Last night I had a dream that I was engaged in a serious debate about what type of support society should provide to those incarcerated for various crimes. And frankly I was losing badly.
My opponents (now in my awakened state faceless folks of mostly emotion and solid arguements), made a number of rational points, all difficult to refute or deny: "Nobody made them engage in criminal activity", "Others grow up in the same conditions and don't resort to criminal behavior", "Our resources should be used to support the law abiding . . . why should their health care be any better than ours?", and so on.
In this dream, as a result of this barrage, my head was swimming trying to figure out a way to make a sensible and convincing argument in favor of support. I considered the cost of incarceration to society, families, communities and individuals, especially over non-violent crimes like drug possession. I thought about the incredible challenges ex-offenders already face with finding a job with a living wage. I thought about the education/skill gap that could be addressed while incarcerated . . . if only the programs were there. And that last point was where I placed the stake . . .
One of the principle causes of the growing burden of prisoners and prisons on our society is really a fundamental outcome of the failure of our educational system.
In other words, we are spending an enormous amount of money incarcerating our population - the largest prison population of any country in the world - because we lack the foresite and commitment to adequately educate our people. Put another way, we are wasting our human capital at both ends of the spectrum. Instead of investing in the very resource that would help our country remain a leader in all areas of human endeavor, we are throwing our treasure away on prisons. And these prisons, year after year, turn out thousands of governmental/societal "dependents", the majoirty of whom will require the support of one program after another, few of which will provide the level of independence human beings need to thrive and contribute.
Instead of using third grade failure rates as a guage to determine how many prisons to be built, perhaps we should be using that same data as an indicator requiring an infusion of educational resources!