USA: time for Pa. to end its prison-industrial complex

One of the challenges of the Trump era in America is that we can’t forget about the important issues that aren’t swept up in the daily maelstrom of Trumpworld. On the national stage – and to a certain extent, on the local level as well – a number of important topics seem to have been pushed to the back burner while we fight over immigration and Obamacare. Like the opioid-abuse crisis. Or the struggles of low-wage workers. And improving police-community relations and reducing violence.

And then there’s mass incarceration.

On an alternative planet somewhere, the struggle to reduce the bat-guano crazy number of folks who are locked in America – more than any other developed nation, by a longshot – would be having a moment. And the issue may indeed get its due…in Hollywood, where filmmaker Ava DuVernay is up for an Academy Award for the haunting documentary “13th,” which makes a compelling argument that the disproportionate number of African-Americans behind bars is the moral successor to slavery and Jim Crow. But in Washington, Barack Obama – the first president to call out mass incarceration as a significant issue – has been replaced with the “law-and-order” POTUS in Trump. taking justice reform off that table.

Here at home, Pennsylvania would seem the perfect laboratory for reducing the enormous social and economic costs of locking away so many people for so many prime years of their life. Consider these statistics: From 1980 until 2012, the prison population here in the Keystone State skyrocketed by some 500 percent. During that same period, taxpayers popped for the construction of eight new prisons, at about $200 million a pop. And spending on incarceration rose by about 1,700 percent, making the prison system one of the largest line items in Pennsylvania’s ever-strapped budget.

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