Monday, August 25, 2008

Prisons As Economic Stimulus

Students often have a hard time believing that communities would fight each other in favor of having or keeping a prison open in their small town or rural county. Why on earth would anyone want to have or live in a community with a prison?

Here's a story from Pontiac, Illinois and one community's fight to keep its 137 year old prison open.

PONTIAC, Ill. (AP) — When residents here heard that the governor wanted to close the 137-year-old Pontiac Correctional Center, taking hundreds of jobs from the area, they mobilized.

They held rallies and a parade. Streets were lined with blue and white “Save Our Prison” signs, and people were outfitted in T-shirts to match.

The 12,000 or so residents now find themselves trying to talk Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, out of closing the town’s second-largest employer to help fill a $700 million hole in the state budget.

Here in Georgia we are facing even larger deficits (supposedly $1.6 billion) and budget cuts are looming for all departments. So far the Department of Corrections suggested reduction of $40 million pales in comparison to other comparable state agencies (particularly Education and the Regents suggested reductions of more than $360 million) but it doesn't seem out of proportion with Correction's share of overall revenue, and the only facilities which seem targeted for closure at the moment are Diversion Centers and not actual prisons.

However, since diversion centers are vital to keeping people out of prison to begin with, this can't be taken as good news either. Shuttering prisons is not politically palatable (I would take into account, in the story above, the fact that the prison is 137 years old and none of its inmates is going to be released), but if state revenues in Georgia don't increase and the cuts are as deep as predicted, can we really continue to sacrifice education in favor of prisons, especially as the inmate population ages and costs continue to soar?

And don't we know after decades of research that lack of quality education is, indeed, a direct cause of crime and imprisonment?

Stay tuned.

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