Prisons are Profit Centers for Lobbyists

By · Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Linda Pacheco is a college student who is expanding her understanding of the prison system by reading my work. I welcome the privilege of being able to contribute to her education. Clearly, she understands that I write from the perspective of a long-term prisoner.

In an article I wrote about the interests of prison lobbyists, I expressed my thoughts that business organizations that earned profits from providing goods and services to the prison system had an interest in expanding the prison system. The people who sold the supplies that kept prisons running wanted longer sentences, more prisons, and higher budgets to pay for expenditures of a bigger system. Their interests were driven by profits rather than justice. Linda wanted to know whether I could suggest a better response than prisons to social problems.

Prisons should serve the interests of taxpayers, of American citizens. They are a limited resource that ought to be used sparingly to preserve order in society. The influence of prison lobbyists, however, have turned these human warehouses into profit centers. As a consequence of their influence, legislators have passed absurd laws that feed on public fears generated by propaganda. America confines too many people, and prisoners serve too much time.

Prisons should confine prisoners who threaten the social order. Though they should not be used as warehouses that lock people inside for decades at a time. Such failed public policies result in high revenues for those who supply prisons, but they also bankrupt society. Any prisoner confined in a minimum-security camp, a prison that holds people on the honor system, ought to serve his sentence in a community program. He may be restricted with electronic surveillance, and sanctioned with requirements that require him to reconcile with society through community service. He should not be warehoused for a decade in prison camp without fences.

Prisoners do live with more access to food, shelter, clothing, and basic necessities than many people in society. That absurdity is a consequence of the power prison lobbyists had had influencing legislation. People in society suffer because too much money from the public purse has been diverted to pay for these human warehouses. Prisons should confine those predators who threaten the public order; they should serve as the most onerous weapon in society’s arsenal against crime. Instead, they have become the de facto response for any offense. We need prison reform legislation to change this absurdity.

Linda also asked whether I thought it was fair that prisoners had better opportunities to earn college degrees than citizens who did not break the law. The answer is no. Yet Linda has a misconception about prison. Prisoners who pursue college do not have it easier than those in society. They must exercise extreme will and discipline to educate themselves while overcoming the significant obstacles wrought by confinement. Few prisoners are able to sustain the motivation to earn degrees.

That said, society has an interest in educating all of its citizens. An educated populace results in lower crime rates and greater contributions. Education becomes the fuel to power an enlightened society. Rather than depriving any citizen of access to education, legislators oguth to reform the wasteful spending on prisons, and reserve funds to educate all Americans. Such would prove a far wiser strategy than enriching prison lobbyists by warehousing humanity. We need prison reform.

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