I'm Right Again Dot Com

A new commentary every Wednesday   -  July 1, 2015


    I've been trying to suggest a way to deflect the slashing of funding for education in my State of Arizona—particularly the anticipated 50 percent reduction in funding for a program for technical and career education that will affect the lives of 92,000 students in Arizona's high school and junior colleges: The Joint Technical Education Districts (JTEDs). They are under threat of being dismantled.

    Lo, this past weekend, one way to save millions every year was delivered to my door step: A comprehensive report, titled "All In Our Prisons," by Patty Machelor, published in the Sunday, June 28th edition of the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson). The article referenced herein began on the front page. It states that "in the upcoming fiscal year, The Arizona Department of Corrections' budget tops $1-billion and will make up 11 percent of the state's general fund. That's an increase of 40 percent in seven years. And prison growth in Arizona promises to continue, with 1,000 medium security beds to be added by fiscal year 2017 at a cost of $24.2-million." (Finally, a true growth industry, with seemingly inexhaustible resources).

    "Arizona already has 10 state prisons and six private contract facilities. It locks up more residents per capita than any other Western State, at 589 per 100,000 residents."

    (Nothing in the article speaks to the "collateral costs," the augmentation of numerous social services, such as a need for greater child welfare costs, wrought by mass incarceration).

    There's much more in the article by Ms. Machelor regarding recent bills in our legislature intended to alleviate many of the reasons people are serving long sentences, such as a bill that would have expanded deferred prosecution for people with mental-health issues, that failed in the Arizona House of Representatives, as well as a bill providing deferred prosecution for people who successfully complete requirements that cause charges against them to be dismissed. That measure also died in the House.

       You don't have to live in Arizona to hope for a rehabilitation of the criminal justice system. The United States, a country with less than five percent of the population, houses 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Some 2.2 million Americans are now incarcerated—about triple the number locked up in the 1970's and 1980's, during a panic over illegal drugs and urban crime. You can now openly purchase an amount of marijuana that 25 years ago would earn you ten years of hard time.

       No surprise as to the mental condition of many in our prisons, either.  According to the Urban Institute, about 55 percent of male inmates and 73 percent of female inmates in state facilities have a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than three times as many men and women with mental illness are in prison than are in mental-health treatment programs.

     This again was taken from Ms. Machelor's article: In 2007, The "hang-em-high" Texas legislature was asked to spend $2-billion for 17,000 new beds for prisons. "Instead,Texas spent $241-million to hire more probation officers, boost drug courts, expand residential and outpatient treatment programs and create pre-trial diversion programs for offenders with mental illness and addiction issues. The savings so far for Texas: $3-billion.'"

    I should think that conservatives and liberals could find common ground on such issues as treatment for mental illness and addiction, cutting back mandatory-minimum sentences; using community service as alternatives to prison for low-level crimes; re-writing the rules of probation and parole to avoid sending offenders back to to jail; more and better job training, plus an emphasis on assisting convicts to make a successful transition to a successful life outside of prison walls. I propose that spending $24.2-million on these kinds of programs would be money better spent, Arizona.

    Thank you Patty Machelor.  There is so much to be done. Your excellent article may help bring about the first step.

 -Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller    



    THE PROSPERITY COAL COMPANY: My book about hard times and union wars in the coal fields, in times past.  

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