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Dear Mr. President, About that Prison Industrial Complex Thingy…

January 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

mad-obama.jpg


Everyone is busy setting goals and agendas for Barack Obama.
(And there will likely be some coming from here too.)

The newest would-be addition to Barack’s First 100 days To Do list is the winner of the American Bar Association Journal’s yearly Ross Essay Contest. (The contest was established in the 1930′s by the late LA Judge Erskine Ross.)

As this year’s topic the ABA asked its contestants to “…write an open letter to the new president and Congress describing the most important priority for improving the U.S. justice system.”

The winning essay, which appears in the February issue of the ABA Journal, was written by Ben Trachtenberg, a visiting assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. It talks about what might be done to shrink our exploding prison population, which Trachtenberg says (and I agree), has gotten to the point that it is compromising the U.S. justice system itself.

The essay is comparatively short, and contains no flashy prose. It is simply smart, clear minded….and right.

Here’s how it opens:

At midyear 2007, U.S. prisons and jails held 2,299,116 inmates, meaning more than 1 percent of American adults were incarcerated. We top the world in per capita imprisonment, increasing our lead every year. Since 2000, while the total U.S. population increased by 7 percent, our prison population has grown by 19 percent. Our massive imprisonment costs needless billions and, perversely, hinders effective crime control. We need to re­duce our prison population.

Few dispute the value of imprisonment in fighting crime. Especially with repeat violent offenders, prison may be the only way to prevent a dangerous criminal from hurting more innocent victims. But many instances of incarceration transparently fail to serve any serious preventive purpose, especially given the costs.

Consider nonviolent convicts sentenced for drug possession. Or septuagenarians who, sent away for decades under a “three strikes” law, now receive geriatric care from prison infirmaries. Unthinking overreliance on imprisonment simply drains public treasuries without providing any future benefit. California recently predicted that, by 2012, its prisons would cost more annually than its state university system. A starker illustration of our misplaced priorities is difficult to imagine. Al­ready, the state’s yearly prison budget exceeds $10 billion. Cali­fornia, not alone in its catastrophic embrace of imprisonment, exemplifies national trends of rising prison populations and uncontrollable prison costs.

These outrageous expenses might be tolerable as a necessary evil if we had no better options. Yet often, nonincarceration alternatives, such as drug treatment for addicts and community service for small-time thieves, cost less and reduce misery across the board.

Read the rest here.

So, Barack. I know you have your hands sorta full right now, what with the melting economy, the melting polar ice caps, undoing the damage wreaked in the last eight years in IIAPG. (No, that’s not another bankrupt lending institution, that’s Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza.) But this ABA guy has some really good ideas, I promise. So please take a look, okay?

Posted in Obama, prison, prison policy | 14 Comments »

14 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    Liberals are already busy dusting off all of their spending schemes that have been building up for years and tossing them into the “stimilus bill”. But, isn’t the “stimulus bill” (hah!) supposed to be about rapid job creation? Might as well make things comfy for prisoners, too. Let the yoga and poetry classes begin!

    (Celeste, in the interest of improved journalism and your own worries, may I advise you to become more of a skeptic and not accept every idiotic idea put forth by Al Gore, who is trying to make himself relevant and is intent on making a fast buck with so-called carbon trading?)

  2. Celeste Fremon Says:

    I do accept every idiotic idea put forth by Al Gore, and so does my Escape Hybrid. But I’m confused as to what this has to do with the hugely overcrowded American prisons that are comprimising our justice system, doing collateral damage to public safety, and eating through our state budgets—among other negative affects.

  3. Woody Says:

    Celeste: confused as to what this has to do with the hugely overcrowded American prisons this –> ….what with…the melting polar ice caps

    You brought it up.

    BTW, the police found my stolen car. You’ll never guess where it turned up–in a section of town that went heavily for Obama! The police will never catch the thief(s), though, so the prisons won’t be as crowded as they should be.

  4. Ishmael Says:

    Great post Celeste.
    Amazing how CA gov’t needs a 2/3 majority to pass a budget (thanks a lot Prop 13) but any well funded reactionary crusade that promises to lock up the bad guys and throw the key slips past with a simple majority. California has bought too much snake oil from politicians who talk tough about law and order but haven’t got a clue how to fund these schemes. Mandatory minimum sentencing is more like maximum civic laziness.
    Give the drug offenders treatment — which costs a lot less — and actually has some positive impact. The Martin Sheenans should pay up, or stop lecturing us.

  5. David Says:

    Loss of Social Capital

    Most prisoners return to just a few communities in So. California – ELA, South Central, etc. And, within two years, over 60 percent leave these communities and return to prison. This “penal migration” is another horrible consequence of Ca’s correctional policies. Families are again fractured, jobs lost, stigma worsened, and the social capital of these communities deteriorates even more. These communities are the heart of cities and they are dying.

    Use stimulus resources to improve these communities – homes insulated, water and sewage lines fixed, green places, etc. and hire ex cons and other hardcore unemployable folks to do the work. Guided by journey level union workers, these people can enter apprentice programs in building trades.

    Stop this penal migration by providing meaningful, purposeful, and living wage employment in these communities for men and woman leaving prison. Let’s get rid of gun belts and replace them with tool belts.

  6. Gava Joe Says:

    While we lament the fates of our own citizen prisoners howzabout we quickly solve the atrocity known as GITMO? We’re told our new President has made the closing of Guantanemo a priority. This is an extremely wise move as it will most assuredly restore a little of our credibility with the rest of the world. Does anyone envision a time when we as Americans can excuse ourselves for electing then RE-ELECTING this planetary pariah known as Bush? Yes I realize he’s relegated to history now, and that tome will fry his ass, but how did this happen? Realizing that it happened before the shock of 9/11 and knowing that the tragedy had NO influence on choosing the idiot, How did it happen?? It happened because we as a people were so disgusted and disappointed by Slick Willy that we elected Geo Bush, a war criminal and a manipulative liar. The simple act of electing the simpleton somehow freed us from the Clinton Clan of shysters. Now as can only happen in this country afloat this ship of fools we’ve got his WIFE controlling Justice in this country.

  7. Gava Joe Says:

    Oh shoot I got off topic. But then I thought everyone knew that the reason for long sentences for “victimless’ crimes and the proliferation of the prison mentality, along with the increasing costs of these incarcerations are due to the strength of the Prison/Industrial complex and the Correctional Officers Union that pretty much write their own ticket. Taxpayer be damned!

  8. John Moore Says:

    The “reactionary” response (which went overboard) was a response to rapidly rising crime rates resulting from liberal policies and judges.

    We need to find a balance. Too many are in jail for victimless crimes. On the other hand, many are in jail for having victimized, and many of those re-offend. Many of these folks cannot be “rehabilitated” or “corrected” – so we need some way to keep them from preying on the rest of us.

    Not an easy problem.

  9. Ezekiel Jenkins Says:

    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once Gava Joe, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” — GeorgeW Bush -Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002.

  10. Listener Says:

    When I read posts like this one, I miss Richard LoCicero. Sorry. Just needed to say that.

  11. SanFer Says:

    Eight days after the idiot scurried out of Washington thru the back door, not a damn f**king soul remembers or mentions his name. The idiot reminded me of one of Danny Kaye’s characters in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), where in one of his day dreams, he imagins himself a sophisticated, worldly-wise riverboat gambler who knows no fear, popular with all the ladies and fast on the draw. The idiot was the happiest while onboard that aircraft carrier proclaiming the premature “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”. Good riddance to the kid and his puppeteer Cheney, who had his hand up Bush’s ass for eight years. Does That Count as Gay Marriage?

  12. John Moore Says:

    Poor Sanfer…

    Bush Derangement Syndrome is much like bipolar disorder. Once the mania fades, depression set in. Clearly you are reaching the latter stage. Poor you, nobody is bashing Bush any more.

    Lithium is recommended.

  13. Your Cheatin Heart Says:

    You’d be the one to know.

  14. El Chavo says.... Says:

    Sanfer aka DonkeyHootee just can’t help himself, he has a sexual identity problem and can’t help commenting about gay sex or robber baron gavachos. He should stick to comments about nopales and his abuelita.

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