More Inmates, Less Professors

So did you know that the state of California spends more money per year to keep one prisoner incarcerated than it pays in salary to a college professor of my rank? Given the outrageous numbers of non-violent, non-dangerous people kept behind bars on drug possession charges, imagine how easily the dying system of higher education in California could be saved if all these inmates were asked to go home and pay their own upkeep.

I’ve seen many explanations of who profits from this massive incarceration of people who should not be taking up $52,000 per year in taxpayer money just to prevent them from smoking weed or sniffing heroin. I haven’t, however, found a reasonable one.

For now, the only explanation that sounds at least somewhat reasonable is that this is a result of law enforcement agencies and prosecutor offices trying to drum up numbers that would testify to high performance. They must also have performance reports to fill like all of us, and the only way of demonstrating that they are more effective with every passing year is by inventing “crimes” that are super easy to investigate and prosecute. As the bureaucratic obsession with showing good numbers on paper grows, more  people get incarcerated to get the reports padded.

I’m not seeing any other explanation behind the issue. Do you? Other than “evil members of the political party I do not support being their usual evil selves,” of course. That one I’ve heard, and it bores me to tears.

62 thoughts on “More Inmates, Less Professors

  1. Why are members of a political party that you do not support generically ‘evil’? That does not indicate balanced scholarship. Also it asks people to put a lot of faith in your personal judgment. In California Republicans typically do not rule, in any event.

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  2. Well I don’t know if these are reasons so much but here are two things I see:

    1) The majority of Americans are simultaneously puritanical and anti-education.
    I went to college in CA and the public higher education system is (or was) simply phenomenal. I would venture to say it’s the best public higher education system in the world. But every time a vote came for even modest modest sales tax hike in order to support this phenomenal university system, Californians would vote down the tax. It goes back to the notion that professors are lazy and college students are spoiled. It speaks to the deep divide in American culture: on one hand Americans are capable of creating incredible universities and on the other hand, many Americans are mistrustful of education.

    On the flip side, while nobody would vote for tax increases to support the prison system per se, the general American is very much in favor of punitive sentences for drug use. It’s the same logic that drove prohibition and the same logic that drives the “virginity culture.” Americans as a group tend to be very suspicious of those who seek out bodily pleasure. And please note I’m not advocating drug use here. But drug use is very embodied and Americans are fearful of the body. So sadly the “average” American would probably rather support a prison system than a university system.

    2) This is a slightly more abstract “reason.” But, Obama’s election notwithstanding, American society is deeply and institutionally racist. For instance, crack and cocaine are both the same drug. However (and I don’t quite understand the chemical processes behind this) crack is very cheap and used in urban areas by minority populations while cocaine is expensive and is predominately used by upper class white people. The prison sentence for crack is much higher than the prison sentence for cocaine. So what you have are prisons filled with Black and Hispanic people who used crack while cocaine users (like George Bush) go to Yale and become president. So the prison becomes a place where white Americans can literally and figuratively distance troubling minority populations. It becomes a way of “morally” ensuring that the urban minority populations can’t ever successfully integrate in to American society.

    I think this question is actually quite complicated but those are some reasons I see driving the “prison push.”

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    1. This was the first year ever that I started advising students against choosing grad schools in California. This was the best higher education system in the world, but California is disintegrating too fast. I can’t be optimistic about California right now.

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      1. I agree with not liking Arnold. But he isn’t governor anymore. California has a democrat governor now. He is better than Arnold certainly and has actually managed to put a little more funding towards the public university system in CA but status quo still prevails…

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  3. Well, were pretty enlightened up here in Canada. We taxpayers just make sure our heroin addicts have clean needles and places to shoot up. Afterall, we wouldn’t want them to get sick or be uncomfortable while injecting, now would we. I sometimes wonder who is more stupid, the junkie, the person who thinks this shit up or the freaking taxpayer for footing the bill?

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      1. We have some needle programs in the US and they are actually very cheap. The cost of clean needles is almost nothing. The cost of taking care of very ill people is astronomical. I think needle programs are a good idea.

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      2. The reason that logic is so misinformed(or stupid) is that you cant make a stoned out junkie ALWAYS inject with a clean needle. The fact is, if they are too fucking stoned they will shoot up with whatever is the easiest, dirty needles and all. Most addicts don’t use logic when they need to get stoned or more stoned.

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      3. Read the epidemiology reports. Clean needle programs are actually quite effective in reducing the amount of “needle transmitted diseases.” They don’t eliminate them but they do reduce them.

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        1. If there is a cause worthy of investing public money, it’s clean needles. I come from a country where we have the fastest growth of non-sexually transmitted HIV. Many people who got infected had never seen drugs, let alone injected them. The problem is that once you reach a critical number of infected people in a society, it becomes next to impossible to protect anybody.

          And what can they possibly cost? I’m sure the cost is negligible.

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      4. I don’t need to read them. I think the logic behind it is misguided and not right. I totally disagree with helping an addict continue in their distorted/damaging addiction.

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      5. The problem is that once you reach a critical number of infected people in a society, it becomes next to impossible to protect anybody.(clarissa)

        Especially the people who have unprotected sex. God forbid people take the time to protect themselves. Afterall, don’t we all need the government to do it for us?

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      6. Do you think withholding clean needles will prevent addicts from using drugs??(clarissa)

        Im not withholding anything. I just don’t want to have to pay for their needles. They want to inject shit then let them pay for it themselves. Accountability/consequence, I know for many those are foreign words these days.

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        1. ” Accountability/consequence, I know for many those are foreign words these days.”

          – So you think that HIV is an appropriate consequence for people who have made very bad choices in their lives? That sounds very cold-hearted. You’d want people to be exposed to HIV just so that the state can save a few bucks and pay some bureaucrat du jour a bigger salary? What sense is that making?

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      7. “The reason that logic is so misinformed(or stupid) is that you cant make a stoned out junkie ALWAYS inject with a clean needle. The fact is, if they are too fucking stoned they will shoot up with whatever is the easiest, dirty needles and all. Most addicts don’t use logic when they need to get stoned or more stoned.”

        Actually, titfortat, they do. Clean needle places do get used when they’re available, as shown by the fact that HIV infection rates reduces. Also, the need for you to pay for clean needles would be drastically reduced if the injected drugs were legalized (the reason most junkies don’t just go and get needles from the nearest pharmacy is that they’re afraid of the police being called on them, not that they’re unable to buy a .2$ syringe-and-needle together with the drug dose). Granted, that won’t take care of all the junkies (some of them use drugs as a slow suicide, but those are the ones that don’t bother with the existing clean needle programs so you’re not paying a cent for those). Also, I highly doubt people start using injectable drugs because they can now have free clean needles to go with them, so I’d imagine the increase in drug usage to be slim to none. Overall, this is a great way of reducing the harm drugs cause in a society, so, if you’re really that sore about having to pay for it, figure out how much money per year you pay for them, set up a paypal or something and I’m sure we can cover your loss :P. Heck, I’m a college student in a non-First-World country and I can spare you 30 bucks :P.

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    1. Whether person is infected or not and his/her past drug addiction is NOT always written on his/her forehead.

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  4. As long as there is single-payer health care in Canada, it will be far cheaper for the taxpayer to supply clean needles than to treat AIDS.

    You would be surprised at how many middle class ordinary people have tried shooting heroin or other drug in the past. Maybe I am biased because I , or rather the hepatologist, see these people show up at our viral chronic hepatitis treatment center at the university medical center.

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    1. @Nancy

      Yep, some of us have them as family. 😦
      Just because something is cheaper doesn’t make it right.

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    2. Also, what’s withholding the clean needles going to achieve? It isn’t like drug use diminishes as a result. The only result is more sick people. How can that be a good thing from any point of view?

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      1. The only result is more sick people. How can that be a good thing from any point of view?(Clarissa)

        They are already sick, you just want to be codependent with them. I have both in my family, the addict and the enabler.

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      2. @Clarissa

        Im actually quite surprised. For someone who talks about being accountable for their own mental health you seem quite far removed from that position when it comes to drug addicts. Why not use this same logic and apply it to any emotional state?

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        1. “Im actually quite surprised. For someone who talks about being accountable for their own mental health you seem quite far removed from that position when it comes to drug addicts. ”

          – Of course, drug addicts or any addicts have chosen to be addicts. So? Do you believe they should be punished with AIDS for this obviously lousy choice? And then infect crowds of other people? How will this help anybody?

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  5. @TfT This is clearly a painful issue for you and I hope I’m sensitive of that. But you seem to be conflating a bunch of issues here.

    1) Is the problem economic? i.e. taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for needles? If it is economic, taxpayer expense is very little compared to what it takes to care for ill people.

    2) Is the issue one of “encouraging drug use?” If so, this really doesn’t hold water. It’s like saying providing condoms makes people have sex. It doesn’t.

    3) Is the issue one of “punishment?” i.e. addicts are selfish and dirty and deserve no help? This seems to be what you are suggesting (or some version of this anyway.) And if so, what should we do when they get sick? Let them die with no medical help whatsoever? Doesn’t that seem unspeakably cruel?

    And cruelty aside, in Canada, under single payer, sick people get taken care of. Even in the US, we try not to let sick people die without any comfort or help. The practicality is that tax payers are going to pay for drug addiction at some point; it’s a sad fact of living in urbanized and highly populated societies.

    As a side note, I actually know a former heroin addict. When he was younger, he was in a lot of pain and became an addict. He made use of the clean needle programs in his city while he was addicted. Eventually with therapy, he was able to kick his habit and he has a happy life now: good job, good relationship etc etc. Perhaps if he didn’t have access to a clean needle program, his story wouldn’t have ended so happily. People get addicted and sometimes people need help. I think a clean needle is a very little thing to provide.

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    1. @Evelina

      Condoms, really? Are you comparing sex to drug addiction? Pay now or pay later but someone is going to pay. Why should society have to pay for someones dysfunction and take away resources for, lets say, education? Good thing for your friend. I bet money more of his fellow addicts(using the same program) didn’t get clean and are either still using or dead.

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      1. “Why should society have to pay for someones dysfunction”

        – We either pay for that dysfunction the tiny price of a needle or we pay the enormous price of a crowd of infected people and a spreading infection. These are the only options. Which one do you like more? Or do you see some third scenario that I’m not seeing?

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      2. Youre missing the fact that if you help people continue in their dysfunctional behavior that it is just a matter of time that they will do something stupid while they are stoned. Clean needles does not STOP stupid behaviours. Regardless if it slows the spread of HIV.

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        1. “Youre missing the fact that if you help people continue in their dysfunctional behavior that it is just a matter of time that they will do something stupid while they are stoned.”

          – You seem to be suggesting that withholding the clean needles will somehow prevent people from continuing in their dysfunctional behavior. Do you really believe that? If not, then how can a clean needle help them continue?

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      3. Its not just the clean needles, it is(in our country), the idea that we should help them get high, as in, provide the room and nurses.

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  6. Do you believe they should be punished with AIDS for this obviously lousy choice? And then infect crowds of other people?(Clarissa)

    These would both be consequences of peoples actions. Are you suggesting we do the same for everyone who has dysfunctional behavior? Clean needles may be cheap but it does start to add up when you give them a place to shoot up also. All of a sudden the price changes. Do you suggest the same for other types of addictions? Afterall there are many side effects to alcoholism for our society. Should we make it easier for drunks to drink safely at the publics expense? The list goes on………..who gets to decide which is the most pressing concern?

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    1. “Are you suggesting we do the same for everyone who has dysfunctional behavior?”

      – If dysfunctional behavior leads to HIV, then of course. Distributing free condoms would be a phenomenal idea, for instance.

      “Clean needles may be cheap but it does start to add up when you give them a place to shoot up also.”

      – No special places are needed to avoid HIV infection.

      ” Do you suggest the same for other types of addictions? Afterall there are many side effects to alcoholism for our society. Should we make it easier for drunks to drink safely at the publics expense?”

      – How can alcoholism lead to HIV?

      “The list goes on………..who gets to decide which is the most pressing concern?”

      – We are choosing between AIDS and what else exactly? What are the other concerns?

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      1. No special places are needed to avoid HIV infection.(Clarissa)

        In British Columbia they provide free needles along with nurses to ensure they don’t overdose. They also provide the building for them to shoot up in.

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  7. How can alcoholism lead to HIV?(Clarissa)

    Really? Are you that naïve? How many drunks on the street(or in homes) do you think have protected sex with their fellow addicts? Alcohol is a drug that impairs your thinking, if you are to continue in the behavior it is just a matter of time before the impaired brain does something stupid, as in, have unprotected sex.

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    1. “Really? Are you that naïve? How many drunks on the street(or in homes) do you think have protected sex with their fellow addicts? ”

      – This is why distributing free condoms wherever possible is as great of an idea as distributing clean needles.

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  8. // I come from a country where we have the fastest growth of non-sexually transmitted HIV. Many people who got infected had never seen drugs, let alone injected them. The problem is that once you reach a critical number of infected people in a society, it becomes next to impossible to protect anybody.

    If it’s NON sexual, how can happen that “Many people who got infected had never seen drugs” ?

    “it becomes next to impossible to protect anybody” – because of unprotected sex?

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      1. The health system is truly horrible then and needs to be fixed w/o any connection to AIDS. It sounds like 3rd world country health system, not 1st world one.

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        1. We re talking about Ukraine. Why would it suddenly have a 1st world healthcare system? The country has a horrifyingly bad healthcare. I only have the worst possible memories. Including the doctors using dirty syringes on dozens of people.

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  9. // In British Columbia they provide free needles along with nurses to ensure they don’t overdose. They also provide the building for them to shoot up in.

    Why not provide a job too for the unemployed ones who want it? I am serious. Instead of paying for an inmate in jail from taxes, they’ll work and support themselves.

    Also, if addicts don’t have money for drugs, they’re ready practically rob and even sometimes kill their own mother, let alone you and me, so I am for giving them drugs for free with clean needles. Both drugs and needles cost nothing and the danger of a drug addict w/o money for drugs is very real for the entire population.

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    1. Both drugs and needles cost nothing and the danger of a drug addict w/o money for drugs is very real for the entire population.(el)

      And if they want more, why not give that to them to. In fact, why not let them hold us all hostage to their addictions and potential bad behavior. Where does it stop? Clean needles, rooms, nurses. It begins here, what if they threaten to do worse if you don’t give them exactly what they desire? Do you actually think this shit through before you suggest something? Have you ever had to relate to a drug addict? Have you ever had one hold your family hostage to their bad behavior? Believe me, you can only placate them for so long.

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  10. It’s not just the private prisons, it’s the prison industrial complex. Which is related to the arms industry, that thing which drives the wars. Note that state prisons now also outsource a lot of things, use a lot of private services, so they make money for these corporations as well. And there are huge amounts of equipment used in prisons now, and lots of energy consumption, and so on.

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    1. I read yesterday that the moment the state started giving big amounts of money to counties so that the counties would try to rehabilitate people instead of sending them to prison, the states went right ahead and built. . . more prisons.

      It does seem like there is now this addiction of sorts to creating prisons as if by rote.

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      1. It really is part of the military industrial complex. Although I have heard it is past peak, and that this is why they are now trying to turn universities into the same kinds of cash cows, with the MOOCs. Get rid of professors, charge tuition and show videos, make more profit and also students will have to buy more gadgets.

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  11. Privatizing prisons, what could possibly go wrong?

    http://tallahasseeo.com/2013/05/03/crooked-judges-like-in-leon-county-kangaroo-court-judge-mark-ciavarella-jr-sentenced-to-28-years-in-prison-for-selling-kids-to-private-prisons/

    Accused of perpetrating a “profound evil,” former Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for illegally accepting money from a juvenile-prison developer while he spent years incarcerating thousands of young people.

    Prosecutors said Ciavarella sent juveniles to jail as part of a “kids for cash” scheme involving Robert Mericle, builder of the PA and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centers. The ex-judge was convicted in February of 12 counts that included racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion.

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  12. From SB’s link:

    // Among the young people exploited by Ciavarella were 15-year-old Hillary Transue, who was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page; and 13-year-old Shane Bly, who was sent to a boot camp for two weekends after being accused of trespassing in a vacant building.

    Horrible. I read about US police involvement in usual school discipline cases before too:
    http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/02/denver_signs_landmark_agreement_to_roll_back_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.html

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