The Prison Industrial Complex

The state budget for Pennsylvania that was just enacted, 9 months late, includes $2.4 billion for corrections (over 8% of the total).  The budget of Erie County, PA, is dominated by law enforcement, with 27% of the budget for corrections and another 20% for courts.

Then The Atlantic reports this:

Most of the 12 million jail bookings in the United States each year are for low-level, nonviolent charges. Yet far too many of these defendants remain in jail while awaiting their day in court because they cannot afford money bail. More than 60 percent of people locked up in America’s jails have not yet been to trial, and as many as nine in 10 of those people are stuck in jail because they can’t afford to post bond.

What?  As a taxpayer, this is beyond ridiculous.  I don’t want to pay for this.  As a citizen, I don’t want people who should be working, supporting themselves and their families, and paying taxes to be kept from doing all of that.  Apparently, this is not a groundbreaking thought:

Many jurisdictions already know how to replace outdated pretrial justice policies like cash bail with risk-based systems that are safer, fairer, and more effective. The District of Columbia instituted reforms in the 1990s that effectively replaced cash bail with a pretrial risk assessment program that evaluates which defendants are too risky to be released. The highly effective program doesn’t demand cash bail; instead defendants are assessed for their likelihood to appear for their trial and potential impact on public safety. Most defendants are released on their own recognizance or under minimal supervision, and only about 15 percent of defendants are held in jail. D.C.’s model has an 89 percent court appearance rate, which is comparable to what is seen elsewhere under cash bail.

Let’s implement this everywhere, immediately.

I can think of 2 big reasons this doesn’t happen.  The first is the title of this post, and the political corruption that goes along with it.  The second is the punishment mindset.  The same way of thinking that makes people think torture is OK.  It’s all about retribution, regardless of actual guilt.  It takes leadership to remind people that we aren’t supposed to do that in America.


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