Paying For The 1%
May 5, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Fiscal Pressures Lead Some States to Free Inmates Early, says the Washington Post. Across the United States, a financial crisis is brewing in our nation's correctional systems. California, which has the largest prison system in the nation, (housing 170,000 inmates with a capacity of only 100,000), plans to increase the budget for new prison construction by 7 to 14 billion dollars, on top of releasing 22,000 nonviolent prisoners on unsupervised parole. Other states, especially Michigan, face an even more dire situation...

...Michigan, which spends more money on prisons than higher education and where 1 in 3 state employees work for the prison system, is facing a prison-related economic crisis. 20 cents of every dollar in the state's general fund are being diverted to the prison system: "Even without further growth, we're choosing to keep putting 20 percent of the state's general fund into corrections, which means continuing cuts to higher education, revenue sharing and social programs that could prevent crime," said reform advocate Barbara Levine. "It's not the sort of investment that will make Michigan a desirable place to live and work."

Yet despite these challenges, the chances of any large-scale release of non-violent offenders is slim to none. "Sen. Alan Cropsey of DeWitt, the state's most influential Republican voice on prison policies, continues to defend tough rules that have prevailed since the 1990s and added 16 prisons to Michigan's landscape. That unbending opposition from Cropsey, law enforcement professionals, victims' families and other lawmakers convinced Gov. Jennifer Granholm to back off her three-year campaign to ease harsh sentencing policies and save $92 million by releasing more than 5,000 inmates."

"Cropsey, whose district includes several prison facilities, helped shape the policies that led to the prison buildup. He said he doesn't believe they should change, and his agreement likely would be required for major revisions." Instead, Michigan Republicans have proposed a plan that would, among other things, cut pay and overtime for prison guards, outsource many prison services and increase funding for faith-based programs.
posted by Avenger (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The use of (nonviolent, nonsexual) in the Washington Post is new to me. That would seem to be a more faithful representation of the current justice priorities.
posted by nervousfritz at 12:01 PM on May 5, 2008

I think it was Twain who said that for every school that was closed, a prison would have to be built.

I'd love to see a graph of education funding vs. prison funding in the US over the past few decades.
posted by mullingitover at 12:07 PM on May 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

This seems like a fantastically worse idea than changing the laws such that fewer people are incarcerated in the first place for these types of crimes. This creates a dangerous disconnect between the theoretical penalty for these crimes and the actual penalty.

On the other hand, I suppose laws take a long time to change, and this is a temporary band-aid.

What happens if, down the line, the state decides to spend a bigger fraction of its money on prisons? Do they round up all these people and lock them up again?
posted by gurple at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2008

I was amazed at the cost of building a prison in CA, until I read the article and learned that its because of healthcare costs. This poses an interesting moral dilemma.

Healthcare costs for the elderly are considerably higher than for the rest of the population, so I assume this is true in prison as well. So to reduce prison costs, what if you mandated that every inmate who had served at least ten ears (or five, whatever) by their 60th birthday would be released. This way, you ensure that there are very few elderly inmates in prison, allowing prisons to control healthcare costs much more effectively.

The problem is that once released, they still need the healthcare, so where do they go? They don't have work or insurance, so they fall back on state and federal assistance.

As for releasing non-violent offenders, why can't they use those ankle radio collar things and keep them under house arrest (or house work arrest)? Do they not work on a large scale.

Also, what the hell is wrong with Michigan?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2008

Lock up everyone! ....oh wait, we're already doing that.

Imprisonment is not the opposite of "being soft on crime."
posted by mattbucher at 12:21 PM on May 5, 2008

I'd love to see a graph of education funding vs. prison funding in the US over the past few decades.

Atop that plot, I'd like to see how much tax money is increasingly spent on privatization of lower education (including vouchers for religious schools and homeschooling) and prison complexes. I'd bet the climbing numbers are staggering.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2008

I'd like to start a betting pool on when the first news article will appear that discusses the growing trend of elderly Americans committing crimes to put themselves in prison for the free health care.
posted by mullingitover at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2008

Also, what the hell is wrong with Michigan?

Michigan's jobless rate went from 3.5% in 2000 to 7.9% in March 2008. Adding "tougher" sentencing has contributed to their overall incarceration rate.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:38 PM on May 5, 2008

Similarly, in the UK.
posted by djgh at 12:46 PM on May 5, 2008

Also, what the hell is wrong with Michigan?

Are you fucking kidding? Just the other day you were foaming at the mouth demanding that the state of Michigan imprison someone who escaped from jail 30 years ago and never got in trouble, after being sentenced to 10-20 years in prison on an ill-advised guilty plea made without consulting a lawyer.

What's the wrong with Michigan? too many people like you who don't give a damn about the real world consequences as long some abstract philosophical sense of 'justice' is served.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on May 5, 2008 [32 favorites]

Land of the Free, home of the Brave.
posted by moonbiter at 12:49 PM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'd like to start a betting pool on when the first news article will appear that discusses the growing trend of elderly Americans committing crimes to put themselves in prison for the free health care.

Um, hello? Have you heard of this thing called "Medicare"?
posted by delmoi at 12:49 PM on May 5, 2008

"Keeping criminals on the street so they can continue to commit crime is not reform," said Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt. "We need to ask the governor: `Will this reduce crime? Will it slow down repeat offenders? Will it make single moms safer in their homes? Will it make neighborhoods safer for our kids.' The answer is no."

Senate Republicans refuted the administration's notion that to achieve significant cost savings the state needs to decrease the prison population.

"Michigan spends $31,000 annually per prisoner, and 78 percent of that cost is directly associated with administration costs like wages, pensions, and health care,"

Translation: We just realized how much of our state's economy is tied up in keeping people in prision. Seriously; it's a huge amount, what I'm saying here is that we are looking a lot like screwed. And we really don't want to suddenly have a ton of unemployed people, so... 'Criminals loose on the streets! Moms unsafe in their homes! Kids in danger on the streets! Booga Booga!'

* Reduce excessive per-prisoner costs and bring them in line with surrounding states;

I'd love to know more about this line. What the hell is an excessive cost? Are they giving the prisoners free Starbucks and WiFi? Extra thick toilet paper? Medicine?
posted by quin at 12:52 PM on May 5, 2008

Um, hello? Have you heard of this thing called "Medicare"?

Medicare will be bankrupt by 2019.

Thankfully, this is America, a land where the prisons will always be fully funded.
posted by Avenger at 1:07 PM on May 5, 2008

We can make tent cities, if you prefer.
posted by nervousfritz at 1:16 PM on May 5, 2008

In the US, the "prison system" is a private industry offering services to the government. Their business model is not all that different from Blackwater's or Halliburton's: They know the government is desperate for their services, so they charge exorbitantly for the shittiest job they can do. Additionally, the prison industry regularly lobbies for ever-longer sentences for ever-pettier crimes, in an effort to increase that desperation.

Classy, eh?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:17 PM on May 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

When will someone in Congress grow a spine and refute the grossly wasteful and completely ineffectual WAR ON (some) DRUGS?

If the people incarcerated for possession, sale and ancillary crimes were released, the prison populations would drop enormously, leaving more room for actual , you know, criminals. Instead, you end up with the Land of the Free having 1 out of 100 citizens behind bars, where you can go to jail for life for one drug bust, while the average time spent for actual murder is a paltry six years.

The prison system has gone from a necessary evil to just another way corporations to gorge at the public trough.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 1:26 PM on May 5, 2008

Sorry, I should have clarified, I was talking about this. And being sarcastic. I don't really think people should serve prison sentences in tents.

Is that dumbed down enough? One more step is not posting at all. The promised land of the People.
posted by nervousfritz at 1:33 PM on May 5, 2008

Medicare will be bankrupt by 2019.

No. Medicare spending will outstrip it's revenues by 2019. It won't go bankrupt unless the costs become higher then the government's ability to tax. And that isn't going to happen.
posted by delmoi at 1:42 PM on May 5, 2008

"Instead, Michigan Republicans have proposed a plan that would, among other things, cut pay and overtime for prison guards, outsource many prison services and increase funding for faith-based programs."

Let them eat cake.

No, seriously, if this is what they want to do for their state, let them do it and see what happens. Of course, part of my satisfaction relies on the idea that they will see the effects and learn from their mistakes, but perhaps we're already at the point where they're supposed to be learning from all their previous mistakes, and perhaps this is all wishful thinking ...
posted by krinklyfig at 1:49 PM on May 5, 2008

When will someone in Congress grow a spine and refute the grossly wasteful and completely ineffectual WAR ON (some) DRUGS?

As soon as the voters in their district grow brain-stems that allow them to think past the "soft on crime" attacks that the congressperson's opponent will inevitably throw at them.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:01 PM on May 5, 2008

"... increase funding for faith-based programs."

Coercive "faith-based" prison programs are pretty much failing left and right in the courts these days. As they should be.
posted by gurple at 2:16 PM on May 5, 2008

Oh my God! Our prisons are sorely underfunded! What could be the cause?!

Well, let's take a look and see what we can see. It seems that we're imprisoning a whole lot of people. More than we have room for in our prisons. Well, surely this means we have a problem with either the number of people committing crimes in our country OR the number of people being imprisoned, yes? Surely, these are issues that require attention not at the rehabilitation level but at the social level!

Wait wait wait. What? You're saying the solution is to build more prisons? So... hang on a second. Let me see if I understand this. You're saying we should actively seek to imprison MORE of our population. This is what you're saying, that the solution to the problem of our prison system failing to deter the rate of crime in this country (that's assuming, of course, that people are being rightfully imprisoned, which is not at all a given in the first place) is to imprison more people.

Following this logic, I propose that we fight the looming energy crisis in this country by building cars which consume MORE gas per mile of travel, and that we fight terrorism by destabilizing more middle eastern countries.

you're kidding. there's no way. i was being sarcastic. they're not actually doing that, are they? they are? fucking shit.
posted by shmegegge at 2:23 PM on May 5, 2008 [11 favorites]

Damn. I never get tired of these 'crazy Americans and their prisons' stories. Who the fuck is running things in Michigan? People think this is a reasonable way to go?
posted by chunking express at 2:42 PM on May 5, 2008

In Philly the prisons are so overcrowded that they're they've packed House of Corrections to the brim; HoC is a temporary holding facility built in 1927 that wasn't designed or intended for long term incarceration. You can imagine what it's like doing time in there. Also, during the peak summer months they've started shipping guys in the county system upstate to Graterford, where they're mixed in with the general population in a state facility. Graterford is already jam packed with the hardest dudes in the state; I had a client who wasn't even convicted yet spend about six months in state prison because the county system was just too packed and there was nowhere else to put him. He still hasn't had a trial and it's almost been a year since his offense.

Now, this dude was no angel, believe me, but to send him upstate and mix him in with the lifers just because there's no space in county seems kind of insane to me. He was pretty hardened before he went upstate, I bet he came back hard as nails.

posted by The Straightener at 2:44 PM on May 5, 2008

I never get tired of these 'crazy Americans and their prisons' stories.

Then you'll be happy to learn that Ontario has begun privatizing its prisons...
posted by Sys Rq at 2:58 PM on May 5, 2008

I bet he came back hard as nails.

I've never understood this. It's like people don't understand that the United States prision system is an engine for turning out hardened criminals; Take a non-violent offender, say someone sent up for five years on a marijuana dealing charge. After half a decade of rubbing shoulders with murderers and rapists, and suffering all the failings that any overcrowded system will have, he's going to be forged into something much, much worse.

At the very least, he will be someone who has had proven that he can survive inside. Which means that being locked up no longer holds the same terror as it did before, now he knows that, worst-case-scenario, he goes back, and he can take it. At the very worst, on the other hand, he's someone not afraid of prision who also is now is well versed in some of the darkest aspects of the human psyche. Which is a scary prospect by anyone's standards.

It's a recipe for recidivism.

I'm not suggesting that we don't release prisoners or anything like that, but we may want to take greater care as to whom we force into this position. Perhaps it might be time to re-evaluate the people that need to spend time learning how to be a more productive criminal behind bars.
posted by quin at 3:05 PM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

After half a decade of rubbing shoulders with murderers and rapists, and suffering all the failings that any overcrowded system will have, he's going to be forged into something much, much worse.

yep--and i think it's worth emphasizing that his peer group has now been effectively limited to only fellow inmates, and the psychological dynamics of the circumstances virtually guarantee he'll form deeper social bonds with anyone he befriends in prison than he would under normal circumstances. i've long believed that the single dumbest thing about the prison system is the fact that we keep criminals locked up with other criminals. humans tend to acclimate themselves to the realities of their immediate social surroundings. that means inmates quickly become steeped in prison culture. a better strategy to curtail recidivism would be to keep criminals in controlled settings in which they have no peer-to-peer contact with others who've committed similar or worse offenses--force them to develop social habits that aren't consistent with the habits of criminals.

but then, if we had fewer prisons, where would we get a labor pool to compete in the global economy of the future?

"the future is prisons and math."
posted by saulgoodman at 3:21 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lets turn the prisons into manufacturing centers. The product should be something relatively simple, preferably imported, and could even be something that goes on to solve a bigger problem. Lets say clothing stuffs, which could even be seasonal with boots in the winter and sandals in the summer. The reward for participating would be a day off the sentence per satisfactory day worked. The system could work around the clock. With 170,000 imprisoned in California, and 30 percent participation, you just created an approximate workforce of 51,000 people.

If the product was clothing, it could be specialized to make a product that the government already pays for, say firefighter turnouts, military uniforms, fluorescent vests for transportation workers, etc. This could fulfill a niche in the government budget, freeing up more money to be spent elsewhere (or gasp!, to not be collected at all).

The clothing could also be used to turn a profit, such as embroidered company polo shirts and fleeces, mass t-shirt screen prints for sporting events, or basic necessary clothing for the homeless.

If it was a minimal security prison, the product could be much broader, tools for example, or furniture.

The whole process could theoretically pass on skills and work ethic. Some could even come to a realization that there is a way to make a living outside of boosting cars or slinging meth. You could potentially be releasing a steady flow of competent workers with years of experience and demonstrated responsibility. Going on this, lets say that the inmates keep a portion of the profits generated to be put into an account spendable on child support or luxuries while still imprisoned, or on living expenses when they get out.

There are solutions people.
posted by clearly at 4:30 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

clearly- inmates have jobs already. They even get paid for them, pay taxes, and pay for their "room and board." Many of these jobs support the prison infrastructure (like laundry). Many are contracted out to private enterprise. A whole lot of them are sweatshops.

Here's an article I just found by Googling, but I don't know how accurate it is, especially now. It was written in 1995. The Progressive published a similar article in the early 2000s but I can't find it.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:02 PM on May 5, 2008

For everyone asking "what's wrong with Michigan..."

Michigan has had a few different economic personalities - it was a supplier of raw materials: furs, lumber, iron and copper. Later it was a manufacturer: cereal, furniture, automobiles. The problem is that the raw materials ran out a long time ago (or became far too expensive to extract). Most of us are familiar with what happened to the manufacturing base in Michigan (hint: it's gone). What do the people who are left do for money? They listen to a bunch of snake oil salesman and start making a living incarcerating their own people. Prisons have been the fastest growing industry in Michigan for years.

Michigan eats its young, and I'm glad to have gotten out of there when I did.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:33 PM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Fucking legalize (and tax) it already.
posted by LordSludge at 5:50 PM on May 5, 2008

According to these stats the greatest increase in incarceration in absolute value was on violent crimes. From 200K inmates to 600K inmates.

People committing more crimes? This data[1] suggest that the total number of crimes decreased from 1980 to 2006, even if it didn't monotonously do so.

Getting caught more often? This other [2] suggest violent crimes have been steadily decreasing since 1993, while the arrests number don't show dramatic changes. There's probably a difference between definition of what fits into violent crime stats, as the [1] suggest a total of 2M violent crimes reported in 1993, while [2] suggests a decrease from 4M to 2M.

The # of population under some kind of supervision, parole , prison et al also increased from 1M to 7M from 1980 to 2006 , expecially the number of people
on probation quadrupled from 1M to a (imho staggering) 4M.

Sure thing, there's a lot of money being spent on punishing people, I wonder how much on preventing crime.
posted by elpapacito at 6:59 PM on May 5, 2008

Sorry, from 1.8M to 7M , still quite an increase.
posted by elpapacito at 7:05 PM on May 5, 2008

The idiot voters who unthinkingly buy into crime fearvertising during election years are ultimately going to pay the price for their rancid stupidity, as the state becomes bankrupt from prison costs.

Democracy doesn't actually work when the voters are more retarded than not.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

More on what's wrong with Michigan:

Michigan is mostly homogenously white except for big bad black Detroit. Half the state population lives in the Metro Detroit area where white flight and urban abandonment has been as thorough and devastating as practically anywhere else in the country. Year after year it ranks as the most segregated metropolis in America. Thus, winning elections is as simple as being tough on crime. Democrat Blanchard and Republican Engler competed to air the ugliest "tough on crime" ads during their gubenatorial race. Oakland County Executive Patterson has stayed in office since forever with a similar police state image. "Tough on crime" has been racist code language since forever. Isn't this true in other parts of the country too? I don't really think Michigan is all that unique - it's just on top of the dung heap in this statistic.
posted by BinGregory at 8:25 PM on May 5, 2008

clearly writes "Lets turn the prisons into manufacturing centers."

That has already happened.

Sounds great, until you realize that it's slave labor under a different name.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:40 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lets turn the prisons into manufacturing centers.

Yeah, slavery is the shit. And once we start making prisoners work, we can start arresting people for being unemployed- now that the number of available jobs have shrunk thanks to jobs being taken by inmates, there's going to be a lot more unemployed people- and then they'll have jobs! This is an unemployment solution in action!
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:28 PM on May 5, 2008

Also, what the hell is wrong with Michigan?

it's just 2 or 3 years ahead of the rest of the country - and the smugness many of you have expressed about it will not save you from that


Lets turn the prisons into manufacturing centers.

and put law-abiding citizens with manufacturing jobs out of work - as one of those citizens with a manufacturing job in michigan (they're not as extinct as people say), i say hell no - i've also said hell no to the last two tries at funding a new county jail

i say we stop fighting the drug war because we can't afford it - and they're not getting a fucking cent of my tax money for a new country jail

tomorrow, though, i will be sure to vote yes on the education millage

and the republican party of michigan are a bunch of virulent, sheepfucking morons who will cheerfully nod and listen to what you have to say and then cut your fucking throat when your back is turned - they're much more dangerous than the southern kind because the southern kind don't lie as much - i've had the dubious privilege of meeting with de voses and meijers - what a bunch of two faced lying bastards they are, and they're the pillars of the republican establishment - all they do is whine and scapegoat about how taxes are destroying the business climate in the state while ignoring the simple fact that the reason the business climate has gone to hell is because many of the businessmen are still conducting business like it's 1960 in the 21st century

in my part of the state we ARE turning it around - with little help from THEM

and of course they're all a bunch of hardasses about prison - and yet things just seem to get worse, don't they? - it's people in the rural areas attempting to dictate to the urban areas what's best for them when they don't know shit and don't give a fuck, anyway

and yeah, sen cropsey, you can damn well stop preying on your fellow citizens for a paycheck, just because you couldn't keep your manufacturing jobs in greenville and other places - we've all had it tough, but we all haven't turned into pimps for the prison industry - we've actually tried to attract employers who actually ADD something to the economy instead of suck off of it, which is more than your little collection of shithole counties has tried to do

if we could get rid of these morons in the senate, we'd have a much better chance of straightening this all out
posted by pyramid termite at 1:28 AM on May 6, 2008

Other problem with Michigan: Brain Drain. Large numbers of those with good sense have long since left, and that was going strong as far back as the late 70's (I left in 1981). What's left is the result of politics as an advertising form, rather than honest debate. What good is getting "tough on crime", in the absence of getting tough on creating opportunity?
posted by Goofyy at 5:42 AM on May 6, 2008

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