Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Will Favors Prison-Industrial Complex, Suggests Prisons Are Better Investments than Public Universities

George Will’s editorial (“Prison time is about crime, not about race”, Washington Post, June 22, 2008) is lacking not only in compassion, but in intellectual depth and vision. His hypothesis that prisons may have greater social value than public universities is equally disturbing.

Race and class are key factors in every aspect of the justice system, from policing to post-conviction. Race and class shape what we define as crime, who we define as criminals, and how the criminal justice system is administered.

Except in a few sensational news accounts (Enron, Martha Stewart, Jack Abramoff, and now Bear Stearns), white collar criminals are rarely perceived as crooks, though their damage to society far outweighs street crime. College students aren’t typically arrested and thrown in jail for drug possession or intent to sell, though drug use is common on college campuses. Black and Latino youth, on the other hand, are profiled and questioned by the police as a matter of course, creating an atmosphere akin to a military occupation.

As for reducing street crime, there are better social investment strategies than spending billions on prisons. The Rand Corporation, for example, has prescribed child abuse prevention, better education, and social support programs as better ways to reduce crime. Given that the roots of street crime are related to economic conditions, it would seem logical that decent paying jobs would also reduce certain types of crime. Whether the public is willing to make such social investments may depend on whether it is informed by people with vision and intellect or deceived by media people like Mr. Will.


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