Victor Lopez, Staff Writer
Empty jail cells might be misinterpreted to mean our correctional system is doing its job and that crime is down. However, for some counties, empty jail cells mean a loss of profit.
With a new county jail nearing completion, Guilford County will have space for 1,704 inmates at the new location, which will give the county empty jail cells that need to be filled in its old location.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes has discussed the possibility of moving all the
county’s inmates to the new jail which would free up space in the current jails. This means the county can make money housing federal prisoners.
However, housing prisoners is not cheap.
According to The Economist, “Jail is expensive. Spending per prisoner ranges from $18,000 a year in Mississippi to about $50,000 in California, where the cost per pupil is but a seventh of that,” said a staff editorial.
The News and Record recently revealed that Guilford County jail will potentially make a profit of up to 100 dollars per day housing federal inmates, which the county hopes will help offset the cost of manning the new jail, according to a staff report.
Evidence such as the recent spike in rates of imprisonment suggests that incarceration is becoming a first resort for many counties and states, rather than the more sustainable alternative: addressing the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty.
This issue is one that Angela Davis, an American scholar and author, is actively working to reverse.
In Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex, Davis said, “Prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.”
Davis asserts that penal infrastructures are created to accommodate a rapidly swelling population of caged people in the illusion of solving social problems. Simultaneously, housing offenders for money creates the potential for corruption and social injustice.
Granted, not all those who are detained or imprisoned are blameless. Society does need protection from some offenders; however, we have to remember that the same people we are confining today will again be free. The imprisonment of humans causes many social disorders that both the confined and society pays for in terms of re-incarceration and mental illness that often goes untreated.
Sheriff Barnes said that there would be dedicated space in the new county jail for drug treatment programs.
This is a step towards systemic, lasting change, as it addresses one of the root causes of crime.
Guilford County has the opportunity to do more than warehouse offenders or turn a profit. The county has a chance to offer humane treatment and commit itself to true correction. Only time will tell if the county will rise to that occasion.
For those interested in finding out more or becoming involved, go to The NC Second Chance Alliance.