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COLUMN: Prisoner benefits — a law-abiding citizens' dilemma

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

James Verone lost his job of 17 years as a Coca-Cola deliveryman. He tried unsuccessfully to find steady work. He lost his health insurance when he lost his job. He suffered chronic back pain and endured severe pain in his left foot that caused him to limp. When he discovered a lump in his chest, he became desperate.

At 1 p.m. on June 9, in Gastonia, N.C., Verone walked into a bank, handed a teller a note demanding one dollar and claimed to have a gun. As the teller frantically called 911, Verone sat down on a sofa and waited for the police, according to ABC News reports.

If one trait of a good employee is to think outside the box, then, when it comes to health care, Verone has demonstrated that capability. He is receiving good health care in jail.

Verone is not the only one who thinks that providing our most vulnerable citizens with the benefits received by prisoners is a good idea. Nathan Bootz, superintendent of Ithaca Public Schools in Michigan, wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder with the following suggestion to solve the school district’s financial problems:

"Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we do not provide to our school children.

"This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

"Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. …"

In America you can be assured of “three square meals a day,” a roof over your head and “access to free health care” if you break the law. How is it that prisoners receive more benefits at taxpayer expense than law-abiding citizens?

In a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, California was order to reduce its prison population because of overcrowding. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority: “A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.”

In the U.S., there are 33 million adults and 17 million children who suffer from hunger. Homelessness affects 656,000 people on any given day. There are 60 million people who lack health insurance resulting in approximately 60,000 preventable deaths per year.

As a prisoner, the Supreme Court protects James Verone’s right to basic sustenance. School children and other citizens have no guaranteed protections for food, shelter and medical care.

To paraphrase Justice Kennedy, a country that deprives citizens of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.

It is time for the United States to become civilized.

Joseph Sparks is master's candidate in journalism at MU. He is planning a career in public relations.


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Comments

Nicholas Quijas July 5, 2011 | 9:39 a.m.

I recall that when I first read the story that you reference here, I immediately forwarded the link to my fiance with the comment "This perfectly displays how much is wrong with our country." It really is a bit depressing having to aknowledge the truth that those of us who follow the law have less "rights" then those who choose not to. Maybe someday that paradox will get worked out, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 5, 2011 | 12:37 p.m.

"How is it that prisoners receive more benefits at taxpayer expense than law-abiding citizens?"

It's the same system that rewards the irresponsible and lazy by punishing the responsible and productive. Have a baby when you can't even support yourself? No problem. Here's a PellGrant, subsidized day care, WIC and Medicaid. Decided to put off having a kid until you finished college? Sorry, but you'll need to pay higher taxes to help pay for the other person's choices.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 5, 2011 | 2:31 p.m.

Prisoners are wards of the state, where the hungry, homeless, and uninsured are not.

We've thrown money at all these problems for decades, and haven't solved any of them. To me, that would suggest that there's a lot to these problems that government can't solve.

DK

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 5, 2011 | 3:16 p.m.

"We've thrown money at all these problems for decades, and haven't solved any of them. To me, that would suggest that there's a lot to these problems that government can't solve."

Right. The War on Poverty has been as futile as the War on Drugs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 5, 2011 | 7:55 p.m.

The war on drugs has caused quite a bit of poverty.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 5, 2011 | 8:48 p.m.

One way to avoid poverty is to avoid blowing your money on drugs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 6, 2011 | 10:52 a.m.

Or parking your car downtown.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 6, 2011 | 3:17 p.m.

"Government is like a big baby - an alimentary canal with a big appetite on one end and no sense of responsibility on the other" - Ronald Reagan (1965)

Since 1965 it has only gotten worse. In fact from 1964 to 1968 was when much of this garbage was created. Great Society? What a joke! Great swindle.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 6, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

Ellis, a lot of people don't realize that federal spending has doubled from 2004 to the projected levels in 2016 (figures from the first spreadsheet at the link below):

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/His...

Of course, those people mentioned above are the ones that seem to call for more taxation and not so loudly for less spending. The same spreadsheet shows that government spending has decreased year-over-year only once in recent memory.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 7, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

@ John Schultz:

It's called spending your way to Socialist paradise.

Problem is, the results more and more resemble hell. (Ah, those well-traveled engineers. They've been everywhere and seen everything!)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 7, 2011 | 10:23 a.m.

The author of the article has a problem controlling his overt jealousy.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 7, 2011 | 10:32 a.m.

"(Ah, those well-traveled engineers. They've been everywhere and seen everything!)"

Are you talking about yourself again, Joe?

http://www.flamewarriors.com/warriorshtm...

(Report Comment)
Nichole Trimble July 7, 2011 | 8:01 p.m.

@Jimmy Bearfield:

You say one way to avoid poverty is to not blow money on drugs. I agree with you 100%. But what about those people who work multiple jobs just trying to make ends meet and they still don't have adequate health coverage? My mom works her butt off day after day just trying to provide for us and make sure we have what we need. She goes without. She has asthma and high blood pressure and lives everyday in fear of having an asthma attack and not having the proper medication to keep it a bay. My dad has multiple medical conditions and is on various medications. He sometimes goes without some medications because the money to get said medications go to buying food so we don't starve.

Let's look at the life of a repeated sex offender who also had a drug addiction and now has a heart condition because of the addicition. He goes to prison and gets medication for the heart condition and gets three square meals a day and a guaranteed place to sleep at night.

Now, where's the fairness in that? A man who has never worked an honest day in his life gets medication that my mom struggles to buy for my dad each month. Yes, he does have SOME medical coverage and we get his prescriptions at a reduced price, but why should he pay for them when he worked until he had a heat stroke and almost died after 2 heart attacks? Never done drugs in his life. Yet this prisoner gets benefits that my dad should be getting. Or even my mom. I can go on for hours discussing the problems with all of this. Growing up pinching pennies all my life then finding out that prisoners get better benefits than a struggling wife trying to provide for her disabled husband and 4 kids kinda grinds my gears.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 7, 2011 | 9:19 p.m.

John Schultz - Noted your statement that "government spending has decreased year-over-year only once in recent memory." I was told loudly by libs that '94 R's did not Decrease spending. I think they are right. They controlled spending, used their surpluses for debt reduction, unimagined before then. I Googled, when did fed last decrease spending and got time after time, Did you mean Increase spending? Do you mind filling me in? When was that one time?

While looking around, I got this Joint Economic Committee study from 1998. http://www.house.gov/jec/fiscal/budget/s.... I had to bring this tidbit back.

"Why these changes? We suspect it is because the political environment in which budget policy is formulated has changed. The marginal political benefits from government spending have risen with the emergence of interest group politics. The Keynesian Revolution has provided an intellectual rationale for downplaying the import-ance of debt reduction. The same special interest groups that promote expenditure enhancement often work to prevent tax reduction, thereby lowering the marginal political benefits over time of tax cuts.7 In general in the postwar era, rising tax burdens have been accompanied by even greater increases in government spending, leading to greater deficit spending.8 Tax increases impose political costs that are offset by enhanced spending."

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 8, 2011 | 9:26 a.m.

Frank, my recollection is that the only recent dip in federal spending was 2009-2010. I'm not sure if the particular spreadsheet I looked at went back to the 90s or not, but the recent trend is what jumped out at me, plus the near doubling of revenue since 2004.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 8, 2011 | 10:02 a.m.

These unemployment numbers just sunk a presidency.

He's out of time.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 8, 2011 | 10:05 a.m.

Nichole, as I posted above, the system rewards the irresponsible and lazy by punishing the responsible and productive. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That doesn't mean your parents should commit crimes so they can go to jail. Instead, they could just cut back their work so their income drops to the point that they qualify for as many giveaways as possible.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote July 8, 2011 | 10:49 a.m.

@JS
Thanks for providing the link to your data.
Your linked chart goes back to the 18th century. One thing to note from the data is that in the modern era (post WWII), spending doubles roughly every 12 years, regardless of who is in the White house or which party controls congress. This is also true before the introduction of legislation related to the great society. So if you look at spending in 1950 ($39 million total outlays) you see that it more than doubles by 1962 ($99 million). Note that this encompasses the Eisenhower era. He was perhaps the last fiscally conservative Republican President vis a vis the debt (maybe H.W could argue he was as well), spending still doubled in less than 12 years. Fast forward to 1981, when Reagan was elected. Total outlays 1981 = $599 million, 12 years later they were $1,154 million. I don't think it is unique to the politics of today, and it is not indicative of liberal overspending.
The 12 year doubling appears to be the natural growth rate of the country in the modern era. What has changed dramatically is the revenue side, not the outlays side of the ledger.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 8, 2011 | 11:34 a.m.

Yah Mike, I suppose this means you won't vote for him again in this election like you did last time. Right?

I'm sure he will be disappointed knowing that he has lost your vote and Frank C's vote.

And Christopher, when you consider the population and currency inflation, then the numbers start looking kind of flat. Don't they?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 8, 2011 | 12:27 p.m.

Paul,

Except for Reagan, no President has ever been reelected since F. Roosevelt with unemployment numbers greater than 6%.

To get to 5%, we would have to add 350K jobs/month between now and 11/2012. Ain't gonna happen. The President's advisers are currently on the news claiming that the 2012 election will NOT be about jobs. They are wrong, but I'm sympathetic with their plight...after all, what ELSE can they say, even if saying it is laughable?

This President is outa time and outa luck. You are going to see a lot of distancing from this President from those in his own party.

Starting now. This was just too huge of a jolt.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 8, 2011 | 12:42 p.m.

Well, let's see... Frank's sometime measure of the economy, the Dow average, isn't particularly low. Stocks have recovered for the most part and most companies are making acceptable profits. Do you think that an administration of any stripe has any control over whether the headhunters in various companies actually hire people or keep exploiting day labor and outsourcing jobs?

And then again, you do have a point. Public reaction invariably defies common sense except for some rare instances where it coincides with or overlaps the same. Rare.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 8, 2011 | 12:51 p.m.

And yeah, the President should have coupled that stimulus with a program to cease the waste that our last president started in Afghanistan. Of course, then we might still have Bin Laden...

I think that at this time even he is getting on board with my plan a little bit.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 8, 2011 | 1:08 p.m.

"To get to 5%, we would have to add 350K jobs/month between now and 11/2012. Ain't gonna happen."

But in February 2010, Pelosi said that if the health care bill passed, it would "create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately."

"And yeah, the President should have coupled that stimulus with a program to cease the waste that our last president started in Afghanistan."

Agreed. But then people would complain when Boeing and other defense contractors lay off en masse because military spending has plummeted.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 8, 2011 | 1:31 p.m.

JimmyB: I've heard numbers as high as 23,000 layoffs in Florida, Huntsville, and Houston once the space shuttle lands for the last time.

Don't know if it's true, tho. We'll see.

PS: Those are decidedly NOT low-paying jobs.......

(Report Comment)

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