CNN Justice (11-13-2009) did an interesting and enlightening story on the United States aging prison population and the need for increased and more expensive health care.

Americans hold firm to their belief that the only way to deal with crime is to lock people up. It’s been a “successful” strategy as the PEW Trust reported in 2008. America now incarcerates 1 in 100 of its citizens. As expensive, and as dangerous as this policy is, the public still insists that adults and  young people charged with crimes  should  be locked up in places that only teach them more crime, instill more anger and resentment and self-loathing. This policy not only doesn’t prevent crime but also endangers the health and well being of yet another generation. It costs Americans more money, money they resent spending on “ruthless thugs,” but money that has to be spent because of their shortsighted approach to criminal justice.

In my ten years teaching in an adult prison with locked up teenagers, some as young as 15, the correctional staff I worked with would often joke (in that “black humor” way of COs)  that it was okay with them for these young inmates  to keep  getting arrested; all they were doing was guaranteeing the COs’  jobs and  retirement. The edge in the COs’ comments was there, but so was the dark wisdom: Kids get in trouble, the system locks them up, then sends them back out into the world punished but not changed or given help in any way, only to get in trouble again.  After awhile, they’re not kids any more but the adults the PEW Report talked about and that the CNN Justice story highlighted.  Instead of breeding another generation of criminals, and having to pay for them, maybe it’s time to look at other ways to teach people, young and old, to be accountable for their actions.


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