We’re really good at keeping prisons, so why are we scared of a few detainees?

prisonbarsA few months ago, I read this article in Parade Magazine. It claims “about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release.”

The number seemed high, so I consulted the stats on a US government site. Wow. They are high, but not inaccurate. (The chart that shows the rate of increase from 1980 to 2005 should scare everyone.) I’m not sure if there is more crime per se or if we are just criminalizing a lot more behavior.

From the US Department of Justice, on June 30, 2008 —

– 2,310,984 prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails – an increase of 0.8% from yearend 2007, less than the average annual growth of 2.4% from 2000-2007.
– 1,540,805 sentenced prisoners were under state or federal jurisdiction.
– there were an estimated 509 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents – up from 506 at yearend 2007.
– the number of women under the jurisdiction of state or federal prison authorities increased 1.2% from yearend 2007, reaching 115,779, and the number of men rose 0.7%, totaling 1,494,805.
At midyear 2008, there were 4,777 black male inmates per 100,000 black males held in state and federal prisons and local jails, compared to 1,760 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.

In 2005 there were an estimated 687,700 state prisoners serving time for a violent offense. State prisons also held an estimated 248,900 property offenders and 253,300 drug offenders.

It appears that keeping people in prison is what we Americans do really, really well! In fact, every prison in every state should be having a bidding war to see who can house the most detainees from Guantanamo Bay. We can set up something on eBay and wardens everywhere can bid on each detainee, with the most dreaded, the most fierce ones catching the most money.

We outsource our technology and call center to India and our manufacturing to Mexico and China. What if we put a bid to outsource their prisoners? They get flown or shipped to some facilities we build out in the Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah deserts, serve their time, learn some useful skills and we then ship them back when their sentence is up. We get the benefit of some extra jobs and they get to benefit of not having any bad guys in their country.

I’m not making light of the situation. It is as serious as both Obama and Cheney claim it to be. But part of me wonders why we are running away from such an obvious challenge to test the skill set we have been amassing for decades. Not to mention the pork a US Senator can get for agreeing to accept a detainee into his/her State.

But we are really good at sticking people behind bars and making sure they stay there. A few hundred terrorists out of the millions we already have in prison should not make a bit of difference. Who knows, it might even give the murderers a bit more of a challenge than the child molesters do right now.

Epilougue: I was reminded of ADMAX after I wrote this. Google Earth it, it is a remote place with desert to the right and mountains to the left.