The confluence of two events brought home hard truths about the values that some Mississippians seem to hold dear: The first was Gov. Haley Barbour's budget recommendations for fiscal year 2012, which mandated cuts in nearly every area of state spending—education at all levels, Medicaid and the state Health Department among them—with the glaring exception of economic development and prisons. The second was our cover story this week about children being tried as adults and, subsequently, incarcerated in sub-standard facilities, or thrown in with hardened criminals in adult prisons.
An outsider in could deduce from those events that that thing we hold most dear is putting away criminals—our oft-repeated "tough on crime" stance—to the detriment of nearly everything else. Except, perhaps, business development.
No doubt, looked at through the myopic lens of "no tax increase" policies and our current unemployment picture, business development must be heavily subsidized and state funded. Corporate welfare has become so ubiquitous that most of us don't give it a second thought.
The issue of prisons is another story altogether. The facts don't lie: As a result of America's love affair with incarceration and our nation's longest-running "war" (against drugs), one out of every 100 Americans was behind bars as of 2008. With nearly 2.5 million Americans locked up, many for drug offenses, the land of free has the highest rate of incarcerations in the world.
The fact that private prisons are a multi-billion-dollar growth industry is a symptom of a skewed system of justice. The fact that we classify some 13- and 14-year-old children in the same way that we do adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s is symptomatic of a system slightly berserk. The fact that we allow prosecutors like Forrest Allgood to use different evidence in related trials (as he did in the trials of Tyler Edmonds and his sister, Kristi Fulgham) and to employ questionable testimony like that of disgraced forensic pathologist Steven Hayne is indicative of our crazed, nonsensical longing to feel secure at any cost.
We keep dragging out our short-term solutions because we cannot, under any circumstances, admit that they don't work. While we're pouring our treasure into more and bigger prisons, better security technology and tougher laws, our children are the ultimate losers. Somehow, we have yet to admit that our lagging educational standards—the U.S. is nowhere near the leader in education that it is in convicts—are connected to the cradle-to-prison pipeline.
We've seen some signs that lawmakers are attempting the turn this particular Titanic around, but so far, the efforts are feeble. And progress is continually challenged by the coterie of "tough on crime" politicians like our own governor.
It's time to put our resources in the correct end of the high crime, high prison-population equation. That's education, folks, starting with pre-kindergarten all the way through university. There is no better time than now to start.
I honestly don't know enough to have an opinion one way or the other about the prison system cuts. I need to do some research and develop an opinion. I wholeheartedly agree that 13 and 14 year olds should not be tried as adults. I suppose it would save money to release these juveniles when they are 18. But what if a 16 year old commits murder. What do you do in 2 years? Again, I don't know enough about this issue but I would like to know more.
However, I do know that the very last thing you want to cut when you are trying to scratch and crawl your way out of a recession is economic development. Economic development is something that I know a great deal about and we can't afford to do anything but invest in the development of existing business and recruit new ones to the state. Where else are JOBS going to come from?
- Dave Coleman
Dave, Our screwed up justice system is a tangled web, without doubt, and there are no easy answers that I'm aware of. America has been concentrating on being "tough on crime" and the war on drugs for too long, however, and the result is prisons bursting at the seams, with a quarter of the globe's incarcerated right here in the U.S.
one thing that will begin to solve the problem is to shift our emphasis from prisons to education (and education *in* prisons). It's not an immediate fix, but long-term, will show results. The problem simply cannot be solved with our current policies, which, in large part, result from failed, short-term solutions. Education must begin long before kindergarten or first grade ... many are already lost at that point. And Mississippi is woefully behind the curve when it comes to pre-K.
Regarding economic development, most jobs in this recession are not being created by the big businesses courted by our governor. It's the small businesses that are hiring, despite reports of record profits in numerous Wall Street sectors (insurance and finance, for example). At the risk of stating a generality, big businesses tend to see employees as commodities; small ones see them as investments in their future. Despite this, we continue to give massive tax breaks and incentives to big business. Why?
I agree that the state needs to support development of existing businesses, but our economics are skewed toward big businesses, which, if they don't like what Mississippi offers in the way of incentives, will just pick up and move somewhere else. It's a b.s. game that makes big businesses the BMOCs. They have no skin in the local economy to lose, unlike small, local businesses that have connections to the local people and communities. And, as I said before, it's not the Wall Streeters who are hiring.
Like the justice system, our economy is not going to improve if we continue to apply the thinking of the 1980s. We don't have to continue down that road. See the Yes! magazine website for an example of alternative economic thinking.