The Deparment of Public Safety: A System Designed for Recidivism

The following is a short article written by a man imprisoned in Yanceyville, NC, on the collusion of state and private forces that perpetuate the prison-industrial complex….

by Thomas Najewicz

Imagine that you’ve just spent 22 years or more in prison. Your family is either dead or has deserted you. You’ve never been on the internet or used a cell phone. You owe thousands of dollars in court-ordered fees and penalties. Upon your release from prison, you get a $45 “gate check” and, if you are lucky, a ride to a halfway house. How far do you expect this $45 to take you?

In any economy, prisoners face a difficult task providing for their own basic needs. Knowing the problems prisoners face upon reentry into society, one would think that they NC Department of Public Safety (DPS) would do everything within reason to prepare inmates for the herculean task ahead of them. Far from being “soft on crime,” it is sound public policy to lower crime by reducing recidivism.

There exists a common misperception in the general public that NC prisons are designed for this very purpose. Nothing could be further form the truth.

When confronted with questions concerning recidivism and inmate reentry, DPS propagandists will first cry for yet more taxpayer dollars while claiming that they are doing all they can. They will tout work release programs and educational opportunities supposedly designed to better prepare a prisoner for successful reentry.

What the DPS won’t tell you is the percentage of prisoners who have actually been able to participate in a work release program for at least one year, or why so few opportunities are actually available. They won’t mention that on top of standard deductions such as FICA, state taxes, SSI, unemployment, and Medicare/Medicaid, the state of NC and the DPS then deduct for the Victims Assistance Fund (a fraud in and of itself), per diem charges in excess of $18 a day, transportation fees, and other costs. Many prisoners have thousands of dollars in court-appointed costs and fees to pay, leaving the prisoner with almost nothing.

What they DPS also won’t tell you is the percentage of prisoners who actually obtain employment in the field for which they took a class while in prison (and it would be wise to verify anything the DPS says independently). It isn’t likely that the DPS or any state official will acknowledge that many of the college-level programs offered in prison are merely scams to keep the state community college system solvent. In fact, some of the smaller community colleges have nearly as many students enrolled in prison (especially when including GED students) as they do on campus.

Why would the DPS and its political masters willfully endanger public safety by failing to prepare inmates for successful reentry into society? The answer is simple: money and politics.

For the DPS, it is a matter of job security. Many employees in the DPS (particularly the Division of Adult Corrections) simply cannot work anywhere else earning comparable compensation. They are not exactly the cream of the labor-market crop. More prisoners guarantees demand for their continued “service,” more opportunities for promotion, and of course a larger budget.

For politicians, “get tough on crime” mantras are an easy way to win votes. No politician seeking to gain or remain in office has the integrity or fortitude to educate the public on how much these policies have cost and will continue to cost taxpayers or the disastrous socio-political implications of such. Politicians who fail to get on board are excoriated I the media, practically guaranteeing they will be seeking new employment in the next election.

What motivates the DPS and politicians to pursue such hazardous and costly policies is a prison-industrial lobby that, according to the US Bureau of Prisons, raked in $65 billion of mostly taxpayer money in 2005, and is now poised to top the $100 billion mark.

Bond and insurance underwriters, construction companies, industry-specific manufacturers, supply vendors, private prison corporations, and a wide variety of businesses ranging from phone companies to manufacturers that use prison labor have a vested interest in keeping prison populations growing. Prisoners staying out of prisons means a weaker bottom line for private prison operators such as GEO and the Corrections Corporation of America, who donate generously to many political campaigns (just ask Mike Easley or Bev Perdue, for example), employing former high-ranking officials and politicians as lobbyists, consultants, and even as members of their boards of directors nationwide. Too much money is being made by too many people at the expense of public safety.

It is not surprising, then, that the US incarcerates more prisoners per capita than any other country on the face of the planet (including Iran, North Korea, China, etc.) Prisoners, on average, do more time here more any crimes than many other countries. Neither is it surprising that states like NC have policies and practiced guaranteed to foster recidivism and ensure a burgeoning supply of prisoners.

As long as the prison-industrial lobby is allowed to shape public policy behind-the-scenes, prison populations will continue to bust capacities and budgets while endangering public safety through crimes committed by repeat offenders who, in some instances, simply have no other choice if they want to eat.

I have paid and continue to pay an enormous price for the one crime that I have committed. The state, via the DPS, has held me “accountable” to utmost degree. Who, then, will hold politicians, the DPS, and their prison-industrial lobby puppet masters responsible for the many crimes they have engendered through their gross negligence, dereliction of duty, and willful endangerment of the public by their greed for money and power?