Friday, December 08, 2006

America's Greatest Growth Industry; Prisoners

While American industry and high paying union and manufacturing jobs continue to decline in America's dying manufacturing base, one industry continues to see a great increase; prisoners. During the massive social spending cuts during the Clinton and Bush Administrations the nation has seen the largest increases in the prison population, which is now at nearly 2.2 million persons, with an additional 4.1 million on probation and 800,000 on parole. At 7 million persons at some stage of staus in the criminal justice system, this industry ranks as perhaps the largest pool of persons than work in any industry segment in America except for food services work or government employment.

The U.S. has the largest incareration rate in the world currently. Even the worst of police states in the world don't round-up political opponents in the numbers that Americans have fallen into the criminal justice system. And some in law enforcement such as Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Guisto, of Portland, Oregon, lament that the criminal justice system has become perhaps the largest provider of mental health services as programs for the mentally ill, drug treatment, and other social programs take huge budget hits from conservative lawmakers. Instead at a cost of about $111,0000 a year per prisoner, Sheriff Guisto finds himself running a system that is neither cost effective, nor providing essential skills such as education programs for prisoners to find work upon release.

Some states have moved to mandatory sentences or to three strikes laws, which only result in a huge prison population, sometimes for persons who are advanced in age and probably harmless for society. With the three strikes laws, this aging population of prisoners requires more health care just like any aging population does, which is a huge cost to the system.

Three strikes laws and mandatory sentences usually force a prisoner to plead guilty, to at least a lengthy plea "bargain" because they cannot afford the $80,000 or more to hire decent private attorney representation. Instead they have to rely on overworked, underpaid, and often with only limited skills, public defenders in which only a very small fee is paid. Sometimes these public defenders hardly ever see their client before a hearing is to be held, and these public defenders have a big interest in moving things along by pressuring their clients into a plea bargain even if innocent of the charges. A serious charge, or mandatory sentences, or three strikes laws almost ensure that a indigent client will plead guilty to a lesser charge even if they are innocent because the public defender has neither the time or is paid enough money to prevent many innocent persons from being convicted.

Serious problems with high numbers of HIV/AIDS infected prisoners exist, along with high numbers of mentally ill persons. And there is a high population that seems to impact minority communities. Among young men just between the ages of 25-29, 8.1% of African Americans are in prison, 2.6% of Hispanics, and 1.1% of Whites. And the largest areas of prison population growth are in rural and poorer communities, and always in larger cities as many assume.

With declining social service budgets, a decaying manufacturing base of declining high paying jobs, the huge prison population problem the U.S. is a direct reflection of a declining society where economic decline is destroying the nation's social fabric. Conservatives want blame social liberalism for society's problems, but it is actually problems like the growtth of dangerous addictive drugs such as meth or alcohol abuse and lack of viable economic opportunity and education that compounds to rob American society of at least $40 billion a year in annual prison costs. Society is seriously misdirected where so little money is put into mental health or drug education or counseling services, and welfare benefits to the poor encourage the breakup of the family and single parent households. Poor families lose public housing assistence if a man is present in the household, encoraging single parent households.

America is a badlybroken society, with little really constructive economic or other socail planning to save the nation. Many conservatives like President Bush think that serving the interests of the manufacturing and major capitalist classes will make America strong. But as this class seeks to maximize profits by sending more and more jobs to labor cheap nations such as China, more and more social problems develop and these wealthy classes demand protection from the poor, maximizing the number of poorer Americans in prison. Certainly no one wants to be a crime victim, but also no one seems to want to begin to repair the social problems that breed crime either. Until society addresses these problems that breed crime, the prisoner population growth trend is only likely to continue.


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