Tuesday, February 15, 2011
On the way back from Penn State a few weeks ago, I read an interesting report regarding governmental spending cuts. The cuts seemed a bit unusual. One White House proposal, for example, could result in the immediate release of 4,000 federal prisoners. Doing so would save the federal government about $10 million a year. Big deal.
If the government really wanted to consider lower spending on the federal prison system, it would offer transformative change. This proposal of releasing 4,000 federal prisoners doesn’t come close to solving the problem of wasteful spending on our nation’s prison system.
If the government moves forward with the release of those 4,000 federal prisoners, I suspect that it would do so indiscriminately. There wouldn’t be any push to release those who have earned freedom. My buddy Michael Santos, for instance, would remain confined despite his many achievements, despite his having earned freedom more than 15 years ago. Rather, the government would release a group of prisoners without any interest on their commitment to leading a law-abiding life. As a consequence, recidivism rates would rise. That would lead to more calls for tougher sanctions. Hence the prison lobby would win again.
I would consider such an absurd response to the need to cut wasteful spending on federal prisons as being terribly insufficient. It would not be consistent with a commitment to building a “smarter prison system.” This is a stupid proposal.
A transformative proposal, on the other hand, would make fundamental changes to the prison system. It would close all federal prison camps, for example. Anyone in a federal prison camp could just as easily serve his time under some form of community confinement. That would save much more money and lead to much safer communities.
It doesn’t do society any good to release 4,000 prisoners who haven’t prepared themselves to function as law-abiding Americans. At least those in federal prison camps have already been classified as nonthreatening. They could serve their sanctions with ankle bracelets or in home confinement or in a halfway house while working to pay their own costs. And I assure you serving time in a halfway house or home confinement, at times, can be as uncomfortable as serving time in prison. Just ask my friends who visited me at Vinewood Halfway house. Most of them would tell you that I should have stayed at Taft Camp.
To release 4,000 prisoners doesn’t solve anything. The system may save a few million bucks. But if raising a few million bucks is what politicians were after, they could do the same thing by raising commissary prices, by gouging prisoners further with extortionate phone and email fees, by negotiating better deals with vendors who feed this multibillion dollar beast that is the federal prison system.
Releasing 4,000 prisoners doesn’t make nearly as much sense as introducing fundamental change to America’s federal prison system. At least that’s my take.