The recent NHPR story on the opening of a new federal prison in Berlin, New Hampshire is typical. The story is all about jobs for a depressed area that desperately needs them. The near disappearance of manufacturing, due to globalization and trade liberalization, destroyed thousands of North Country jobs in footwear, apparel, papermaking, and other sectors. The prospect of jobs at the prison comes as welcome news.
But the story has barely a mention of the people who will inhabit the facility. NHPR’s Dan Gorenstein reports,
But even skeptics say this facility- which will eventually hold 1300 medium and minimum security prisoners- is going to help the area turn the corner.
At least he mentioned the prisoners. But there’s been virtually no analysis in the New Hampshire news media of how it came to pass that prisons have become such an important source of jobs across rural America.
According to The Sentencing Project,
The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, says that the USA has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners.
Who are they? According to the NAACP’s report, Misplaced Priorities,
The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.
The 1300 prisoners who end up in Berlin will most likely be far from their families, a factor that makes it less likely that they will emerge from prison with capacity to contribute to their communities when they leave prison.
The NAACP says the price tag for incarceration, parole, and probation is $70 Billion a year. Imagine how many jobs could be created if those funds went to education, services for people with mental illness, and drug treatment.