leads the nation in inmate population. This is from Channel 10 in Amarillo:

Tougher state and federal sentencing is one of the main reason for the ballooning prison population. Legal experts say new laws will increase that population because punishment ranges are being extended every year. So people will get longer sentences. But some say it’s a problem that is much more deeply rooted in Texas history. For instance 1 in 9 inmates are of black males. With hispanics being a close second.

“Our system in Texas is absolutely broken that’s why all these people are coming out of prison now on DNA results. In 50 years we’ll look back and we’ll see our system incarcerated lots of innocent people. Former Texas Prison Board Chair Selden Hale said. Hale says he believes the numbers are more like 3 in one hundred blacks that are locked up and 4 and 100 hispanic.

I wonder if anyone really does want to change the current system.  Prisons are big business in the U.S. There is a private corrections industry in addition to the large number of federal, state and local jobs that revolve around guarding, feeding and monitoring prisoners. Someone suggested to me that prisons are our society’s way of NOT dealing with the poor and “stupid” among us.

In California,  

As the costs for fixing the state’s troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone — for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

Based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget will overtake spending on the state’s universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.

And that does not take into account how many people are involved in each system. It’s even worse in other states:

Those states are (in order of spending the most proportionally on prisons in 2007): Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware. The state spending the least on prisons relative to higher education was Minnesota, where for every dollar spent on higher education only 17 cents was spent on corrections. The average for all states was 60 cents, nearly double the 32 cents spent 20 years earlier. Only three states saw gains in spending on higher education, relative to corrections: Alabama, Nevada and Virginia

This link allows you to

Click on a state to see how much its incarceration rate has grown, how its spending on prisons and higher education has changed, what proportion of its prisoners are drug offenders, and the racial disparity between its general and prison populations.

What does all this say about our society?  Nothing good.  Time for us to start thinking about people instead of prisoners, inmates or offenders.  Time to start thinking about helping people with drug problems instead of throwing them in jail for decades.  Time to start treating mental health problems instead of waiting until those problems lead people towards crime.  Time to start acting like a society instead of acting like prison wardens.

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