Extremist of both sides of the political isle found common ground on CNN's "Crossfire". While they may argue on most issues, one thing they can agree on is this: the current prison system sucks, and it's failing America.
Newt Gingrich (staunch conservative) and Van Jones (rabid liberal) were shocked to discover that New York State spends more than $168,000 per year per prisoner. At that expense, the state could afford to send every prisoner to university for three years-- and a good university, like Yale.
Even worse than the cost of housing prisoners is the rate of recidivism. In California, 65% of released inmates will land back in prison within 3 years. This is slightly above average, but nationally almost half of all released prisoners end up back in jail.
In a joint editorial on CNN Opinion, the two write, "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."
Gingrich and Jones lay it out: with our current technology and funding, there is simply no excuse for these failures. With cost-effective online schools that can improve inmates’ education level or give them marketable skills, there’s no excuse for letting them ramble around a cell doing nothing but brooding for hours per day. Just getting a GED statistically reduces the risk of recidivism.
Innovation seems to be the key. Perhaps merit rewards for wardens who reduce recidivism rates will prompt more people in charge to implement creative solutions. Dangling rewards like carrots may motivate inmates to succeed.
When both parties agree on something so important that has the potential to truly transform the nation, there’s only one question left to ask: what are we waiting for?
Photo: Oklahoma Watch