Some thoughts on penology in a red state

I have an old friend in KY, bluegrasser, who did enough years in the prison business to secure a nice pension. Then he worked for himself in a craft business for 20 more years before actually retiring. Has a lot of insights into the whole incarceration topic, has written a small book and now goes to conferences and stuff. Here are his 2021 thoughts for our perusal, any of ya who are interested.

Frank and others interested in prison reform,

Thank you for your interest in prison and jail reform and your suggestion of an urban-rural mix of legislators to work together on the problem

I want to summarize some of the issues we discussed on our walk today and send this to others who might also have some thoughts

I am also attaching a longer piece I wrote recently at the bottom of the ACLU announcement

There is already a legislative committee for Jail and Prison Reform. I have listened to all the meetings since July.

My thought is that these legislators are going through the motions. A good old boy network out to look good without doing good

There has been no discussion of sentencing reform–the elephant in the room–in these meetings. No one wants to be labeled “soft on crime” when he runs for office

You can find these meetings on You Tube under LRC Jail and Prison reform.

Jail and Corrections Reform Task Force Meeting - YouTube Minutes of these meetings are available through LRC

Get ready for a big wave of increased incarceration in the next several years (as happened in the mid 1920’'s and 1930’s) Our harsh sentencing laws are among the worst in the US and KY is the 9th highest state in Per Capita Incarceration Rate (# of inmates per 100,000 of population) We are higher than all 7 states that surround us. Alabama is the next worse state. Other states on this top ten list are LA, MS, AR, TX, OK, AZ.

I hope to call attention to how much this is costing each taxpayer. The Kentucky Justice Cabinet–State Police-Courts-Prosecutors-Public Defender-Prisons -Law enforcement training-budget is $1.3 Billion a year. Take Louisville’s -(17% of state population) share of that amount, ($221 million) and add $190 million for LMPD and $58 million for Metro Jail, and it adds up to OVER $600. FOR EACH AND EVERY CITIZEN OF LOUISVILLE METRO PER YEAR going down the tube to the criminal justice system. Kentucky is one of only five states that increased its prison population by more than 10% since 2008. About 12 states reduced their prison population by 10% during this same period. --These are rough figures–

Not much reporting along these lines and even if there were I’m not sure people would stop watching TV long enough to notice. The news media cannot “fix” this. Television is central to controlling inmate behavior in prisons. Lives on the outside are increasingly controlled by TV and other screen time activities. Politics has become just another form of entertainment and Americans vote for entertainers like Trump. With Trump in office, every day is like watching big time wrestling or the Superbowl. Everyone can choose their own team of media reporters to follow and root for. It feels so good when the “other side” gets whipped.

Here are my current thoughts about how change might take place

Federal funds spent to subsidize math & science are $54. per student. The amount spent to subsidize civics is about 5 cents for each student. We are allowing the infrastructure of democracy to crumble. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was a big supporter of civics education

In addition to ignoring civics, our schools are geared to prepare every student to go to college. I am a college graduate who made a living with my hands for 24 years. I remember clearly the one shop class I took in 8th grade. My family had tools and learned how to use them. This is what i see now:

Almost all the manual arts (shop) classes have been taken out of mainstream middle and high schools. Students who cannot master the pre college classes are made to feel stupid and drop out. An at-risk student who learns to build a coffee table will have gained a sense of hope and accomplishment. He will not build coffee tables for a living but he will have learned to use his hands and will be able to expand those skills to become a successful tradesman.

Sports and music also build skills students can apply later but the manual arts have been forgotten. A huge number of skilled tradesmen working here today are from south of the border. They grew up learning to use their hands. We are throwing our future skilled trade people away.

Professor Ricky Jones noted in a recent CJ opinion piece that the recent election demonstrated that there is a lot more going wrong in America than just Donald Trump

There is an encouraging coalition of interests in issues that affect us all: systemic racism, growing wealth gap, medical care, housing, education, employment, policing, prisons, and more. The engine of change is gathering steam. I hope more people will get on board this train but I fear that the infrastructure of democracy is not adequate to get very far. Corporate interests (privatization) is sure to set up roadblocks (in the form of lobbyists) We have to do what it takes to reinvent the infrastructure of democracy.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts and for your interest and encouragement which allows me to keep working on prison reform.

Let me know your thoughts…

(snerk) penology (bwahahaaa)

1 Like