Eliminate Prison Camps to Cut Domestic Spending

By · Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

President Obama ought to call for the elimination of prison camps to cut unnecessary domestic spending. This type of expenditure should not continue, as prison camps do not contribute to making society safer. Indeed, prison administrators have classified all prisoners in prison camps as minimum-security offenders and require those men to serve time on their own honor. Physical boundaries do not restrain them. If the prisoners do not present a threat to society, they ought to pay their sanctions by contributing to society.

David Fathi wrote about our “dysfunctional criminal justice system” for the Huffington Post. He points out the depressing statistics with the United States incarcerating 762 residents out of every 100,000. This figure compares unfavorably to other countries like Canada, that incarcerates 116 residents out of every 100,000; Japan incarcerates 63 residents out of every 100,000. The United States, it seems, is becoming more of a prison nation.

In Professor Joan Petersilia’s book When Prisoners Come Home, she wrote that in 1970, America incarcerated a total of 196,000 prisoners. In The Second Chance Act, Congress reported that America now incarcerates more than 2.3 million people. Does America feel safer with this increase that exceeds 1,000 percent?

The idea of closing prison camps is not without support from professionals who know prisons best. Earlier in my prison journey I had an opportunity to interview Warden Dennis Luther. At the time, Mr. Luther was the longest tenured warden in the Bureau of Prisons. As I was interviewing Warden Luther in his office as preparations for my master’s thesis at Hofstra University, he told me that prison camps did not serve a useful purpose. Anyone serving time in a camp, Warden Luther said, ought to be on home confinement or in a community based correctional program. That way those minimum security prisoners could pay their own costs of confinement while simultaneously providing service to society.

I have been incarcerated for 22 years, the past six of which I’ve served in three separate federal prison camps. I have held job assignments that have placed me in society without supervision. One job assignment required that I drive on a public road at midnight without staff supervision. I don’t grasp the purpose of such unnecessary imprisonment.

President Obama has called for cuts to unnecessary spending projects. Taxpayers ought to question the hundreds of millions it costs each year to confine nonviolent and nonthreating offenders in minimum-security camps.

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