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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 29, 2009 at 10:53 AM

An aging prison population

Cost erodes ability to spend elsewhere

When crime was on the rise, we decided to get “tough on crime.” Stoked by fear and political opportunism, we incarcerated many, many people.

When the old jails and prisons were full, we simply built new ones. Crime rates have since fallen but imprisonment continues to flourish. The reason is that we have become progressively more punitive. The focus shifted from rehabilitation to punishment.

Now we must pay the piper. We are unable to afford the burden of prolonged incarceration demanded by our mandatory minimum-sentencing laws. We have aging and infirmed people — no longer a threat to anyone — languishing in our prisons with life sentences at extreme cost to the taxpayer.

A geriatric population is a very expensive population. Although criminal behavior is far behind most of them, their cost of incarceration is triple that of younger people. Even with the huge expansions constructed in recent years, we will need yet more prisons in the near future if we don’t adopt measures that will counteract our current situation. We will continue to erode the resources of many other important government services.

— Tom Martin, Sumner

Comments | More in crime/justice

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