, Newburyport, MA

June 17, 2013

Prison not the answer for many

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Your recent story, “State to build $34 million, 45-bed youth detention center,” comes on the heels of a similar New Hampshire story in which Governor Hassan was attempting to use casino revenue to pay for a new $38 million women’s prison.

Our sometimes unsanitary prisons are the last Dark Ages institution never removed nor properly reformed in America’s early years, leaving to the ash bin of history those inhuman institutions that we often prefer to forget: chattel slavery, the absolute power of organized religion, human torture, genocide, witch trials, the impressment of sailors, arbitrary public execution, public torture, public burnings of women and animals, human sacrifice, the Inquisition, and the arbitrary power of monarchy and nobility.

Free Talk Live, retired peace officers, legislators, and many criminal justice experts have been speaking about a wide array of alternatives: mandatory treatment for addicts, counseling, fines, community service, restitution, interdiction programs, mental health programs and even vocational training. Costing taxpayers $30-$80,000 per year per inmate, “revolving-door” prisons have been losing support from the general public, with Gallup announcing that 29 percent of respondents expressing little/no confidence in the criminal courts.

In some ways, the system actually makes violence and crime worse: by maintaining an illegal black market drug traffic, turning thugs into monsters, making felons of pot smokers and innocent people and taking away our ability to act in self-defense. Worse, the arbitrary power to put you in prison based solely on an officer’s testimony is corrupting many police departments and attracting the wrong people to police work. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Public punishments ranging from caning to sign holding have shown recidivism rates lower than 1 percent, compared to 44 percent in just the first three years after release from New Hampshire’s prisons. Innocence Project warns that they have about 60,000 applications from inmates claiming innocence. Those exonerated have served an average of 13 years behind bars for crimes that they didn’t commit, many of whom have estimated that between 10-30 percent of their fellow inmates are serving time for crimes that they didn’t commit.

We should not be putting people into cages in the 21st century.

Albert “Max” Albertson