Stewart Acuff

Apr 12

A Reader’s Response to Stewart’s Recent Blog

This is a response from a reader to Stewart’s recent blog post Growing Incarceration & Our Budget Crisis, posted with permission by the author.

Your commentary this morning is exactly on point. I was telling my 10-year-old daughter just yesterday that America locks up more people than any nation in the world and that we lock up a huge proportion of young black males because of drug use that should be treated. It reflects the prevailing racism in our society, and is yet another sign of the plutocratic  grab for power  and the effort to concentrate the wealth in an ever smaller group.

An anecdote from my time in the mid-nineties as Commissioner for behavioral health services in West Virginia: I think this was probably about 1995, and Governor Caperton’s top agenda item for the legislative session – one I fully supported – was to close the last large institution for people with developmental disabilities. With this move West Virginia would/did  become only the second state in the nation (following Vermont) to eliminate institutional care of people with developmental disabilities in favor of home and community-based services. I believe this strategy leads to higher quality, more normalized care in settings more similar to the way the rest of us live. However, the small Ohio Valley community where the facility was located, and the employee union at the facility, were strong opponents of the closure. It was a tough battle, but the governor’s position prevailed and all the people were moved to scattered community sites.

Of course, the community and the facility workers were legitimately concerned about the loss of jobs. To compensate them, the legislature converted the facility into a prison. No doubt, that helped preserve jobs and the economic vitality of the community, but at what cost? Be aware that if a bolt of lightning should strike and we try to change the insane policy of locking up mostly young minority males for victimless drug crimes, communities around the nation will protest vehemently against the loss of jobs in the mostly rural communities where the prisons are housed. What’s more, the capacity of our substance abuse treatment system is already pathetically inadequate, so treatment programs are not readily available to serve these people. That situation could be changed in time and it would create many jobs in the process.

In summary, we desperately need to build employment, change our approach to dealing with drug abuse and addiction, and create greater social and income equity. Getting from here to there will, however, be a bumpy road.

- Garrett, a reader of Stewart’s Daily Blog.

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