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Busting Out of Our Prisons

ALPERN AT LARGE - As countries throughout the Middle East and the world all risk their own lives and prosperity to say “no more!” to condemning future generations to the injustices of the past, we have a much more difficult challenge:  to break free from a prison of our own creation.  It is a prison built on mistruths, groupthink, hidden agendas and pure cowardice, and for our own safety and that of our children…we must tear down the walls of that prison.

Wall #1:  Our prison problem is too difficult to fix

Yes, the Supreme Court may or may not have been overreaching in its recent court order to reduce overcrowding in our prisons, but ultimately the reason for this inexcusable overcrowding (and it IS inexcusable) has been our own dithering and delaying for decades.

Yes, it will involve political and public will (Link), but we’ve already got bond money to build new prisons, and—as always—if the money is spent well, the taxpayers will be happy to ensure that public safety is ensured.

But yes, the prison guards unions OWN our state and its political process, and so long as we have a governor and Legislature (both political parties are bought out, apparently) who refuse to stand up against those unions’ tyranny—both financial and mental—the problem will remain unresolved.

And yes, we don’t have to pay the wages and benefits of prison guards at levels so much higher than we do for our military and for graduate-school educated professionals throughout the nation, and we don’t have to pay construction costs that are so prohibitive that the prisons, rehab centers and other facilities aren’t built.  Just shut up and build.

And…YES, we don’t have to hear the endless litany of the psychological and mental tyranny of those who tell us that if we don’t pay inappropriate amounts of money for our prison and prison guards, that we don’t care about how hard it is to incarcerate and take care of prisoners.

And…YES, the voters and legal system has the ability to be flexible about the Three Strikes Law, so leave that law alone!

Wall #2:  We’re spending too little on education

Yes, I’ve no doubt that we should be spending more on certain aspects to educating K-12 and college-level students, but the fact remains that the number of children in LA County is falling (Link).  

So, yes…whether it’s our economy, decreased illegal immigration, or any other causes for this demographic trend, the cottage industry of paying indiscriminately for some nebulous cause related to education has to come to a close.  

It’s no secret that our construction and operational costs for our public schools and community colleges (and probably our higher universities, as well) is screwed up to high heaven, so whether we raise new taxes or not the transparency and cost-effectiveness of education-related spending has to be addressed not just for our own sake, but for that of our children.

And yes, our children will be the ones to someday shoulder this tax burden, and I’d like the decreased labor force to lead to higher wages and prosperity for their generation.

And YES, we must put on our moral armor and slay the dragons such as UTLA and any other teachers union who fights for the status quo and threatens the proper funding and education of our children (Link), all the while threatening our children if we don’t give them more money.

Wall #3:  This state just doesn’t have the ability to be more business-friendly

Yes, folks, it’s our employers, both big and small, that provide jobs and health care benefits to make this state’s economy thrive.  Other states have figured it out, and so can we.  No one can be promoting corporate tax-dodging when it’s just a matter of attracting jobs to the cities our state.

So, yes, if we can do it for James Cameron and the rest of the Hollywood elite (Link), we can do it for other industries.  In either Vernon, Manhattan Beach and the City of LA, our industrial and commercial land has value—let’s stop with the real estate Ponzi scheme and make a real economy, shall we?

Wall #4:  Our state is destroyed and just can’t come back

Yes, we’re in trouble after decades of budgetary ineptitude and scheming, a lack of vision and fortitude, and a paradigm of letting laws and standards get thrown to the winds, but the attractions and weather still exists that make people want to visit and stay in our state.

But yes, whether it’s Californians hitting the roads (Link), or overseas tourists visiting LA more than Miami and only second to New York (Link), our state hardly is dead.

So…YES, we can choose to either wallow in our misery and economic woes or we can choose to be strong and upbeat in knowing that it’s merely courage, political will and the decision of the majority of our citizens to knock down the special interests (who really are in the minority, after all) to do what’s right.

Today is a brand new day, and tomorrow is yet another brand new day, for us to say “YES” and display the conviction and thoughtfulness we all enjoy as human beings and both fix the past and improve both our present and future to make a better California.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently cochairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) -cw

Vol 9 Issue 42
Pub: May 27, 2011