Friday, April 04, 2008

No Money. So Set the Prisoners Free

Was reading a novel the other day. There was this incident where the army decides to release a prisoner 'cos it was proving to be too expensive to keep him a prisoner - he had to be fed. So he is released, which the army authorities feel is a greater punishment, as he would have to beg for food. The place being a frontier territory in the middle of a desert (an oasis settlement), the prisoner cannot leave the place. So he would be sufficiently humiliated, begging for food, from people he once governed. Incidentally, the prisoner was the magistrate of that frontier territory at the time he was taken into custody.

I was quite taken up by the ingenuity of the authorities who killed two birds with one stone - released a man both to spare the state the expenses as well as to add insult to injury by forcing him to beg. But i thought such things happen only in novels - till i read this news item today:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Lawmakers from California to Kentucky are trying to save money with a drastic and potentially dangerous budget-cutting proposal: releasing tens of thousands of convicts from prison, including drug addicts, thieves and even violent criminals.
Officials acknowledge that the idea carries risks, but they say they have no choice because of huge budget gaps brought on by the slumping economy.

The officials are aware of the dangers of letting criminals out, but they are still contemplating it as the state cant afford to keep them. Unlike the situation in the episode i mentioned earlier, the community pays for this decision, not the prisoner.

This news item is disturbing. It shows a shift in priorities - money over community/human well being. The implicatons are dangerous. Imperceptibly, a change is creeping into the values that inform governance/policies. Fatten the excehquer at any cost - at the cost of the safety of the community("You're talking about victim safety. You're talking about community member safety," she said. "You can't balance the budget on the backs of victims of crimes."), at the cost of the farmers, who go under, under the impact of the mindboggling "economic growth", at the cost of the marginalised who get still more marginalised as a result of the structural adjustments which aim only at an "economic growth" - at any cost.

This is a global phenomenon which manifests in different forms in different parts of the globe.


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