COLUMN: Whose rights should be paramount?

One of the deterrents to entering a life of crime was the potential for losing everything. Another, of course, was the possibility of having, on a regular basis, to visit Bubba in the shower.

One of the deterrents to entering a life of crime was the potential for losing everything. Another, of course, was the possibility of having, on a regular basis, to visit Bubba in the shower.

Thus for the most part, and for better or worse, I walked the straight and narrow. That’s why it’s somewhat galling to see federal prisoners advocating not only for a union to represent them, but a significant raise in pay.

Part of my law-abiding path was entering the job market when the minimum wage was a buck an hour. Appallingly low by today’s expectations, and I certainly wasn’t out buying cars and boats, but I survived, fed myself and rented a nice apartment.

The one thing I found about minimum wage was the incentive to get off it, to find something that paid more and provided a few luxuries. And today, things aren’t much different. There are jobs available, and if you bust your butt you will get ahead.

Taking the other route – crime – gets cash in your jeans pretty quickly, but there is a downside. Not counting the druggies, there are a great many people who are behind bars because they chose a route to ‘financial success’ that was achieved by taking it forcefully from others.

They got caught, and that’s the price of their actions. No one is compensating victims, and the taxpayers should not be compensating criminals. As the old saying goes: “Can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

So far as union representation is concerned, the role of such organizations is to ensure fairness in the workplace, and decent conditions for those who contribute to business success.

Despite being locked behind fences, prison is not the appalling work/living space that it was in the dark ages.

Inmates have, in most cases, their own rooms, free clothing, nutritious food in quantity, TVs, access to libraries and so on. Even for doing nothing they get a small daily stipend.

And for working at various prison jobs they can earn $20 or so a week, tax-free.  Paltry yes, but with everything else paid for, that is clear cash to spend or save. In fact, even the prison system puts aside some of their wages every week for the day when they finally walk outside the walls.

Figure, with every penny socked away, after 10 years a con can enter freedom with about $10,000 in cash. That’s not a bad nest egg to get started. And if the inmate was smart (an oxymoron perhaps because if he was smart he wouldn’t have been caught) he’d have learned a skill or trade (also at our expense, I might add) while doing time.

So re-entering society with money and some skills overcomes considerable barriers to a life of future productivity.

If they don’t succeed, they’re likely back inside soon enough to keep them from damaging or destroying the lives of more of the innocents who pay to support them.

Committing a crime must come with the acceptance that, if caught, all rights other than the basic ones are lost. Otherwise, we put the rights of criminals ahead of those of victims and society.

It costs our tax system more than $100,000 a year to keep each prisoner. Do we need to spend more providing them with an increased wage? The bleeding hearts of course, will say they need more money and more compensation for the work they do to help them transition back into the law-abiding community.

I would agree only when those same people shell out their own money to help those who are victims of crime.

There are countless thousands of people who have lost their lives, their life savings, their families, their homes – the list is endless – due to criminal activity. Yet some within our community believe we have to treat those who perpetrated those acts with more kindness, more money and more rights. Sorry, don’t agree, don’t care.

Not a penny more, nor any more rights than the bare minimum. For we who have not committed crimes, those refusals are our rights.

 

markrushton@abbynews.com