I would like to call to your attention an error that was made in the Banner’s March 19, 2009, article titled “Prisoners lack health care resources, sympathy of others.”
I appreciate your paper running an article on such an important health issue, as prisons and criminal justice overall are really public health issues, not “public safety” ones. Your article stated, “Approximately 12,000 people live in Massachusetts prisons and jails.” The number of prisoners in Massachusetts is actually over 25,000 — about 12,000 in state prisons and the other 12,000 in jails. It’s critical that this over-bloated figure be accurately reported to Massachusetts taxpayers — the ones who pay the roughly $50,000-per-prisoner-per-year cost of incarceration, bringing the yearly bill to $1.2 billion for something that doesn’t even work.
That money could be better spent in a manner that would actually reduce and prevent crime if spent elsewhere. National health care and higher education for all are two sure ways to accomplish the stated goal; more community involvement and youth programs, along with less police presence in crime-ridden communities, are others.
More than $1 billion is a lot to spend on simply warehousing human beings, most of whom are mentally ill or drug-addicted and would be better served through treatment programs at roughly $5,000 per person per year, a fraction of the cost of incarceration. Cleaning up rundown communities would also work, as is continually shown in Broken Windows studies in New York and, most recently, in Lowell.
This is what people mean by “smart on crime” — implementing programs that work, not spending more money on “public safety” law enforcement jobs in which effectiveness is measured by numbers of arrests, not on crime reduction. Change that measuring stick and I guarantee we’d actually see a reduction of crime, as well as a reduction in the number of people in these costly, ineffective and disease-ridden prisons and jails. Of course, with that would go a whole lot of costly and useless jobs too, but we’d all be better off overall, and that should always be the goal.