By Ralph 'Hakim' Walker
An April 4, 1992 William Raspberry article on alternatives to imprisonment pointed out the folly of continuing to waste tax dollars on a system (imprisonment) that is ineffective, does not deter crime, and could inadvertently provide impetus to a problem that is already epidemic.
Raspberry's position is that increased imprisonment will inevitably do more to exacerbate this nation's crime problem than to provide solutions with long term remedial value. Paraphrasing Andrew Rutherford, a noted British criminologist, Raspberry points to the experience of Europe, "...particularly Germany and England, where the prison population has declined with no discernible increase in criminality." West Germany's prison population peaked in 1983, with 62,300 inmates and steadily declined thereafter. Today their prison population numbers about 51,000. The same phenomenon has taken place in Great Britain which has had an eight percent decrease in prison population since 1988.
The Great Britain criminologist Rutherford says the European decrease has taken place in both countries without the invention of new alternatives. He emphasizes that prosecutors and courts in Europe have begun to view imprisonment as more of a problem than a solution. "They have concluded," he says, "that the criminal justice process can have damaging and self-defeating effects and that every effort should be made to keep people far away from courts and, in particular, the prisons."
Raspberry said that American policy makers know that what Rutherford is saying is right. In fact, he points out that room, board, and tuition at a prestigious institute such as Harvard costs just over $18,000 annually, while the average cost of incarcerating a juvenile for that same period costs well above $29,000.
The question now he insists, in reference to what Rutherford reveals about judicial and prison policy in Europe, "...is not whether we believe him--most of know he's right--but whether our fear of crime will lead us to keep calling for ever stiffer sentences no matter how counter-productive (and costly) it may be."
Although Raspberry's Prison Cost More Than Harvard has somewhat of a biased slant, it also has the potential of being extremely effective in its attempt to shock readers into realizing that the amount of dollars being spent to imprison people here in the U.S. could probably be better spent giving those same people quality educations.
Juxtaposing the amount of money required for a quality education at an institute as prestigious as Harvard with the exorbitant amount being spent on imprisoning our youth was an excellent gimmick to get readers to view his argument from the perspective he desired. And validating his assessment with current statistical data as well as a concurring analysis from a British criminologist simply added weight to the position taken by Raspberry. The problem now is getting policy makers to wake up and listen.
From: The Prison Mirror , May 29, 1992
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