« Has the ugly execution in Oklahoma succeeded in slowing US machineries of death? | Main | Tennessee adopts electric chair as back-up execution method »

May 22, 2014

Newt Gingrich and Van Jones say "Prison system is failing America"

Not only has CNN brought together a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and a former advisory to President Barack Obama as co-hosts of "Crossfire," but it now has published this interesting joint commentary under the headline "Prison system is failing America."  Here are excerpts from an interesting opinion piece that goes a bit beyond just the usual standard points about the various problems with modern mass incarceration:

Thirty-eight U.S. states are home to fewer people than live under the corrections system in this country. There are about as many people behind bars as live in Chicago. That's one in every 108 Americans. One in 35 are under some form of correctional supervision.

Among African Americans, the numbers are even more horrifying. According to the NAACP, one in three black males born in the United States today is likely to spend time in prison at some point in his life. That's compared with one in six Hispanic males or one in 25 white males.

It would be hard to overstate the scale of this tragedy. For a nation that loves freedom and cherishes our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the situation should be intolerable. It is destroying lives and communities.

Our corrections system is not correcting. Within three years of being released from prison, nearly half of prisoners are convicted of another crime with one out of every four ending up back in prison.

When a typical bureaucracy does its job this badly, it wastes money, time and paper. The corrections bureaucracy, in failing to correct the large majority of inmates in its charge, not only wastes money but also wastes lives, families and entire cities.

The current system is broken beyond repair. It's a human, social and financial disaster. We need a radical strategy of replacement of these huge bureaucracies that lack any meaningful oversight.... We need to rethink prisons, parole and probation for the 21st century.

At a time when high-quality education is increasingly digital and in many cases free, shouldn't we provide opportunities for prisoners to learn skills that will enable them to support themselves as upstanding citizens when they are released?

We know that inmates who earn a GED while incarcerated are substantially less likely to return to prison. There are readily available online tools that our prisons could use extensively for a minimal cost to increase the number of inmates receiving valuable education and skills training.

Khan Academy has replicated virtually the entire K-12 curriculum online for free. Udacity and other online education sites offer introductions to software programming for free. Our prisons should be using tools such as these extensively. They offer the opportunity to interrupt the cycle of poverty, a failing education system, crime and incarceration....

Technology should revolutionize more than just the prisons' rehabilitation programs. It should completely transform the corrections and criminal justice systems.... [T]echnology should enable much more effective probation and community supervision, especially new options that could allow nonviolent offenders to remain with their families living productive lives under an appropriate level of restriction.

Almost any activity to which we might sentence low-level offenders --apprenticeship programs, school, literacy or computer science boot camps, community service -- would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than sticking them idle in prison with hardened criminals. Unfortunately, the current corrections bureaucracy has embraced none of this innovation -- in part because it is captive to the prison guards' unions or the private prison lobby, and in part because it lacks any incentives or sufficient competition based on the right metrics....

Years ago, Van proposed that states give wardens a financial incentive to cut the rates of recidivism for inmates leaving their prisons. More than 65% of inmates in California return to prison within three years of their release, where they will again cost taxpayers an average of $47,000 each year.

Surely it is worth giving wardens a substantial portion of the savings for every inmate that leaves their prison and does not re-offend. Such incentives would spark dramatically more innovation and investment in rehabilitation, job training and job placement programs for prisoners. That would be a revolutionary change from prison administrators' current incentives, which are often to keep as many people in custody as possible.

Finally, we need real market competition that rewards success at every step of the process -- in probation and parole offices as well as prisons. That doesn't just mean privatizing prisons or rewarding probation services with the same failed metrics. We need competition of methods and ideas based on the right criteria: When we send prisoners home, do they have the skills to reintegrate in their communities as working, law-abiding citizens? Or do they end up coming back?...

We should start by opening our prisons and probation offices to innovation to save money, achieve better outcomes for individuals and ensure better safety for us all.

May 22, 2014 at 05:44 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Newt Gingrich and Van Jones say "Prison system is failing America":


It is really unfortunate that people keep saying that "one in three black males born in the United States today is likely to spend time in prison at some point in his life". Those were the odds for black males born across decades of pandemic lead poisoning, but youth and young adult incarceration rates have plummeted over the past decade, following the decline in lead poisoning since the 1970s, and the "one in three" lifetime odds of incarceration does not in any way apply to "black males born in the United States today".

Posted by: Rick Nevin | May 22, 2014 7:18:48 PM

Won't some one think of the poor prosecutor? How is he going to have anyone to beat up if everyone is on the straight and narrow? And think of the poor defense attorney...how can he play the white knight to the prosecutors black king if there are no more pawns? What ever the problems with the prison system it isn't failing /those/ interest groups.

Posted by: Daniel | May 22, 2014 7:47:58 PM

We don't live in a vaccuum.

The bottom line: When the family doesn't include a father for the vast majority of African Americans, then there is less likelihood of learning societal norms, which of course translates into crime. This is the progenitor of the cause.

It's an absolute sad situation. African Americans are growing up in situations that promote the destruction of society as a positive force (gangs, anti-business), then the environment leads to the situations of rampant criminal behavior. The fact that this is even considered a racist position exemplifies the problem, not negates it.

While prison reform is a necessary component of stabilizing the lives of individuals (more specifically, sentencing reform, including the elimination of the finite sentencing model that combines punishment and societal reintegration (rehabilitation)) for that of a dual-sentencing component), the problem must first be addressed at the genesis, which starts with the intact and law-abiding family structure.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 22, 2014 8:14:06 PM

Eric Knight: Thank you. Now you will be shunned by the lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 22, 2014 8:34:20 PM

Eric Knight:
When Congressman Ryan made less poignant yet no-less-true statements in March, he was compelled to apologise.

“My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack
and cannot be tolerated,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said.


Posted by: Adamakis | May 23, 2014 10:14:21 AM

Why would anyone care what the truther, Van Jones, has to say?

Posted by: federalist | May 24, 2014 10:53:33 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB