Monday, February 17, 2014

Million Dollar Blocks....Where is Everybody?

"Million Dollar Blocks" it's the name for city blocks where interaction with the criminal justice system on the part of residents numbers in the millions of dollars - multiple millions.

This isn't simply a loss of manpower, its a loss of human capitol. It's a loss of heads of families, of men and women who've left children to be reared by grandparents and great-grandparents. It's a loss of workers and potentially employers, business owners, etc.

Take a look at this...

While it's a little hard to see, the red areas are blocks in Community Districts in Brooklyn, New York where $1-$3.5 million a year are spent incarcerating (figures are from the Justice Mapping Center analysis - using 2009 data). 

Michelle Alexander in her book, 'The New Jim Crow' points out, ''Between 1960 and 1990...official crime rates in Finland, Germany, and the United States were close to identical. Yet the U.S. incarceration rate quadrupled. the Finnish rate fell by 60 percent, and the German rate was stable in that period. Despite similar crime rates, each government chose to impose different levels of punishment." and "The current system of control permanently locks a huge percentage of the African American community out of the mainstream society and economy. The system operates through our criminal justice institutions, but functions more like a caste system than a system of crime control."

When seen in this way, we see that the government is spending money in ways that not only rob society of father and mother figures. Many who, once released from prison, are limited in where they can live, where they can work, as well as where and if they can attend school. Even if when they've attended school in prison, there prospects are severely limited.

I was contacted by the office of a state representative trying to find a job for a formerly incarcerated person - a woman. While in prison, she had obtained a Ph.d. and yet could not find a job. Eventually she moved out of state to look for work. It was almost impossible to help her find work.

In Texas, it's been difficult to find info on Million Dollar Blocks, but we have information on Million Dollar Zip Codes. The information is startling...

In zip code 75215 the state spends $16.3 million sending people to prison; in zip code 75216, $28.1 million; in 75217 19.7 million and in 75241, $14.2 million. For those who have lost count, that's almost $80 million in four zip codes of predominantly black and Hispanic residents. 

If we are serious about fighting poverty, we'll figure out new ways of spending some of this money. We need ways of redirecting some of these dollars into job training, adult education, public education to keep these people out of prison. 

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