Prisons not solution to problem of crime


The United States, according to a 2010 Department of Justice report, has 79,165 juvenile offenders behind bars. An overwhelming majority of these minors in jails and prisons are black and Hispanic, and victims of poverty of all ethnic backgrounds. This is the largest juvenile offender population anywhere on Earth today, even more than the supposedly authoritarian states of Russia and the People’s Republic of China combined. These people’s parents are denied employment; they live in substandard, tumble-down housing; and their schools are, essentially, holding facilities.

Throughout history, what we call crime has been a direct result of maintaining a large segment of a population under shameful social and economic conditions for the benefit of a class of elites, whether they be absolute monarchs or Wall Street oligarchs. Simply put, it is not the fault of the minority and poor youth that they sit behind bars. Instead, it is the fault of an order of things that forces their families to live under shameful depredations, in unhealthful conditions, and denies them the full fruits of their labor; that is, if these juveniles are “lucky” enough to have what we call gainful employment in the first place.

Interestingly enough, the people that rail against crime are also the first to downgrade and mock those who call for a living wage, free college education for all and more funding for public schools. These same individuals are also the first to criticize the youth and adults who sit behind bars as a result of their own making – failing to take into account the direct interest in the system that they uphold of keeping these people in prisons in the first place! They ignore the historical truth that crime is a function of poverty and unjust exploitation. Simply put, they choose to react to crime instead of working to make structural changes to solve it. On the other hand, progressive people that are able to think critically should not fall prey to this reactionary mode of thinking. Progressive people think about solving the prison problem by solving the structural, objective and economic factors that push people into prisons in the first place.

What is a progressive, reasoned position on solving the crime problem? First, one should stop thinking of crimes as something to be punished. Nelson Mandela said, “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

The economic and social structure of the United States creates outlaws by robbing people of what they work for by myriad cruel and unusual methods. Look to Ferguson for example, the city makes money for itself by imposing exorbitant fines on the working class population of that city for trifling infractions such as littering and loitering. Imposing a thousand dollar fine on a young, underage minimum wage service worker is counterproductive – the worker does not have the money to pay, and the offense for which they were issued such a ridiculously huge fine does not warrant it.

However, a corporation can poison the air, soil and water, and walk away with a low fine compared to how much money it makes in profit every day. But, a worker may throw a piece of trash on the ground, is saddled with a thousand-dollar fine which one can’t afford to pay, and promptly goes to jail. Their children are deprived of a parental figure, resulting in loss of income and the start of  a deadly, unnecessary cycle.

Where is the fairness in this? Who profits from this? What problems does this solve? Is society and the community in question safer as a result of this? These are the questions that progressive society should ask when they discuss crime. Laws that punish workers for things that get the rich a figurative slap on the wrist are laws for the rich, not for everyone. People who want to solve the crime and incarceration issue should not criticize or attack efforts to improve the material conditions for young workers, or workers in general.

Studies have shown that countries with high minimum wages that are adjusted every year for inflation have very low rates of crimes against the person. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that: “a 20 percent drop in wages leads to a 12 to 18 percent increase in youth crime. Other analysis shows that a 1 percent point increase in the Gini index – a measure of wealth inequality – produces, on average, a 3.6 percent increase in the homicide rates for a population.” People steal and rob because they are poor. A struggle against poverty is a fight against youth crime.

The U.S. has the money to fight against other countries for the benefit of corporations and give subsidies/tax breaks to companies that steal and rob from the whole world. CEO pay has risen exponentially since the 1980s. The people need that wealth. To end shootings that take the lives of innocents, give it to them. Spend on schools, not on bombs. Buy food and distribute it, not planes to distribute the bombs and kill our peers overseas. Ultimately, this is a true crime solution program: Stop putting working class children behind bars, open the jails and allow them breathe in an environment that fosters their development.

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