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The Human Beings Behind Prison Statistics

The article "State Incarceration Rates Falling," Sept. 18, glosses over the current sorry state of US jails, preferring to inform readers only of the numerical details of "some prison populations" that "may finally be easing."The author mentions that "if the trend holds, it could ease overcrowding that in most systems has reached dangerous levels." He fails to explain what the current "dangerous levels" mean for the hundreds of thousands of human beings warehoused in this country's prisons. If not for the accompanying photo of prisoners, one would likely forget that behind the percentages and statistics are men and women with children and families. They remain voiceless in the article. The author quotes only "professionals" who are paid to compile statistics and who have probably never experienced what the author euphemistically calls "prison practices" that falling numbers may allow states to "alter." Why would practices need altering? You won't find out from this article, nor from prison officials here in Blair County, who make $40 a day to "house" federal prisoners and continue to accept these prisoners despite severe overcrowding. The author admits the numbers do not mean prison populations are decreasing - only that in some places they may not be increasing as quickly. What this means is that those human beings too poor to escape the so-called criminal justice system will continue to suffer the cruelty of a system more concerned with numbers and dollars than with compassion or even justice. S. Frankel-Streit, Hollidaysburg, Pa.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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