Monday, November 10, 2008

Investing in the Future - Prisons vs. Children and Families

I watched Marian Wright Edelman author of The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation, and the book I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children, as well as other books on education, society and family values.

Amazon has this biography -
"Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, and eight other books. She is the winner of many awards for her work, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, a Heinz Award, and a Niebuhr Award. In 2000, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings. Edelman is a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School. She and her husband live in Washington, D.C., and have three children and four grandchildren."

In the interview Marian Wright Edelman said, "we spend three times as much per person to keep a prisoner incarcerated as we do per child to be educated in our public schools."

I've been thinking for some time what a waste of resources it is to put people in prison for non-violent drug offences.

The U.S. prison population exceeds that of any other country both in total numbers and as a percent of the overall population. The federal government and states are forced to make a decision to fund the 55 billion dollar a year prison industry at the expense of preschool, early childhood education, vocational training and other programs. See New High In U.S. Prison Numbers - for additional information.

Instead of locking up people for non-violent drug offences we could turn some prisons into community colleges and vocational training centers and "sentence" people to counseling, training and an opportunity to learn a skill, get a job and become taxpayers. It's a good investment for the future.

The best investment for the future is of course to focus on children - health care, good nutrition, being read to at a young age, play, art, music, physical education and teaching them the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic. In a nation as rich as ours doing anything less is unconscionable from a moral standpoint and from a purely pragmatic point of view it means we are raising children who will one day be able to take care of others, work and of taxes.