The Book of the Week is “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison” by Jeff Smith, published in 2015. This is the personal account of a white, middle-class politician from Missouri who commits a minor white-collar crime, but due to a vengeful, powerful political opponent, gets jail time at a facility housing some violent criminals.
The author writes about how greed and power hunger in the U.S. prison system are perpetuating the poverty cycle. Two issues in particular, among others– jailing fathers delinquent with their child support payments, and the burgeoning of solitary confinement cells–involve a colossal waste of taxpayer money, take a devastating psychological toll on the direct victims and their families, and have a negative ripple effect on society as a whole.
Punishing struggling family men in a way that worsens their problems, does not make sense. For example, if they are released from work through no fault of their own and can’t send money to their families– jailing them only hinders their finding work again in the future, and the effects of this and the toll on their families makes recidivism more likely. Taxpayers assume the financial burden of supporting them and their families.
One hand has washed the other among the courts, politicians, prison personnel and contractors with the significant increase in solitary confinement cells in prisons in recent decades. The argument used was that they cost less because fewer employees were required to guard the prisoners. However, this was a lie. The financial costs to society as a whole have multiplied with the trauma that has been thrust upon isolated prisoners. Their recidivism rate has skyrocketed. This has had adverse consequences not only for their families but for taxpayers, who are paying for the resulting repeated corrections proceedings and possibly avoidable incarceration. Prison personnel and contractors have taken full advantage of the bonanza. Some of the former become drunk on power, and treat the prisoners cruelly because they can, thus increasing the likelihood of recidivism and their own job security.
Authorities have been slow to act on prison reform because the prison industry is so lucrative for them. Read the book to learn of Smith’s experience with, and proposed solutions to the above problems, which he says would save everyone lots of money and benefit society in incalculable ways.