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By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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A Modest Proposal...For Prisons

Uploaded: Jan 2, 2014
Having argued about how to spend public money...let's argue about how not to spend it. On prisons.

Yes, we certainly need them. No, we do not need to incarcerate people at two or three times the rate of the rest of the developed world.

We can't afford it. It simply costs too much, both in dollars and general harm to our communities.

This is not the happiest of topics. Nor the most frequently discussed. The matter is safely locked away. Or unsafely.

Whatever one feels about prisons and their costs, the topic seems a worthy one.

We all know the statistics. In several recent years, California has spent more on prison construction than on school construction.

As for recidivism, our numbers don't look good. What do we Californians get for all this tax investment in penal institutions?

Which leads me to a question.

With our increasingly privatized prisons, are corrections companies ever offered financial incentives to keep incarceration numbers down? Expressed a different way, do such firms ever earn a bonus, say, for each released prisoner who doesn't reoffend for X years?

Any ideas about how to better align corrections contracts with incentives? There's a lot of money at stake.

Yes, and there's public safety at stake, as well. As a victim of violent crime, I've had time to think about this. I welcome your ideas.

Comments

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm

I thought you were going to write a variation of the famous essay by Jonathan Swift ... and no, I'm not that hungry! :P

Seriously ... I don't know. Probably many different things. I've heard that one of the most effective ways to reduce violent crimes is simply to eliminate opportunities for violent crimes. Like zero tolerance for drug dealing in public spaces. Granted: the drugs still get sold. But that eliminates violent turf wars. A couple years ago, I heard that New York City's incarceration rate has dropped recently - but the crime rate hasn't gone back up, due to the zero tolerance.

Of course - we should aim for a society where poor people believe they can get ahead by working honestly - a belief that's supported by facts. But we should work to eliminate the temptation of crime as well.


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