In Our Current Economic Crisis, do Prisoners Have Life Too Good?

By · Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Our country currently suffers through an economic crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure. Others live with worry about whether they will be able to hold onto their jobs. Credit is drying up, yet basic costs of living are rising. Those who live in prison, on the other hand, receive clothing, food, shelter, and employment from the government. As such, our families who live beyond prison boundaries without assistance from us suffer much more than we do. I understand why many would think we as prisoners have life too good.

Some citizens would object to the way prisoners live. I agree. American taxpayers fund this ridiculous system with more than $60 billion in expenditures each year. Locking more than 2.4 million people in prison may play well for those who advocate tough-on-crime policies. Yet in reality, these prison systems seem too much like communism. Instead of preparing offenders to live as contributory citizens, these prisons extinguish hope and perpetuate failure. The high recidivism rates validate my argument.

Prison administrators use these institutions as human warehouses. The prison system has fueled a cottage industry of prison lobbyists that advocate for escalating prison expenditures and longer sentences. Prison unions want people to serve time in prison for the obvious reason of creating more prison related jobs.

With the current economic crisis in our country, the time has come to think smarter about taxpayer expenditures. Instead of funding these absurd human resources, and giving prisoners an easier life than many citizens in society enjoy, taxpayers ought to demand a better system. I can think of strategies that would encourage more prisoners to prepare for law abiding, contributing lives upon release. To reach such an objective, taxpayers would have to let go of those misconceptions that inordinately long sentences for nonviolent offenders yields safer societies.

Those of us who made bad decisions and violated criminal laws should pay a price. For some, that price may include time in prison. Yet society should not warehouse human beings for decades. That does not serve a useful purpose. I believe in programs that would encourage prisoners to earn their freedom through useful contributions.

I am a huge believer in education programs. Through the Pell Grant, I was able to meet the costs of an undergraduate degree. I feel as though I contributed to the costs of my education because while I was studying, I worked a full-time job in prison with the nominal wage of 12 cents per hour. Besides the subsidized education, however, the taxpayer investment has enabled me to make meaningful contributions to society. My education has prepared me for employment upon release, and that employment will obliterate the chances of my recidivism. I have created a place for myself in society that will yield higher tax revenues for the system. Further, my contributions will persuade more prisoners to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. It costs less to educate a man than to incarcerate him, and the rewards for society are infinitely higher. With more than 21 years of prison behind me, however, I believe I’ve had enough of confinement. The time is here for my release.

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