'High Quality Real Estate Business'

embarrassed to tell you about all of the violent revenge fantasies I
out in my mind after my car was broken into two weeks ago. Even being
victim of petty crime was enough to trigger an inexplicable urge for

But in my more reflective moments, I realize that kind
of emotional response -- which has also characterized the broader debate
on the
politics of crime fighting -- is about as productive as shoveling snow in

Last week, the Congressional Research Service published
a report on the "Economic Impacts of Prison Growth,"
providing a
useful check on the spirit of vengeance that has dominated penal politics
back to former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's mandatory sentencing laws in
state of New York
in 1973.

"The U.S. corrections system has gone
through an unprecedented expansion during the last few decades with a
more than
400% jump in the prison population and a corresponding boom in the
construction. At the end of 2008, 2.3 million adults were in state,
local, or
federal custody, with another $5.1 million on probation or
the United States
has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners."

What's fueled the growth, the report says, is
"tough drug enforcement, stringent sentencing laws, and high rates of

Who cares? Well, as the report goes on to point out,
this "historic, sustained rise in incarceration has broad implications,
not just for the criminal justice system, but for the larger economy."

The U.S.
prison industry now directly employs about 777,000 people and the Labor
Department expects the prison labor market to grow 9% by 2018,
accompanied by a
projected 16% increase in the number of parole and probation officers.
"By comparison, there were 880,000 workers employed in the entire U.S.
manufacturing sector."

Of course, there's a host of moral and social
dilemmas created by high rates of imprisonment -- "increased income
inequality and more concentrated poverty" and "the fact that
African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be
incarcerated," for starters.

But whatever you may think about the plight of the
incarcerated and their families, what no one concerned about budgets can
is the growing cost. In 2008 alone, taxpayers spent $68.7 billion to
clothe, house and provide Supreme Court affirmed medical care for
prisoners -- a
688% increase since 1982. In fact, "during the past three decades
correctional spending has risen nearly twice as fast as state spending
education, health care, and social service programs."

Because of these costs, CRS observes, "the
corrections sector is in stress as states seek to reduce prison
populations and
rein in costs." It's gotten to the point where Gov. Schwarzenegger
has suggested amending the California
state constitution to keep prison spending from exceeding spending on

The alarming "cost-containment" trend of
the past few decades has been to privatize prisons, despite studies that
called into question whether for-profit prisons are actually more
cost-effective, even as they may stifle economic development in areas
they are located; to say nothing of what cost-cutting means for the work
environment of correctional officers and the living conditions of

Right now, there are two bills in the Senate and
three in the House relating to prison reform, including one of the more
far-reaching proposals (S. 714) that would establish a commission to
"review all areas of federal and state criminal justice costs, practices
and policies" and "make recommendations for changes in policies and
laws to address (the) findings."

Even though I'd love to flog whoever broke into
my car, it's that kind of mind-set that got us into this police-state
mess. So as Congress gets ready to deal with rising prison costs and
incarceration rates, it wouldn't be a bad idea to inject a dose of Karl
Menninger common sense.

In his book "The Crime of Punishment"
Menninger noted that most prisoners will eventually be released and if
we focus
on retribution but forget about rehabilitation, the only thing we're
doing is ensuring more future crime victims by taking people with
making them worse, and then turning them loose on an unsuspecting

You make think that's "soft on crime"
or that punishment is a necessary deterrent but then you'd have to
explain how nearly four decades of "get tough" policies
haven't deterred recidivism.

If having the highest incarceration rate in the
industrialized world bothers you, bother Congress and the
page about it. If you're a scoundrel, invest in Corrections Corporation
of America (CCA), the nation's largest private prison firm who reported
$1.6 billion in revenues last year, up 32 percent from 2002. Pershing
Capital Management, a prominent New York-based hedge fund, bought 9.5%
share in
CCA and presented it to investors as a "high quality real estate

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