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May 28, 2014

We saw in Part I that studies conclusively prove a giant drop in recidivism among prison populations who are educated and paid fairly for their work while in prison. It makes sense. If they had no skills and were mired in poverty, for instance, it is much more likely that they will live a life of crime both before and after serving their terms in prison. Criminals have to eat, too.
No one, of course, approves of criminal conduct (other than, perhaps, bankers – and by their laissez faire regulation – their regulators), but it is a bit late to criticize a convicted criminal for acts that put him in jail in the first place. The fact is that he IS in jail for conduct judged criminal, so now what? We have to learn to put our offended sensibilities aside and become pragmatists. The criminal has already offended (as we used to write in our charging affidavits or informations) “the peace and dignity of the people of the State of Indiana” (or fill in the state blank) back when I was a Deputy Prosecutor in Marion County, Indiana. The bad guy is in prison and is costing us a lot of money to keep him. How can we reduce our costs and have some assurance that he won’t be back upon his release after doing his time?
While there is no such assurance in a particular case, we know from research from a few forward-looking jurisdictions that we can very substantially reduce the number of repeat performances by these criminals upon their release if we educate them, pay those who wish to work while in prison a minimum wage, make vocational education available to them, and otherwise prepare them for their after-prison lives – whose rehabilitation should be more than checking in with their parole officer once a week.
So will this cost additional money? Yes, but research shows that such additional funds appropriated for such purposes come to far less than what we would have to pay with the recidivism numbers we can expect if we do not become proactive in the rehabilitation of our prison population. State legislatures and the Congress are generally reluctant to spend more money on prison populations than the huge amounts we are already spending, and while that is understandable given the superficial views of “tough on crime” taxpayers, the provable fact is that by doing so we would spend LESS overall and reduce the incidence of new crimes in the process. Additional bonuses include fewer of the ex-convicts’ children and other dependents on food stamps, fewer victims of crime, less costs for over-crowded dockets of the courts, less costs for local incarceration of criminals prior to commitment to state and federal prisons and, of course, the very high costs of the incarceration per se, much of which has been privatized by contract (which adds an additional layer of costs for their profits to be made for services rendered). We can do much better, and save billions in the process on both state and federal levels.
We are unlikely to see prison jobs brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets minimum standards for wages and working conditions. Legislatures (with their taxpaying and influential sectors such as labor, business and tough-on-crime holdouts in opposition even though the system is an expensive, counterproductive mess) aren’t interested, and the courts have failed to date to find that the FLSA applies to prison labor. There was a brief possibility in Hale v. Arizona, a Ninth Circuit decision by a three-judge panel which found the FLSA applicable, but that finding was reversed by the full court. The court’s logic, says the attorney who represented Hale, was that ”the FLSA didn’t apply to the inmates because they were prisoners.”
We are penny wise and pound foolish as we fuel and refuel recidivism. What we are doing now isn’t working. If we want to really get “tough on crime” and save money in the process, let’s reduce its incidence via research-based methods proven to work as set forth in this essay. GERALD E


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