Op-Ed: Innovation Needed To Reduce Prison Population
Last I checked Vermont had more than 2,000 inmates in the system, with 276 inmates being housed in Mississippi and 66 inmates in Vermont who do not have access to a bed. There have also been stories of poor healthcare in these facilities. Likewise, there are approximately 1,200 homeless individuals on any given day in Vermont.
Instead of continuing to use taxpayer money to provide inadequate housing to inmates in a public prison or ship them out of state, away from their families, the state could offer businesses a tax cut or zero taxes for their operations within the state. In return, these businesses could provide work and housing for the inmates. In order for the businesses to provide adequate services for the inmates, allow the inmates to choose where they want to be housed.
Each business would, likely, need certain skills that would be different from the other businesses (with some overlap). There could even be an intermediary housing business that other local businesses fund in return for training certain skills and finding inmates that could transition well into a certain type of work environment.
Because the businesses would also be competing with one another for the inmates, they would make sure that their workers are healthy and happy.
Just because an individual has acted deplorably and may need to be separated from society doesn’t mean that they should not be allowed to contribute to society.
If no one wanted to be housed by any of the businesses than they would have to shut down, even if they did not pay any taxes for their operations. However, the state should not compensate or subsidize the businesses. There needs to be a severance between the public and private sectors within the justice system. Also, only the victims should be compensated for the transgressions, which could easily happen through the contract with the business, having it automatically deducted from their pay.
By allowing the inmates to work, and for an agreed amount between both the business and inmate, it will not be peanuts. The housing will be included in their pay, but it will be outlined in the contract, so the inmate will know exactly what s/he is getting in return for their labor.
The possibilities are really endless: from tech. start ups and machinery, to copy or ghost writing. Just because an individual has acted deplorably and may need to be separated from society doesn’t mean that they should not be allowed to contribute to society.
Another way to decrease the burdensome prison population is to give clemency to all non violent drug offenders, to get rid of mandatory minimums and to strike all victimless crimes from the books.
The government looked the other way with operation paperclip; an operation where the federal government brought Nazi scientists to the states, changing their identities and giving them high positions within the Alphabet agencies like NASA and the CIA. You can argue that those scientists committed crimes against humanity and that our government should not have carried out the operation but the fact is that they did. Much of the public looks the other way, enjoying Michael Jackson’s music, even while they know about his pedophilic history.
If a person is able to help progress humanity, whether in the sciences, the arts or otherwise, we should allow them to do so regardless of their record.
These facilities will, likely, be smaller but will help reduce the hindrance of Vermont’s current prison population problems as well as our burdensome cost of housing the inmates, which is one of the highest, per inmate, in the country. Another way to decrease the burdensome prison population is to give clemency to all non violent drug offenders, to get rid of mandatory minimums and to strike all victimless crimes from the books.
If these businesses wanted to, they could also employ and house others, which could possibly help with the homeless population. Of course, not everyone will want to contribute, but any amount would help reduce the number of homeless individuals and give beds to inmates while cutting down on the cost for taxpayers, helping everyone in Vermont.
No system will be perfect, but allowing the market to figure out these options helps push innovation instead of having the government hamstring it.
Tyler Colford is a 2020 Candidate for State Senate in Windham County, Vermont