Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hidden costs of incarceration

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today focusing on the "hidden" costs of incarceration ("Communities pay for high prison rate," July 10) defined as
financial burdens that communities are often left to manage. For every person who goes to jail, businesses lose either a potential employee or customer. Inmates' children often depend on extended families, rather than a parent, to raise them. With only so many government resources to go around, churches, volunteer programs and other groups must often step in to help.
Uncounted costs identified by the Journal include money families spend to care for kids who're left behind, social services for children and spouses, and large numbers of "missing" young men between 18 and 35, particularly in Hispanic and African American neighborhoods. "I have a lot of real young customers whose mommas bring them in and I have customers that are older," said a 47-year-old barber in Phoenix. "The young black men in this area are extinct."

Family and charitable support aren't calculated in the government's numbers, says WSJ, but they represent significant costs nonetheless.

Another incalculable loss - children of incarcerated parents grow up in a culture where they view prison as a familial norm and are 5-7 times more likely than their peers to wind up there themselves. What's more, kids learn at a young age to fear the police and take an oppositional attitude toward law enforcement.

Says David Kennedy, director of crime prevention and control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, "It's not arguable any longer that some of the things we're doing to fight crime are promoting crime and exacerbating poverty."


Anonymous said...

Such as are the unintended consequences.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware of the "human" cost of our lacking prison system until my mother went to prison four years ago. It truly opened my eyes to the needs of the inmates and their families. It was difficult enough at 25 not to have my mother there for my wedding or the birth of my child. I can't begin to imagine what it is like for young children to have a parent missing from their lives. As a volunteer with mulitple religious charities that reach out to the children of inmates, I have seen the toll it can take on families. I understand that crimes deserve punsihment, but how can we balance the needs of the family unit, social responsibility, and a way to keep inmates a viable and connected part of society? What's the point of warehousing inmates, if we're not challenging, educating, or rehabilitating them at all and are in essence creating a revloving door for them and their families into the prison system?

Anonymous said...

The negative side of the realities of over incarecration are invisible to the middle class american. The main stream media does not receive advertising dollars from the prisons and justice system consequently they don't provide information about them.

Thanks to the internet, blogs and the ability to access what little research there is, people are slowly becomming more aware of the true costs of "tuff on crime".

Thanks to the availability of more information, the pendulam is swinging away from warehousing and toward rehabilitation. The process will take years but at least it seems to be trending toward strategies that will benefit society rather than just sweep problems under the rug.

Thanks to Grits for dedicated efforts towards this goal!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the article, I think it is a fine piece of writing. I have just a quick comment, about the quote of David Kennedy.... Before I was locked up in Texas in 1996, I made $40,000 year; now, I am a self-employed contract driver and make $300 a week after expenses, if I'm lucky. If I could find better employment, I'd take it, but my old career has gone away (I was a computer Operator) and besides, no one wants to hire an ex-con for a Data Processing job, or almost anything else, for that matter. Poverty is a given for any ex-con from what I see. I don't think poverty is necessarily a cause of crime, (I know some good folks who are poor) but is definitely a result of incarceration.

Anonymous said...

Let's alos not forget the cost to the families of inmates...keeping money on their book for food, underwear, haircuts, to see the doctor, phone cards. My son is in an ISF facility in Ft5. Worth and each time he calls home it cost me $8.30 per call. At first he called 3 times a week, but after a discussion with him he and I decdied unless something was wrong, (not getting his meds) then he'd call home once a week. when I found out that he was issues underwear, soap, toohpaste and such it required additional monies just to maintain some manner of decency so he won't fell neglected. The tool on the family (especially a single mother) is more than I can bear but I do it because despite what he's done, he was trying to make his life better until a "monitor violation" cause him to be sent away for 4 months.

Thinking Aloud said...

Classical 89's Thinking Aloud held an interview on this sad but interesting subject.

Comment on the interview: