Wednesday, February 18, 2015


©Wendell Griffen, 2015

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas unveiled a three-point $64 million plan to address prison overcrowding (the euphemism for the travesty more accurately termed “mass incarceration”) during a press conference at the Arkansas State Capitol today (February 18, 2015).  His proposal contemplates spending fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to expand existing prison capacity.  The remaining fourteen million dollars ($14,000,000) would be used for “alternative and accountable sentencing programs for non-violent offenders.” 

We should not be impressed.

In the first place, the proposal is based on the ridiculous and oppressive notion that we should incarcerate even more people than we do already.  Otherwise, Governor Hutchinson would not propose to create more prison space. 

Sending people to lockup facilities in other states (such as a lockup in Bowie, Texas) means continuing to spend money on incarceration.  How will the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) be able to properly superintend the out-of-state inmates?  How will the families of inmates shipped out of state be able to remain in contact with them?  Remember the old adage about the devil being in the details?  There are plenty of details that should trouble us.

Creating more prison space means spending money to build or paying others for having constructed places to house and hold them.  It also means hiring more prison guards and spending more money on incarceration—in other words trying to reduce mass incarceration by enlarging the capacity to perpetuate it.  

One does not cure the causes of cancer by building more cemeteries and hiring more funeral directors and grave diggers.  That analogy shows the primary error in what Governor Hutchinson has proposed.    The governor’s proposal is not a new song.  It is merely the same “mass incarceration” song set to a different key. 

Nowhere in the proposal can one find any hint that Governor Hutchinson understands how the “war on drugs” contributed to mass incarceration.  Nothing in his proposal hints that his administration intends to abandon the “war on drugs.”  “Alternative sentencing” for non-violent offenders means continuing to label people criminals who are non-violent but who violate existing draconian drug possession laws. 

Nowhere does Governor Hutchinson’s proposal address the relationship between education, poverty, health, and incarceration.  Rather, the proposal fails to recognize how educational deficits, lack of employment opportunities, and mental health issues affect the potential for people to continue to become mass incarceration victims. 

Governor Hutchinson’s proposal isn’t a step in the right direction.  He is merely proposing to change the pace and take a more limited effort in continuing down the wrong direction.  Before anyone concludes that what Governor Hutchinson proposes is progress he or she should ponder a hypothetical. 

If you were in a car traveling along the wrong route would you prefer that the driver stop the car, turn around, and find the right road?  Or would you be closer to the correct destination and feel more comfortable if the driver said he was going to put more fuel in the vehicle and continue driving the same wrong route, but more slowly?

We’re all in the mass incarceration vehicle—although some of us are victimized by it much more than others—that Governor Hutchinson is driving.  We should urge him to stop the car, turn around, and take on fuel to travel in a different direction that doesn’t involve criminalizing non-violent conduct related to drug dependency and that addresses the root causes for other non-violent criminal behavior. 

Until and unless we do so, we are merely being complicit in and enabling bad driving while complaining about how much we are spending to not arrive where we want to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment