To understand why America continues to put more of its citizens behind bars requires a basic knowledge of how the system works. From the city and county level, up to the Federal system, all prisons are run by governments. And like most government programs, they naturally inflate themselves to the maximum level allowable by our tax dollars.It’s a self-perpetuating system that depends on new bodies to fill up the jails, courts, and the caseloads of parole officers. Instead of preventing or deterring crime, policies in use in most states actually foster crime. This results in more activity in the courts, and a fresh set of faces for transport to prisons around the country. The system has become an entity unto itself; a juggernaut that grows each year and thus depends on even MORE felonious bodies to justify its existence.
In order for this system to continue, you have to start early. You begin by taking youthful offenders and making sure they are trained in the ways of the system, instead of trying to rehabilitate them, which would be counterproductive. You do this by cutting funding to juvenile offender programs, the programs that can shift the balance between a kid who gets into trouble once and eventually becomes a successful citizen, to a hard-core number in the system. According to the rules of the system, actually helping kids is bad, because it potentially decreases the numbers of bodies available later to keep the system going.
This self-perpetuating process of creating criminals is working. America’s prisons are overcrowded, and more continue to be built. This means more parole officers, jailers, contractors, judges, and police officers. More tax dollars are needed, and there are more jobs to fill. The fact that 47% of incarcerated inmates are of color makes the system resemble a type of legal slavery.
A good example of how America went wrong could be Washington State. Up until the 1970’s, Washington used a system of work camps and a few juvenile facilities, staffed by college-educated counselors, to handle juvenile offenders. Prison populations remained fairly stable. Washington State abandoned this system in the 1980’s, transferring adult offenders to most of the camps formerly reserved for youthful offenders. Juvenile offenders were sent to jail for a certain amount of time for an offense, and little counseling or real help was offered.
Within a few years, Washington State found itself inundated with felons who had learned their trade in the revamped juvenile facilities. They were forced to build three new prisons and many more low-level institutions to deal with the massive influx.
If America wants a reduction in crime, the answer is not more prisons and jails. America must fund more programs for juvenile offenders. If we fail to do this, someday there will be a prison in every other neighborhood. If we take the right steps, then the perpetrators of the system will have to make some cutbacks. There may be some resistence. After all, it’s their jobs on the line.