The prison problem

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In Texas a man was caught driving under the influence of alcohol 17 times before he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Upon hearing this tale, people shake their heads and say, “The system failed that guy.”

Yet, perhaps there’s a larger concern we’re overlooking. According to a PEW Center on the States Feb. 28 report, 1 percent of Americans are imprisoned within the United States–a record high. Even if you don’t know anyone in prison or have ever served time, this statistic affects every American through taxes. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, it costs $52.06 per day to house one person in prison and $19,002 a year. Last year this cost Americans $49 billion, the PEW study discovered, not because crime has risen but because of harsher punishments.

The United States houses 2.3 million incarcerated adults, a stark comparison to China, which has a much greater population and where only 1.5 million adults are in prison, according to BBC News. The United States has a greater inmate population than Russia, France, England and all other industrialized countries. Not only do we have the highest number of people serving time, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the United States also has the highest crime rate of industrialized countries.

Prison is used to frighten people from breaking laws and restrain individuals from harming innocent people. Yet, when one out of 100 Americans are in prison, it seems like there are some prevention measures being overlooked. Every barrel of apples may contain a rotten one that is beyond help, perhaps a few apples that may need polishing, but usually most of them are good. The majority of people just want to lead happy lives with their families.

Poverty and necessity breed crime. As companies merge into giant corporations, more and more jobs are being shipped overseas, and the United States continues to import goods from all around the world. This carves out the middle class, leaving them specialty jobs and low-paying customer service jobs. As the recession hits, more and more Americans are losing their jobs and poverty is rising.

A 1994 Arizona study found 85 percent of U.S. inmates to be high school dropouts. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 65 percent of inmates are illiterate. Oregon is one of five states that spend more money on corrections than education, as reported by The Washington Post. From elementary through higher education, American schools provide a poor learning environment with outdated textbooks, overcrowded classrooms and not enough real-life application. Teachers are paid very low salaries, often forcing them to work a second job for survival, which results in their attention being diverted from their lessons. Wonder why children are slipping through the cracks?

Oregon has at least 41 jails, 12 prisons and the Oregon State Penitentiary, Oregon’s only maximum-security prison, located in Salem. Two more prisons are currently being built to resolve problems of overcrowding. Currently, 30 people are on death row, awaiting lethal injection for aggravated murder charges.

The University of Oregon is celebrating its one-year anniversary of participating in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program with the Oregon State Penitentiary by running a book drive for the inmates. Inside-Out allows students to acquire an inside view of prisons and gives inmates some access to higher education. The classes occur inside the prison, where carefully screened inmates mingle with university students. PSU has also offered the Inside-Out program with a local prison as a Senior Capstone. The goal is that students will become sympathetic and that the inmates will become better equipped to reintegrate into society upon release.

Although students are making a valiant effort to help society, prevention is critical for lowering our crime rate, inmate population and taxes. A better education system and boosted economy would benefit everyone.

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