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Prison Points of View: The Complex

The Prison Industrial Complex

When Governor Schwarzenegger was going to sign legislation that would have released thousands of California prisoners, he was opposed by the correctional officers union. They were not going to allow dozens of prisons to be closed or permit hundreds of correctional officers to be laid off. I mean, what union would just stand by and allow that kind of legislation to go through unopposed? We all know how powerful unions are. Some of you are in one and can appreciate the muscle they can, and will, flex when your job is on the line. 

When someone is sticking up for the well-being of someone else, that is noble and virtuous. But when sticking up for someone means hurting millions of people, that it’s not alright. That’s evil. That is very bad form. What Millions? You ask. You. You are one of them. Me too. Do you know what it cost to house a single inmate for just one day? About $100. The average cost to house one inmate for one year is over $36,000. That’s one inmate! There are over two million inmates in this country. That is over $72,000,000,000 taxpayer dollars. Your money! And that’s just to feed and house prisoners. That does not include the one million-plus law enforcement agents in our country. What do those union members make? $50 grand a year plus benefits? More? Do the math again. 

Add in court costs. Prosecutors are all lawyers. Lawyers aren’t cheap. Even the cheap ones are expensive to the average Joe. Now, if each prosecutor only gets $500 per case, that would still be a billion dollars! Of course, there are also clerks in the courts, stenographers, and judges. Oh, and the public defender’s office. I do know that the office of cost-containment charges at least $700 for each lawyer the public defender’s office provides. That’s per defendant they represent whether they are found guilty or innocent. $700 is what the indigent, the poor, defendant must pay. Who knows what the lawyer actually earns. To be fair, not nearly enough. They are chronically overworked. 

There are around 10,000 unwilling participants in the New Hampshire justice system. Around 5,000 prisoners in jail and prison, and around 5,000 on parole or probation of some kind. Every one of them had to be represented by a public defender and a county attorney’s prosecutor. The amount of money, your money, it takes to put Americans in prison is comparable to what America spends defending our country against all the world’s evils. 

You may feel unmoved by the immorality of mass incarceration, but it should bother you that the reason you’re not able to put your kid in college, driving a newer car, or going on a trip to Europe, is because you spent that money putting, often innocent, people in prison and keeping them there for an incredibly long time. You may feel safer now, but you’re not. People don’t go to prison in order to protect you. No, that’s plain naivete. They go to prison because the prison industrial complex is America’s biggest fastest-growing business. Slaves have always been a lucrative business. 

Let’s take a look at our country’s worst criminals. Murderers and sex offenders. Did you know that a person convicted of a sex offense of any sort has the second to the lowest rate of reoffending? (This does not include the novel, “failure to register,” crime.) Who is the only type of criminal less likely to re-offend? Murderers. Hmmm… interesting. Despite what the news media want to sensationalize, when a murderer or sex offender is released from prison they do not re-offend 95% of the time. It could be argued that the reason why there is such a low rate of reoffending is that only 5% of these people are actually criminals. 

It is easy to be convicted of a crime and the prison industrial machine needs new bodies daily. So the net gets spread wider and wider. They nearly snagged Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. Do you think you are any safer than a Supreme Court Justice nominee? Really?! The apathy of the average American is dangerous to our values as a people and costly. To the tune of over $200,000,000,000 a year.  For what? For the illusion of safety? Safety from a threat that doesn’t even actually exist? For the security against your neighbors and at the expense of your own freedom and well-being? If nothing else, you should be outraged that the same people who are stealing your money are also willing to put you in prison for nothing and can convince your neighbors that you were a bad person the whole time. The whole thing is crazy. It all started so small, so innocuous.  It’s so big now, it’s almost invisible. Like the Earth, you can’t really grasp how big it is.  Our country’s prison industrial complex is the same. It touches every part of our lives but most don’t even realize it until it’s too late. Don’t wait until then.

Gregory LaVallee

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