There are over 2.1 million people in U.S. prisons today, which is 500,000 more prisoners than are in Chinese jails, even though they have four times our population. Sixty-eight percent of prisoners are people of color, the vast majority of whom are in for nonviolent crimes such as drugs. Mandatory minimum sentences and racial profiling are used to deliberately target and control poor communities and people of color. For example, 13 percent of the national population and 15 percent of drug users are black, but they make up 38 percent of those arrested on drug charges and 58 percent of those convicted on drug charges. Welcome to the United States prison system. The prison industrial complex not only serves to control disadvantaged communities but also serves the interests of corporations that build prisons and those that exploit prison labor, like Victoria’s Secret, Microsoft, IBM and many more.
What can be done to break the chain of this inhumane and oppressive system? The Working Alternatives Halfway House in Isla Vista is one of the few resources and programs available for released prisoners to make the transition from prisons to communities. The Halfway House provides job placement assistance, drug counseling and journaling classes. Every year, 125,000 California prisoners and 650,000 nationwide prisoners are released from jail, and over half return after three years, often due to the lack of support, resources and opportunities available to them. California has the second highest re-entry rate in the nation. President Bush’s proposed budget plans to cut federal funding to these programs, and because of this, the I.V. Halfway House is scheduled to close Monday, Feb. 28.
We as students and community members need to take a stand against these budget cuts and show our support for the positive efforts of the halfway houses that help reduce the recidivism rate. We as UC students need to be concerned about an unjust state prison system that spends $5 billion and is allowed to overspend its budget during a “budget crisis” while students continue to pay higher fees every year. The prison system spends over $30,000 a year to house prisoners who are primarily there for nonviolent crimes, are disproportionately people of color, and continue to re-enter prisons because educational and job-training programs inside and outside of the prison continue to be attacked and cut. We as community members should be concerned because we want recently released prisoners to become active, responsible and contributing members of society instead of having our state waste $30,000 that should be going into education. We must support the Isla Vista Halfway House because there needs to be better resources and opportunities for them to be better citizens, individuals, family members and community members.
The United States thinks that more police officers and prisons can reduce crime but all it has done is control and weaken communities of color. It is our responsibility to change that. What can we do to support the I.V. Halfway House? Contact the Federal Bureau of Prisons and urge them to stop the closing of the Working Alternatives Halfway House in Isla Vista by calling (202) 307-3198.
It’s time for us to say no to more police and prisons and yes to education, housing, food and jobs. Rise up and keep the Isla Vista Halfway House open. Come show your support at a rally and demonstration this Friday, Feb. 25 at 12 p.m. in front of the Halfway House, which is located at 6575 Trigo Rd. Bring signs, drums, noisemakers and, most importantly, your positive energy. In solidarity!
Bernardo Trujillo is the co-chair of the A.S. Student Commission On Racial Equality (SCORE) and a senior black studies and political science major.