Op-ed

Imprison(pay)ment

In America presently, the prison system’s countless inhumane facets are being exposed to the “outside world” –and people are taking notice. Some of these injustices against humanity, such as oppression, needless violence, inadequate healthcare, racial profiling, unequal sentencing and so forth, have recently come to light. But the media needs to do better. Its glaring failure is shielding the public from the institution’s “pay-to-stay” practice: charging prisoners for their accommodations while in jail, which, to some inmates, may prove to be the most debilitating facet of imprisonment, because it lurks behind long after their date of release. Although the numbers and policies vary by state, this policy dictates that federal prisoners are subjected to fines for their own incarceration.

In 49 U.S. states, this is a reality for convicts of all crimes. Handing prisoners the bill has been deemed unnecessary, considering the U.S.’ federal prison budget is the highest worldwide–$80 million spent annually on just 2.3 million persons at any given time. To put this into perspective, only $68 billion is allocated to education each year, which serves 56.6 million children each and every year. The ratios simply don’t add up, especially after factoring in additional funds provided by prisoners themselves.

At large, there are approximately 10 million people who owe a cumulative $50 billion post-incarceration fee. Namely, Jeremy Barrett of Florida was charged $50 per day during his three-year sentence, totaling $54,750. At the typical prison wage of $0.55 per hour, this bill (which is close to the cost of two years at WCU) demands 11 years of non-stop work to pay off this debt, proving that a prison job will cushion the fall. After all is said and done, pay-to-stay means repenting wrongdoings three or more times over: physical imprisonment (as “time is money”), unpaid or heinously underpaid manual labor, and a debt for a set amount of money which feeds this gluttonous system. Add this to personal aftermaths–such as physical injuries, trauma, soiled relationships and in some cases unremediated drug addiction and it’s painfully obvious that the current prison system set people up for failure. Those convicted of crimes are typically fighting with finances long before their time behind bars, and this policy is structured in a way that knocks them down once more, as well as diminishes their odds of reintegrating into society. Still, failure to pay these debts in a timely manner poses the threat of being incarcerated again for evading their mountainous bill, which they very likely do not have the means to pay.

The cost of incarceration are exceedingly high, both in time and money, and our current prison system is releasing masses of ex-convicts with no plan for moral betterment. A solution to this ironic and vicious cycle is to emphasize resolving crime via quality education, which currently has a budget totalling 14 billion dollars shy of the amount allocated to prisons. Unless new legislation reforms the prison industry, criminals of all offenses will continue to grow in numbers and feed the economic giant with their lives, for life.

Erin Mecchi is a second-year student majoring in English education with a minor in linguistics.    EM886838@wcupa.edu

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