If Proposition 139, the Prison Inmate Labor Initiative, is approved by the voters, the results will not be as good as the proponents hope or as bad as the opponents fear. We likely would see mixed results on a modest scale that do not threaten free labor. Many prisoners have psychological problems and poor social skills and work habits. They pose no serious threat to the AFL-CIO or to Japan Inc.
The prison system as an expensive failure. The prison population has swelled to 95,000, costing us several billions each year in lost productivity as well as interest on a batch of long-term jail and prison construction bonds that we are expected to approve at almost every election.
We should encourage the better prisoners to improve self-esteem with jobs to earn wages, most of which would go for family support, taxes, room and board, victims' restitution and a small bank account for the prisoner to have when leaving the prison.
Our prisons are increasingly expensive failures. We need to try a new approach. Inadequate as it may appear, let's approve Proposition 139 as a step in the direction of making our prisons into factories behind walls.
Professor of Public Administration
Cal State Dominguez Hills