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'The Price of Punishment'

October 27, 1994

Your articles in the series "The Price of Punishment" (Oct. 16-19) are scary. Once, California's investment in education and infrastructure was the envy of the world. The message was "Californians invest in the future. California here we come."

Now our investment is in prisons as we climb to No. 1 with more, bigger and fuller prisons than anywhere else in the world. The message is "We invest in paranoia. Get out while you can."

PHILIP S. BEAUCHAMP

Chino Hills

Railroad building of the 1900s, the movie industry of the '30s and aerospace of the last 40 years had one thing in common. Their payrolls contributed to the economy of this state. These industries were constructive and brought jobs to the people who needed them the most.

Prison construction is short-lived at most. When they are all finally built, the California taxpayer will still have to contribute to their maintenance and upkeep, and it won't be cheap. The other three industries provided work for all who were willing to work in them. Here only one element will benefit, the prison guards. It will cost millions to house, feed and provide medical treatment to inmates through the years of their incarceration. The three industries mentioned made California grow by providing taxes to the state treasury. Prisons will put a drain on the treasury to the point that there won't be anything in the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

While prison expenditures have tripled, the education budget has suffered dramatically, and why? All the money has gone to the prisons. Remember one thing--the voters can approve all the bonds they want but they don't have to stay in California to support them. They can move out of state. Inmates can't.

ROBERT JOHNSON

Sylmar

I personally don't care how rough "lifer" Luis Rodriguez has it in the California prison system (Oct. 17). His feelings that the system is "a machine that will chew you up" and "doesn't care a damn thing about you" more succinctly describe Rodriguez's state of mind and his subsequent treatment of the two California Highway Patrol officers he encountered and was convicted of murdering.

Rodriguez's complaints that the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay is "no nice place" and that in the SHU "you aren't seeing any sunlight, no trees, no people" sounds as if he's describing the graves that the two officers now lie in for eternity.

Please, spare us the complaints of this convicted murderer in your newspaper.

DAVID B. HOGAN

Saugus

One has only to read all the articles in the Oct. 18 front section of The Times to see a terrible (and ignored) correlation between the exploding prison population, an influx of prisoners with few skills, and the fact that 18% of California's population live below the poverty level.

When will we wake up and become proactive as a state rather than reactive? When will we realize that lack of jobs, housing and education are the roots behind a growing prison population? Or will we shortsightedly lock up for long-term care and even longer-term state debt a growing segment of our population pressed into despair and hopelessness?

EILEEN McDARGH

Dana Point

As any competent epidemiologist can tell us, we are nearing the peak of a cyclical outbreak of "incarceration fever," a truly social disease as yet not amenable to rational discussion or other treatment. Yet we can create a silver lining for this ominous cloud.

Our suggestion: design our burgeoning jails, prisons and other "correctional" edifices so that they can be put to some beneficial use later on. Thus, we might be able to build some of those schools, low-cost dwellings and research institutions that we cannot "afford" in our demented present.

AUGUSTINE and HORACE GAIMS

Los Angeles

I almost fainted when I read about the prison budget (Oct. 19). It is hard to believe that an inmate could cost the taxpayers $24,000 (annually).

My son is a medical technician, his wife holds a bachelor's in psychology and they have two kids. Only one of them is employed earning around $1,500 net (per month). He has medical coverage for himself only. His family is not covered, and they cannot be covered by the same insurance company. They turned to Medi-Cal for coverage and were told that the family could be covered if they pay a fee of $500 monthly, so the present situation is fatal for the entire family.

I wonder how come the government can spend $24,000 for a felon, and such individuals have a complete coverage without any problem, whereas a working family, after all the struggle to support a home, cannot even have medical coverage for their kids? This is justice for some and not justice for all as our Constitution proclaims.

RAYMOND V. ALVAREZ

Los Angeles

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