The current prison population of the US is estimated to be nearly 3,000,000.The associated direct costs of incarceration in the United States, rate nearly ten times greater than England, and the highest in the world is estimated to be $100,000,000,000. The indirect costs, though nearly incalculable are clearly some multiple of this One Hundred Billion Dollars. Many of the families related to those incarcerated have no other sources of income but government subsidy, assistance and aid.Few if any currently incarcerated can or do make a significant contribution to themselves or their families; so along with the 100 Billion of direct costs, the several hundred billion of indirect costs associated with all of the ancillary support, families of prisoners need, there is an additional few hundred billion dollars of lost income, wages, work, products and goods, were this population engaged in some constructive undertaking for their families or the commonwealth.
If we add all of the sums and costs, there is more than a half trillion dollars lost on the care, feeding and related losses associated with the populations of prisoners in the US, and none of this accounts for the costs and downstream hardships of the victims, families and businesses.
Like many of the bureaucratic systems in the US, there is a redundancy of service and effort which causes incredible waste and prevents long term allocation of scarce resources to long term good.
Imagine if the goal of the department of correction was to be productive.
More than making license plates, imagine if we developed a system in which this population could work, be productive, make or do stuff and become a net contributor to the whole of the fabric of our society rather than a deficit and debt.
Imagine too if the bureaucracy which evolved was so forward leaning, so committed to sustainable work, one of the outcomes of which was rehabilitation, that it could also add to its ranks another million souls of young, eager and spirited youth to build bridges, teach our young, repair roadways and crumbling infrastructure. We could have an army of nearly five million people who, rather than spending, without return a half trillion dollars annually, they could become the very spine of the country’s civil service army for Katrina, a Joplin Missouri, states faced with teacher and fireman and essential service cuts owing to budgets, elderly needing assistance and aid, as needs grace their passing, schools suffering from the diminished municipal budget and all of the regional, intrastate and Federal services from road, water, electrical grid which suffer as a natural consequence of a downturn in the economy and need ongoing help and repair as part of their own life cycle.
A regular and ongoing complaint about the efficacy of civil service has been the cost to administer this small army of otherwise undirected kids and young adults.
Why, with an administration in our penal system, if geared to production, social commonwealth and an Apollo moon shot bettering our failing infrastructure, rather than the short sighted spiritually mean and systemic brutality of the lawless managing the unlawful, would we not realign the priorities, restructure the purpose and turn a half trillion dollar loss into a many billion dollar gain.
To a common purpose, without even the ‘Compulsory’ element of ‘Compulsory Service’ tens of thousands of our youth would sign up and commit a year or two of service if they know it was purposeful, lent systematic benefit to their experience and made a lasting contribution to the country.
What better way to enlist the aid of thousands, repurpose the idle time of millions of prisoners, and simultaneously turn a net deficit loss into a significant asset with cash flow and ROI on the balance sheet of our already overburdened Treasury, leaving as an unintended consequence, a higher chance of rehabilitation for a population otherwise doomed to recidivism, and a world class youth school which will produce smart, experienced and productive citizens well better suited for the next and more serious part of their formative years.