Pubdate: Mon, 20 Jul 2015
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2015 The Citizens' Voice


Anything you put in my mouth you're going to lose. - Andy Dufresne

If you have seen the movie "The Shawshank Redemption," you may 
remember that line from the scene in which the character played by 
Tim Robbins is about to become the victim of a brutal prison assault. 
The film's narrator says it was the first of many assaults to come.

That fiction is an unfortunate truth for prison and jail inmates 
across America.

President Barack Obama acknowledged the horrible reality Tuesday in 
addressing the 106th annual convention of the NAACP in Philadelphia. 
He then announced a long-needed effort to reform the nation's 
criminal justice system.

"We should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in 
any civilized country," Obama said. "We should not be tolerating 
overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in 
prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn't 
be making jokes about it in our popular culture."

Prison rape is certainly no joke for the up to 200,000 adults and 
juveniles sexually assaulted in U.S. detention facilities every year, 
according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Inmates with mental 
health problems and those who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual are the 
most vulnerable; the predators are about as likely to be prison staff 
as they are to be other inmates.

As part of his push for reform, Obama also spent time Thursday at El 
Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, bills 
that would reduce the use of mandatory sentences and provide more 
skills training to inmates have gained the bipartisan support that 
has eluded Obama on other issues.

Conservatives such as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, say it's a matter of 
cost. By reducing its inmate population to the lowest level in 10 
years, Texas was able to close a prison in 2011. Think of the impact 
on revenue-starved Pennsylvania's budget if it could close a prison. 
Each of the state's 51,370 inmates costs $37,267 annually, for a 
total of about $1.9 billion.

The total cost of incarceration nationally is $80 billion, which 
becomes an even more astounding figure when you consider that it is 
largely a result of the quadrupling of the U.S. prison population, 
from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million today. Did Americans become that 
much more criminal in 35 years? The more logical culprit is the 
lock-'em-up attitude of the failed war on drugs.

That $80 billion could pay for every 3- and 4-year-old in America to 
attend preschool, double the salary of every high school teacher, or 
eliminate tuition at every public college and university, Obama said. 
It could also repair the nation's decrepit roads and bridges, finance 
research and development, or train people for jobs.

Investing so much in incarceration has sentenced the poor, minority 
communities from which most inmates come to third-world status. Their 
poorly educated residents with criminal records can't get good jobs. 
Some commit crimes that put them back in prison. It's a cycle that, 
like a whirlpool, spins down to subsequent generations. Stopping the 
spinning requires meaningful prison reform that protects inmates from 
harm and prepares them to succeed after prison.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom