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July 2008
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Prison community dynamics

An interesting, and possibly telling, controversy boiled up in the Illinois House yesterday

The Illinois House erupted in an angry confrontation over regionalism and race Wednesday, after a legislator from Chicago accused downstate lawmakers of wanting to stoke urban crime to make sure rural prisons donČt close.
čThere are some people in the Illinois General Assembly who have prisons in their district, and their whole objective is to keep them filled,ä Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, alleged in a morning committee hearing. She was referring to several downstate lawmakers from prison districts who were opposing a bill that would make it easier for ex-convicts to get business loans.

While Davis’ allegations continued in ways that were over the top, the reality is that she is probably right — at least to an extent. And it’s particularly relevant right now, due to controversy over the Illinois Governor’s threat to close Pontiac prison to help balance the budget.
We’ve talked before how the huge prison industry in this country has developed a life of its own — with the industry and its communities pushing for tougher laws and longer sentences in order to reap the benefits of budget, jobs, and disproportionate representation.
Will we now see this conflict appear openly on the state Legislatures? Perhaps it’s time for that to happen.

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