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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time to re-examine our prison system

Never judge a person by their words. Pay attention to their actions.
If that saying is true, Washington County — and the rest of America — have spoken loud and clear.
The new 70,000 square-foot "state-of-the-art" regional jail, poised to house nearly 500 inmates in Greenville, is Washington County officials' way of speaking directly into a bullhorn only a few feet away.
What they're saying is this: "We're preparing a place for you. A place where you don't have to worry about those dilapidated schools, outdated text books and lack of employment. Those things won't matter where you're headed."
It's a sad day when the only employers willing to invest in this area is McDonald's and prisons.
The $13 million pricetag that comes with the new prison baffles me with the drastic education funding shortfall this area is currently faced with. While other Mississippi cities use grants and tax dollars to improve their area, Washington County, along with other parts of the Delta, seem intent on imprisoning every 17-year-old with a joint. In Tupelo, each student in grade 6-12 is given a Macintosh laptop priced at nearly $900 each, while Hollandale Simmons High students use chemistry textbooks from 1993.
It's not a lack of funds that keeps the Delta from prospering; it's the misuse of funds.
On one hand, prisons create jobs. On the other, it does so at the expense of one out of every eight black youth. Those who break the rules must be punished, but when the punishment doesn't deter future acts, those rules and punishment must be re-examined.
If your son continued to act up after countless spankings, would you keep hitting him? Or find an alternative? The answer to the Delta's — and the rest of the world's — ailments is not to create a prison-supported economy. No one benefits from that. (Well, except high-ranking prison officials with six-figure salaries) And it sends a clear message to prospective employers — outside of McDonald's and prisons — that our people can't fill that engineering position, but we can make a mean license plate.
The average annual cost in Mississippi per prisoner is $15,188, according to the National Institute of Correction. The annual tuition rate, excluding fees, at the University of Mississippi?.........$5,436.
The money we spend to lock up one low-level drug offender could pay for nearly three years of tuition at an in-state university.
And throwing money at a situation isn't a solution either. But neither is filling a prison with 70 percent of black and Hispanic "offenders."
According to the Sentencing Project, in 1980, an estimated 41,000 people were in prison in jail for drug offenses. By 2003, that number jumped to 2.3 million, or one in every 100 U.S. adults.
"If we keep putting the nonviolent in prison, there won't be any room for the violent," Chris Epps, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, recently told Time.com.
Overall, the U.S. leads the nation in incarceration rates with 2.3 million people, a 500 percent increase over the last 30 years. According to the Sentencing Project, if current trends continue, one out of every three black males can expect to spend time in prison.
Cotton isn't king of the Delta anymore. It's prisons.
Mississippi has sliced its correction budget by five percent since 2008, but still spends $332 million to imprison lawbreakers. Meanwhile, more than $16 million was cut from the state's K-12 public education funding.
Do we need prisons? Of course. Should we continue to fill prisons with low-level drug offenders who return to the same lifestyle after they're released? That makes no sense to me. Drug treatment would be a more suitable — and less costly — solution.
Mississippi opened seven prisons between 1997 and 1999. Seems like our retirements homes have been built. Our futures have been written. Only thing left to find out is who's getting the top bunk?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Now that sounds like a good idea


Sunday night while poking around on the internet, I found gold.
Okay, maybe not gold – but it sure did feel like it once I finished reading the article. It was one of the rare times that I didn’t feel like I had lost three minutes of my life reading something tampered with PR quotes and useless jargon.
The article – published in Tupelo’s Daily Journal – talked about seven Mississippi school districts who would be attending a presentation Tuesday in Jackson by the Department of Education regarding a program which would give high school students several options following their sophomore year.
Students who participated in the program would be tested following their tenth grade year, and with a passing score would be given several options. According to the article, the options include:

* Graduate from high school and enter a community college.
* Graduate from high school and enter the work force.
* Opt for a dual enrollment, taking some high school courses and some for-credit community college courses.
* Enroll in the upper-division program, which would prepare them for four-year college institutions.

The seven school districts invited to Tuesday’s presentation are Clarksdale, Canton, Gulfport, Madison County, Tupelo, Corinth and Jackson. Mississippi is one of 10 states who have expressed interest in the program. No Mississippi school district has committed to the program as of yet.
I have to give kudos to Mississippi education officials who took the initiative to at least glance at such an appealing offer. Recent numbers show that only 71 percent of students in Mississippi graduated in 2009.
Something else I read recently struck a chord with me – “Students don’t drop out in the 12th grade; they mentally drop out in the ninth.”
So here’s my suggestion: let’s go with it. For as long as I can remember, the education system has been the equivalent of baseball. It has shunned change, and as a result has fallen behind today’s advancements. And as a result, kids are leaving school at a record pace.
Today’s 16-year-olds know that regurgitating Shakespeare poems and the Pythagorean theorem won’t grant them success in today’s ever-changing society. Learning mechanical skills, how to start a business or taking college-level courses early, however, will.
Instead of pushing students out of the classroom and into the streets by offering only a one-course educational meal, this program should produce quality tax-paying citizens who are geared to take life head-on.
Because like it or not, 99 percent of the students in that English Literature class right now are either texting, reading a text message, or dozing off.
I frequently hear that small businesses are the savior for our economy. Who’s more likely to start a small business: someone who can recite the Preamble or the student that graduated after 10th grade and went to barber school?
Today’s K-12 system does a thorough job of preparing students for an annual state test, but a lackluster job of prepping them in one key area – life.
Because poetry may feel like a student’s “calling,” but even Shakespeare got hungry. And an education that isn’t useful outside of a classroom’s four walls doesn’t benefit anyone – especially the student.
For too long the education system has failed students. This new program is the perfect way to make amends. It will create a flock of life-ready citizens, instead of a pack of unemployed test-takers.
State tests come and go once a year. Life happens every day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Q&A with Playa Fly

The legend that brought us “Situations,” “Ghetto Eyes,” and everybody’s favorite “Nobody Needs Nobody” is back. And he’s back to prove a point.
In a phone interview earlier today, the proclaimed King of Memphis talked about his new mixtape, “King of all Kings,” and what’s next in line.
Before the South was flooded with – as Fly calls them “bubble gum rappers” – Ibn Young dominated the airwaves. And he says he’s working his way back to the top.

But what does Fly think about the current state of hip-hop – southern hip-hop in general?
“Everything sucks…,” he said. “…It’s fabricated bullshit.”

Ok, well give us your top five Southern rappers of all time.
“Playa Fly, Playa Fly, Playa Fly, Playa Fly and Playa Fly.”

Well….ok. What are the chances we’ll see Fly with a major label?
“We want to deal with a major label,” he said. “We have great music. We’re on an independent grind. We need Playa Fly in the mainstream – on every radio station and every television."

Are there any mainstream artists you want to work with?
"Yeah, The Dream. We're both aliens. I’m sure we’ll (make) some kind of moon music to give ya'll."

So who are some real artists that are out now?
"You know who they are....T.I., Jay-Z, Emimen...

Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would change?
"You can always look back in retrospect, but all in all, I’m thankful for my blessings...Taking away the bad parts would effect the good parts."

Playa Fly will be performing Saturday (Oct. 9) at LP's Ball Park in Como during a car and bike show. Gates open at 2 p.m.

Playa Fly: He's back

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