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U.S. incarceration rate is a problem

Out on a LImbRoss L. TalbottGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The political campaigns are becoming tiresome and repetitious. They have addressed many issues, but there is one serious condition that they have not, to my knowledge, touched upon.The fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any nation should be of great concern.Initially we should be concerned about the incredible cost of maintaining prisons and jails at all levels, from county to private to state and federal. The burden on taxpayers is enormous.Another question should be just what is it in our culture that creates such a high level of criminal activity? We should look at everything, from music to the Internet.In reality, maybe it’s a lack of something. Are we losing our sense of mutual responsibility? Have we overemphasized self-gratification and sexual activity? Has our sense of values become skewed? Could it be a lack of spirituality and an appreciation and understanding of eternal consequences?Our prisons have become a revolving door. Statistics indicate that two-thirds of released prisoners will be re-arrested within three years.In 2004, more than 600,000 prisoners were released. That’s over 1,600 per day. If two-thirds are re-arrested within three years, think how many crimes they committed and got away with before arrested.These graduates of the college of criminal activity are given, upon release, about $100, a suit of clothes and a bus ticket. The guard says, “See ya later.”Locally, when a felon is paroled, he is charged per day for his jail time, he has to pay his lawyer and probably the bondsman. They are usually given a heavy fine and lose their driver’s license. Then we tell them to pay all this off, stay out of trouble and get a job. All of this without a driver’s license! Try that sometime.The obvious solution for the parolee is to move into a crack house, make the meth and deal drugs. It’s a matter of survival. Try keeping a job around here without a driver’s license.Another issue is that our prison system creates a dependency in long-term inmates. People living in the care of the system don’t pay any bills. No rent, no groceries, no mortgage, no car payment, no utilities. Everything is provided.When one of these long-termers is released, they often have no place to live. They have no job and no income. Often, they commit a crime such as car theft within just a few days to get back in jail. Then the legal process begins again, and the lawyers and judges play the game for maximum return. A felon with a long record who is caught in the act and pleads guilty will often take six months to be re-sentenced. I have attended hearings to set hearings.In reality, if someone who has committed a crime can return to the community and family and become a trusted and productive person, at the very least we would have turned the situation from high-cost maintenance to productivity.We need to seriously address the recidivism rate. Rifle Correctional has the lowest in the state. They must be doing something right. Check it out.Our courts are overloaded, the prisons are crowded and the crime rate is high.It’s rather like having a large cancer and just trying to live with it or ignore it.We need to appoint a serious study commission and deal with it. We need restorative justice, not just punitive justice.Ross L. Talbott lives in New Castle.


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