Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What the F*** Are We Doing?

Forty four percent of federal prison inmates are black (Statesman registration required), and nationwide the total number of state and federal prisoners grew last year by 2.1% to 2.2 million. Almost ten percent of black men aged 25-29 are in prison today. Huh. I wonder what's causing the dissolution of the black family?

At sight of these numbers, it's worth running down the big picture costs.

It costs $15K per year per person to lock prisoners up at Texas prices, more for the feds. A majority of prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. A majority are also parents, and their kids are much more likely to 1) engage in delinquency, 2) drop out of school, and 3) wind up in prison themselves. (A lot of the disruptive kids in school are dealing with an incarcerated parent, I discovered when I was guardian of one.) Not only are these 2.2 million costing money to minimally feed, clothe and house, but they also are unavailable to contribute taxes to lighten the burden on the rest of us. When these 2.2 million get out, and most will, they can't get housing, can't get decent employment, can't vote until they're off parole (in Texas, in some places the ban is permanent). Given limited choices and just a handful of rational options, these circumstances invite, almost assume recidivism. That doesn't even mention our county jails, busting at the seams with low-level offenders society just doesn't know what to do with.

America incarcerates a greater percentage of our people than any country on the planet, and Texas incarcerates more people than every other state, about the same number as California which has 60% greater population. How does a nation run by "conservative" politicians, supposedly dedicated to "limited government," justify this? What the F*** are we doing?

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