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America's Greatest Growth Industry

Forget all the declines in most American industries as one American industry is enjoying the very best of boom times; prison spending.

Corrections spending is now a larger share of the general fund budgets than education spending in four U.S. states, and is rapidly out pacing spending in nearly all other critical social fabric areas as well including Medicaid spending, etc. In general, most state prison spending increases tend to grow at twice the rate of educational funding or social program spending. While state educational spending tends to grow at rates a little over 7% per year, corrections spending often grows at rates exceeding 14% per year.

Even at the federal level, huge increases in prison populations have followed as a result of changes in sentencing guidelines. In 1980 there were 329,821 prisoners in federal prisons. By 1988 that number grew to 627,402 prisoners.

In one state, Oregon, former Republican Party Chairman and perennial unsuccessful candidate for higher state offices, Kevin Mannix, has managed to make state prison spending the largest part of the state general fund budget, while 10 schools in the Portland area are likely to be torn down because of extreme age or disrepair problems. Mannix stages endless unsuccessful runs for higher state offices in Oregon on a platform of running an endless series of anti-crime initiative measures which often tend to pass and which prey on the public fear of crime, although most measures only tie the hands of judges to use sentencing discretion in each individual case with different circumstances, while Mannix himself fails to win election to a high state office.

Of the the six measures that Mannix is hoping to get on the November 2008 ballot, one would put a large number of women with children who are minor property and drug crime offenders in prison by setting minimum sentencing standards. Mannix apparently believes that prisons should be equal opportunity institutions, even if mothers with children who commit relatively minor crimes could be better served by other alternative crime prevention and rehabilitation programs that could help to keep their families together and get the women the drug treatment help that they really need.

If anything is a source of pride for Republican leader Mannix to point to, it's building a huge prison system and raising taxes in Oregon, not bringing new industry or jobs to the state or creating new employment opportunities that would help to keep many from involvement in the crime or bring fresh revenue to the state. Mannix is a typical tax and spend Republican.

At one time many prisons offered job training or educational opportunities for prisoners. But with the huge growth in the prison population in most states, much of these programs have disappeared with budget cuts to fund more prison construction. At one time, many prisoners could earn their high school diploma or even learn to read and write. Some prisons offered trade training so that prisoners could find work upon release.

Today, many have discontinued educational programs and about the best job training programs in some states are prisoners learning how to stuff paper napkins in napkin holders in the prison kitchen for about $24 a month in pay. Even worse, if many prisoners have any real assets, they may even be required to pay back the corrections system for their imprisonment soon after their release, leaving them in a serious financial and poverty situation and potentially forcing them back to crime to raise some quick cash.

Certainly no one wants to be a crime victim. My family has been a crime victim many times, including victims of violent crimes such physical assault and robbery. However, the state and federal justice systems continue to spend money at record levels with record growth in prison populations, with less and less direction of programs that would help to work at the root causes of crime or drug or alcohol abuse prevention.

Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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