Rural towns deserve more than prison jobs – people’s world


A rural jail in the town of Draper, Utah. | Scott G. Winterton / Deseret News via AP

The California Correctional Center, a prison in the small town of Susanville in Northern California, is closing. I was delighted to hear that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was closing one of its 35 state prisons, and I rushed to break the news to my wife. We both believe that prisons do more harm than good and that they waste taxpayer dollars.

She applauded, but then reminded me of something important. As in many small towns across the country, the prison industry is the backbone of the local economy in Susanville, which currently houses both the California Correctional Center and the High Desert State Prison.

I took a break because I know her dad worked in a city jail right next to where we grew up. When that prison closed and he lost his job, it sent him into a free fall.

He worked in a private prison run by CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison companies in the country. Like their state-run counterparts, private prisons are often located in small towns like Susanville where they are the main employers.

But not all jobs are created equal. We need to move away from mining and extractive industries. It means taking money out of the bloated prison-industrial complex and putting it into better jobs and programs for small American towns.

Right now the prison industry is feasting on blacks and Latinos. Communities of color are criminalized at higher rates than whites for the same behaviors. Then they are transported from the urban areas where most of them live to rural prisons. Their incarceration subsidizes predominantly white towns with correctional jobs. It’s wrong.

I understand why cities like Susanville cry foul when prisons close and take their livelihoods with them. It’s frightening. Schools are losing their funding. The local government is losing tax revenue. But prisons are hellish scenery, and if you’re honest about it, you know it’s the truth.

Prisons are dangerous to both correctional officers and the incarcerated population, they do not deter future crimes, and they come at an absurd price, especially since they are woefully ineffective.

Next year, the state of California alone is expected to spend $ 16 billion on its prison system. By closing the California Correctional Center, the state hopes to save $ 122 million. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the United States spends every year on corrections.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, our federal, state, and local governments spend approximately $ 81 billion annually on prisons, prisons, probation, and parole. It is money that could be used for jobs that actually benefit communities.

I come from a small town in northern California. I know how badly we need rural jobs. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out what those jobs should be.

It feels like every year the western states endure yet another “worst fire on record” and battle another drought. We need more firefighters and forestry service jobs. We need jobs in land and water management. We also need to develop cleaner sources of energy, from wind to solar to hydropower. And, if you come from a rural area like me, you know how much we need public transport and broadband infrastructure.

Small towns in the United States would be much better off if we moved away from the prison and industrial complex and invested in the kinds of jobs our communities really need and a just transition for correctional workers.

Cities like Susanville are hurt when prisons close. But it’s not because they are clamoring to keep people in cages. It’s because they want jobs. Give them the ones who make the world a better place.

Institute of Political Studies / Other words


Robert P. Allvarez

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