Capitalizing on Crime

This has to be the most depressing column we've read all week--America's Prison Habit :

Since 1980 the U.S. prison and jail population has quadrupled in size to more than 2 million. In the process, prisons have embedded themselves into the nation's economic and social fabric. A powerful lobby has grown up around the prison system that will fight hard to protect the status quo.

....Major companies such as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. and Corrections Corp. of America employ sophisticated lobbyists to protect and expand their market share. The law enforcement technology industry, which produces high-tech items such as the latest stab-proof vests, helmets, stun guns, shields, batons and chemical agents, does more than a billion dollars a year in business.

With 2.2 million people engaged in catching criminals and putting and keeping them behind bars, "corrections" has become one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy, employing more people than the combined workforces of General Motors, Ford and Wal-Mart, the three biggest corporate employers in the country. Correctional officers have developed powerful labor unions. And most politicians, whether at the local, state or national level, remain acutely aware that allowing themselves to be portrayed as "soft on crime" is the quickest route to electoral defeat.

Then there's the booming "prison town" business-

In the past two decades, hundreds of "prison towns" have multiplied -- places that are dependent on prisons for their economic vitality. Take Fremont County, Colo., where the No. 1 employer is the Colorado Department of Corrections, with nine prisons, and No. 2 is the Federal Bureau of Prisons with four. Towns that once might have hesitated about bringing a prison to town now rush to put together incentive packages. Abilene, Tex., offered the state incentives worth more than $4 million to get a prison. The package included a 316-acre site and 1,100 acres of farmland adjacent to the facility.

Wait, it gets even worse:

Even efforts by some states to speed up the release of nonviolent offenders are unlikely to reduce the total prison population by much. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that two-thirds of those released from prison on parole are re-arrested within three years. Released prisoners face institutional barriers that make it difficult for them to find a place in society. Welfare reform legislation in 1996 banned anyone convicted of buying or selling drugs from receiving cash assistance or food stamps for life. Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also excluded ex-felons and their families from federal housing.

Most inmates leave prison with no money and few prospects. They may get $25 and a bus ticket home if they are lucky. Studies have found that within a year of release, 60 percent of ex-inmates remain unemployed.

The bottom line is the saddest of all:

Despite the building boom of the previous 20 years, prisons were at an average of 191 percent of capacity.

Welcome to America. A true Prison Nation.

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