Stop the insanity

Published 8:50 am Friday, April 24, 2009

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate among any country in the world, including China, Iran, Russia or any other socialistic country. Of every 99 people in America, one of them is in jail. That is 1.6 million of your fellow Americans. This is an increase of 25,000 prisoners within the last year and an increase of 1 million in the last 20 years. The increase is blamed on mandatory sentencing, non-violent crime incarceration and three strike policies.” (Source:

Virginia’s prisons are bulging at the seams, and new prisons are on the drawing boards as we speak. Yet I don’t get the sense that people in Virginia and Franklin, in particular, feel any safer. Gun sales are at a record pace with many people amassing arsenals and adopting the attendant “siege mentality.” Evidently the mass incarceration of criminals doesn’t make people feel any safer.

Does investing in more guns, taking target practice and preparing for the upcoming “Apocalyptic Battle of Armageddon” with criminals and the have-nots make people feel safer? I say no. These actions fuel an irrational fear of crime that feeds on itself.

I would suggest to those people who think that our society is consumed with crime to stop feeding their irrational fears with a constant media stream of crime stories. “If it bleeds, it leads” seems to be the mantra of too many TV stations. That is not to suggest that people not use common-sense precautions and awareness while going about their lives.

Rather than amassing an arsenal and trembling in fear behind locked doors, I work as a volunteer trying to improve the lives of poor children. This gives me a sense of optimism that our society is “not going to hell in a hand basket.” I don’t feel that building more prisons and locking up more people will solve society’s crime problem. A proactive approach to preventing crime makes more sense to me.

For those who have the time and means, volunteer — invest some time in trying to improve the lives of some of the less fortunate in our society, especially children. Looking at their excitement, the glow in their faces, the sparkle in their eyes and seeing their determination to break the cycles of dysfunction that surround them will disabuse you of the notion that we need to build prisons for when they grow up. When I listen to their hopes, dreams and aspirations, I don’t get the feeling that they are sizing me up as a future crime victim.

I challenge any of you to go into an elementary school and poll the first-grade youngsters on their aspirations. None of them will say gangbanger, thug, drug dealer, pimp or lifer in prison.

You will hear fireman, pro athlete, policeman, pilot, astronaut, rapper and, increasingly from black youngsters, president of the United States. We, as a society, have to implement a new way of thinking that ensures that more of those first graders become more of the latter instead of the former. Well, maybe not rappers. We already have too many of those.

It costs about $24,000 per year to house an inmate in Virginia’s Department of Corrections. The cost for tuition, room and board, books and incidentals at the University of Virginia is approximately $21,000 per year. Yet, opportunistic politicians still cater to citizen fears by promising to build more prisons and to be “tough on crime.”

Ask them what programs will they institute to lessen the need for more prisons? Ask them what investments we as a society can make in today’s children to prevent far too many of them from becoming some of tomorrow’s criminals? Ask them wouldn’t Virginians get a greater return on their investment by directing more youngsters to the schoolhouse/college instead of the jailhouse/prison?

Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Instead of implementing more of our valuable resources into programs that will prevent crime, can we expect that building more prisons and filling them up with more convicts will somehow make us feel safer?

Sounds like insanity to me.