Why do we need a larger prison?

Moving The Prison From Bluffdale To a New Location.

There has been a lot of heated discussion over the past year in Utah about our prison at the Point of the Mountain. I’ve heard many arguments in favor of moving it. It is aging and needs upgrading. It is overcrowded so we need to add wings but the space available is limited. The needed updates would cost nearly as much as building a new one at a new location, and besides all that, the land on which it currently sits is too valuable, so it should be moved so the current location can be developed.

The residents who live in the vicinities of any of the proposed new locations are adamantly opposed (understandably) to having a prison in their back yards so the bickering and maneuvering heats up and they have been unable thus far to come up with a good alternative.

Why Do We Need a Larger Prison?

Through all of this though, I feel compelled to ask, “why is it that in one of the most advanced and freedom-loving countries in the world, we need so much prison space?” A quick Google search indicates that the incarceration rate per capita in the United States is higher than in any other country with only one exception. It’s almost twice as high as the rate in Russia. It’s over four times higher than the rate in China. One might argue that criminals simply disappear in some of these countries so they have fewer criminals to incarcerate. I can’t speak to that issue but even if it is true, I find our own incarceration rate to be appalling. It flies dramatically in the face of my perceptions of what our country is all about.

So, why are we putting so many people in prison? Is it a problem with the laws? Have our freedoms been so seriously eroded?

Is it indicative of a deteriorating morality within our society? What are we doing wrong or failing to do right?

Is is indicative of the mental health of our citizens? Again, what are we doing wrong or failing to do right?

By Attacking The Wrong Problem, We Pay Too High a Price.

Whatever, the reasons, the costs of locking so many people behind bars are too high – in humane terms, in terms of lost productivity and in terms of the simple costs of building prisons, supporting the inmates, and staffing the facilities. It is such a glaring indicator of failures in our system that I’m surprised any of us put up with it.

While it might indeed be prudent to find a new location and build a new facility, I believe there is a more important issue. We should be asking what we need to do to decrease criminal behavior – whether the fault is a legal system that criminalizes too many behaviors, poor mental health, or a simple growth in lawlessness and immorality. The growth rate in the prison populations is a pretty good indication to me that the current system of locking people up is not reducing criminality.

And please don’t get me wrong. People that pose a threat to the safety and well-being of the rest of society cannot be allowed to roam free among us.  The standards, however, must be clear and consistently applied. It is disturbing but I can personally point to examples of people who have truly shown a propensity to violence who have been turned back onto the streets while non-violent offenders waste away behind bars.

Insanity vs. A Better Way

If insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, then where are we on this point?  Doing what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Why would we think it will work in the future? Can we not find a better way?


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