//Choosing jail over a minimum-wage job

Choosing jail over a minimum-wage job

Bill Horne , The Times Gazzette

Abu Guhuraib Prisoners

Prisoners of Abu Guharib

Folks, about six weeks ago an elderly gentleman, and I say gentleman because he has been described as "a charming old man," walked into a Columbus bank and demanded money be placed in an envelope.

The teller placed $80 in the envelope and handed it back to the gentleman. He turned and walked over to a bank guard and handed over the money and then just waited for the police.

Nope, the man wasn't crazy – at least he could pass a psychological test ordered by the court. But in 2003, the company that he had worked for closed its doors, and went out of business. Since that time, he had been trying to make it on part-time, minimum-wage jobs.

In court this "old man" pleaded guilty and asked the judge to sentence him to three years. He then informed the judge that three years in prison would get him to the age of 65. At this point, he could then draw full Social Security benefits.

This man could have applied for government housing; however, most areas now have a waiting list that is two to three years. So, he made a rational decision to go to prison rather than to live on the streets.

Are any of our leaders paying attention?

How do we get into a situation where one of our elderly felt that he was better off in jail than free?

Did we throw this person away just because he got old?

What if when he gets out he still can't make it? Even on full Social Security benefits his income may not be enough to provide the necessities. Will he then decide to do something that will get him a life sentence?

Has our prison system become a public housing project?

Folks, we have now reached the point where we have more than 2 million people in jail or prison. We, the United States, have the highest percentage of our population incarcerated of any country on earth.

I don't know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to have our country be number one for jailing people.

It could mean that we are the best at catching the bad guys. It could mean that because most people in jail are from the poorest parts of our society, that they have made decisions like the gentleman from Columbus. This would mean that prison life is better than living free in America to some people.

It could also mean that we have the most violent society. Or, it could mean that we have the least caring society. And, maybe it just means that we sentence people to longer prison terms.

California has run out of room; in other words, they no longer have enough storage space for their inmates. So, they are "farming out" some of their prisoners.

There are two major corporations that now have facilities to house inmates. One of these corporations has a correctional facility in Indiana and the other one has facilities in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. California is using or is attempting to use all four of these facilities.

What I think is interesting about having corporations bid on housing inmates is that the more prisoners we have the more money they would make. And, where does the World Trade Organization (WTO) fit into this picture?

There would seem to be nothing stopping foreign corporations from bidding on the housing of American prisoners and, what would keep them from exporting our convicts to some other country for safe keeping?

In an effort to cut costs most prison systems have been reducing the number of guards. It is not unusual for our prisons to have a guard to inmate ratio of one guard to 200-plus inmates. I have even heard of a 300-plus situation.

I mentioned earlier that the United States is number one in percent of population in jail. For each 100,000 citizens, we have 738 people in jail. Second place is Russia with 594. Following the U.S. and Russia there are a whole bunch of small countries like St. Kitts, Palau, and Belize.

Other countries of interest are Mexico with 191, China 118, Canada 107, Japan 62, and India with only 31. These numbers are a year old but they probably have changed very little.

There has always been the argument as to whether jail time is for punishment or for rehabilitation. I have heard, and I don't remember where, that if an inmate is given an education, he or she has an 80 percent chance to make it on the outside. On the other hand, if prisoners are not educated, 80 percent come back to prison.

In any case, whatever method we are using it is not working well. Thirty percent of former inmates are arrested again in less than a year, close to 50 percent are arrested in a little more than a year, almost 60 percent are back within two years and about 70 percent are back in a cell after three years.

Here is a thought that I want to share with you. Cities with a prison are allowed to count the inmates as citizens for the purpose of census.

This enables these cities and towns with jails to receive additional funding from state and federal governments. So, it would seem to be a good thing for a small community to go into the prison business.

We are adding, across the whole country, more than 700 new inmates, to our prison system, per week more than we release. It would seem then that we either need to find new solutions or use our tax dollars to build more prisons.

I prefer my freedom. I cannot imagine choosing jail to get "three squares a day." Of course, I am still allowed to be productive; I still have a job, and a good family.

Bill Horne is a professor of economics at Southern State Community College and a columnist for The Times-Gazette.


US prison population on the rise: DOJ report

Holly Manges Jones, Jurist

The population of individuals in US prisons rose by 2.7 percent in 2005, according to an annual report [DOJ materials] released Wednesday by the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics [official website]. The report indicates that over 7 million people were either in jail, on probation, or on parole [press release] by the end of last year, with 2.2 million of them in prison. The Justice Department statistics also show that the percentage of female prisoners is rising – the number of female inmates rose 2.6 percent in 2005 with the male population only increasing by 1.9 percent. Sentencing Project [advocacy website], an advocacy group that promotes criminal justice reform, has blamed the increase in women prisoners on harsh sentences handed down for nonviolent drug offenses.

The report also showed racial disparities among prisoners that are similar among men and women inmates. Among male prisoners ages 25-29, 8.1 percent of black men are in prison, while 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men are incarcerated. South Dakota accounted for the highest increase in inmate population with a rise of 11 percent, followed by Montana with 10.4 percent, and Kentucky with 7.
9 percent. Georgia's prison population dropped the most with a decrease of 4.6 percent, followed by Maryland with a 2.4 percent drop, and Louisiana with a 2.3 percent decrease. AP has more .