Doing Time

Good day everyone. I just got out of jail.

No, really, I did just get out of jail.

I think I told you a while ago about this class I was taking – Leadership Pittsburgh – which was exposing myself and other professionals to the critical issues facing southwestern Pennsylvania. Yesterday, we focused on the judicial system – which included an afternoon in the Allegheny County jail.

While I have covered stories there, I have never been inside the jail. It was an amazing experience for myself and many of my classmates. Imagine a bunch of business professionals strolling into a pen area surrounded by immates locked into their prison cells. Many of the women in the class were justified in their nervousness. Many of them men were as well.

However, what really made us nervous was the references to the recent studies which indicate that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One out of every one hundred people in this country is in jail or prison – and there is a difference between the two. ( Think of jail as an overnight hotel and prison as an extended stay ).

Even worse, western states are building more prisons – and their construction estimates are based upon the literacy rates of fourth graders in school TODAY. Think about it. Education success of failure has now become an indicator as to whether people end up behind bars. Jails and prisons are also becoming home to more and more of the mentally unstable because state funded hospitals that treat such people are closing.

It’s a difficult time when crimes rates are growing that we are incarcerating more of our citizens and the funding is not there to create the programs that will keep them out of prison. Prisons only treat the problem after it has become a problem, not before.

At the end of the day, I was able to walk out of Allegheny County Jail. The men and women inside that prison could not. Yet, while I had my freedom I was still in jail. So are all of us. Imprisoned by a system that sends millions to jail .. and has us footing the bill. Remember, it costs more to send a person to prison than it does to send them to college.

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