HiStats Statistics

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 A place where you don't have to worry about those dilapidated schools, outdated text books and lack of employment.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
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?