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August 28, 2008


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Agreed: absolutley important stuff.

There was a PBS documentary not long ago, "Prison Town, USA" that discussed some of the points you make here: "In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. 'Prison Town, USA' tells the story of Susanville, California, one small town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unanticipated consequences."

See here:

And the film synopsis:

John C

I'm not convinced. The presumptive reason for the exploding prison population is the existance of laws that 1) criminalize wide swaths of behavior, and 2) require long periods of custodial incarceration (mandatory minimums, drug laws, etc.), along with ancillary factors like prosecutorial control over charging and pleas, lack of rehabilitative programs, lack of prevention programs, and so forth.

I don't see a chicken and egg problem here - I think the number of prisons follows the number of inmates generated by the substantive criminal law. When a group gets together to "Save the Prison," they are just trying to keep their slice of pie the same - they aren't arguing that the pie (the prison population) should grow larger (or even stay the same). Unless there is evidence that the "prison industrial complex" has effective lobbying power over the substance of the criminal law (which I am not aware of, but maybe someone has a cite), I remain skeptical of the claims in this post.

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