Joan Petersilia provides a remarkably comprehensive overview

Hartman, Kenneth

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Joan Petersilia provides a remarkably comprehensive overview of the United States’ unmanageable and unaffordable prison system. While she offers useful advice on making reforms to tame the “prison-industrial complex,” I am compelled to point out a profound omission in her account. The prison system is a gigantic jobs engine that employs upward of 750,000 men and women in well-paying, unionized positions. A prison is one of the last places a person with a high school diploma can get a job that will support a middle-class lifestyle and a comfortable retirement. Many small towns across the country would wither without the local prison’s contribution to the tax base. The fewer prisoners there are, the fewer guards are needed. It is not a coincidence that guards’ unions have become big political players in many statehouses, backing all the “tough on crime” measures and the hardest of the hard-line politicians. It is a matter of job security. The system has evolved, whether purposefully or not, to virtually assure higher rates of failure. Any attempts to shrink the prison population will be fiercely resisted. That should be obvious to any serious observer of the politics of crime and punishment. As the reformers ought to have learned in California, Petersilia included, coming up with rational, evidence-based solutions to the problems of prisons is the easy part. Figuring out how to translate those solutions into practices in institutions staffed by people whose self-interest runs counter to them, whose very livelihoods are threatened by the new policies -- that is another order of difficulty altogether. Not acknowledging this aspect of the problem will doom the prospects for finally deflating the prison bubble. Kenneth E. Hartman Author, Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars (2009) Lancaster, Calif.

Author: Hartman, Kenneth

Author Location: California

Date: 2011

Genre: Essay

Extent: 2 pages

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