Catastrophe in the Gulf: Utilize Prisoners as Manpower

By · Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Early this morning I heard an NPR broadcast report that Attorney General Eric Holder had traveled to New Orleans to investigate the massive oil spill caused by British Petroleum. Mr. Holder announced that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into the disaster, and that if the investigation concluded that people had broken the law, criminal trials would follow. Both the pursuit of justice and the clean-up of that environmental catastrophe may require many years, and the United States is missing a great opportunity to make use of federal prisoners who could help on both fronts.

As I watch the daily coverage of news reports that show how millions of gallons of oil are contaminating the environment and hurting the Gulf Coast residents’ way of life, I wonder why prison officials haven’t initiated a program to make use of labor that minimum security prisons could provide. Although I’ve never spent time in the Gulf Coast, clearly I can see that our country needs manpower deployed in the region. Every day the 500 prisoners in the minimum-security camp at Taft serve represents a complete waste of human resources. I will spend my day exercising and writing, but during times like these, I know that my fellow prisoners and I could serve our country better with shovels in hands, working to clean the beaches from the massive oil spill in the Gulf region.

It’s not only the minimum-security prisoners at Taft who could help. More than 40,000 prisoners are confined in camps across the United States. That’s a lot of wasted manpower because prison administrators have classified every prisoner in camp as presenting zero threat to the public safety.

Administrators and legislators fail America by not creating programs that make better use of minimum-security prisoners. People in prison are resources, and as an enlightened society, American justice should include mechanisms to make the best use of all resources. I could make a contribution with a shovel, or with a power point presentation that would convince executives to abide by the law. Many of my fellow prisoners could do the same.

Our federal prison system is “a national disgrace” as Senator Jim Webb declared, not only because of the injustice and massive costs to taxpayers, but also because of its tragic waste of human resources. We serve ridiculously long sentences that satisfy public vengeance, not justice.

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