The Coastal Post - June 1999

Prisons Cost More than College, Fallout From War On People


By Stephen Simac

California is spending more on prisons than universities now. With the consent of the voters and legislators our future is not well educated, it's locked down. We don't feel any safer, although violent crime is decreasing dramatically, because we watch too much news and entertainment violence which ever increases.

The overflow of prisoners and their enormous expense is almost entirely due to the War on People who use Drugs. Most of the prisoners are African or Latin American and two thirds are non violent offenders.

Put them in overcrowded, violent prisons for a few years with no pretense of rehabilitation, treat them with less respect than animals, or keep them isolated in 23 hour lockdown, then set 'em loose on society with a bus ticket. Act surprised if they become violent criminals.

The building, supplying and staffing of prisons has become a major industry. Prison guard unions, prison suppliers and contractors are among the most influential lobbyists in California and across the nation.

California has the largest prison system in the Western world, with more prisoners than several European countries combined. The land of promise has become the land of prisons.

Twenty one prisons have been built by the state in the last twenty years, yet are more overcrowded now than they were twenty years ago. The California Department of Corrections predicts it will run out of room next year but the voters no longer approve new prisons. They do approve of the War on Drugs, mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes and you're a burden to society for life, and execution, guilty or not.

The U. S. holds more prisoners than any country in the world, a half million more than Communist China with ten times our population. We execute more prisoners than the godless communists as well. Even innocent, crazy and retarded people.

New York is credited with starting the trend in 1973 when Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed for the Rockefeller drug laws. Their mandatory minimum sentencing for drug dealers became a national and state model, according to a series on the Prison Industrial Complex in The Atlantic last year.

The Empire state, the Lone Star state, The Golden state, the Federal State and most other states are putting an unprecedented proportion of the population behind bars. More than $35 billion is spent on corrections each year in the United States, where 1.8 million people are behind bars.

A thousand new prisons and jails have been built across the country in the last twenty years. The percentage of the population as prisoners increased four fold while the number of violent prisoners dropped from half to a third.

Most of the prisoners are minorities, poor and illiterate, some are mentally ill, others are drug or alcohol abusers, homeless or dysfunctional. There are cheaper more humane ways to help them and society, but they don't benefit the prison industrial complex. The politicians and voters who support them seem to like it just fine, except they don't want to build any more cells.

In theatlantic.com online series by Eric Schlosser, he points out that Wackenhut, Correction Corporation of America and US. Corrections Corporation control most of the rapidly increasing private prisons for profit. They gross billions and want more.

Private prisons have been held off in California by the power of the state prison guard's union, but the trend is inexorable. Cheaper costs per prisoner, tough on crime measures and voters refusing to fund any more public prisons but supporting the War on Drugs. Three large companies control most of the prison hotels and they lobby heavily with their profits.

Their guards are non-union, poorly paid and trained, presumably more likely than highly paid union guards to be lax or corrupt, but not necessarily. The online site, prisonactivist.org, lists dozens of court cases detailing horrific treatment of prisoners, seemingly routine. In Corcoran California, they liked to shoot the prisoners to stop them from fighting each other and used homosexual rapists to enforce their torture.

Rural communities welcome the prisons as job centers, the mostly urban prisoners are like guaranteed tourism for their service industry, even if the occasional murderer escapes and wreaks havoc.

Transporting prisoners from all over the country to the cheaper private prisons in Texas, is a business just like trucking hazardous cargo, you just need less training. There have already been several escapes by prisoners at fast food joints and terrorizing of communities nearby.

There is a simple solution. End the war on Drugs, Legalize it all, regulate it medically, tax it sensibly, and spend enough to provide effective rehabilitation for everyone who wants it. Spend some of $50 billion a year in savings on education and literacy programs.

The punishment mentality says you can only change behavior by spanking, legislation, imprisonment or execution and all behavior must conform to an ideal norm. Everyone is guilty of some crime, even if they are ignorant of it. The Prison Industrial Complex will gladly accommodate us all if we let them.

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