Aside from the school-to-prison pipeline, there is another system in place keeping the under privileged at the mercy of the courts and prison businesses. As “Paying for Punishment” shows, the cost of prison falls onto the shoulders of the imprisoned and the cycle continues as those in debt face collectors and criminal charges or evasion. If there is no break in the cycle, is there any hope?

And the debt doesn’t end with just the costs of imprisonment and criminality. Once someone is released, they’re “debt to society” is still not paid. They have done their time, but the country still says they are not finished being punished. There is limited to no access to any resources on the outside, including jobs and housing. Aside from the “modern” idea of rehabilitation, if the traditional idea of incarceration is meant to be about punishment for a crime, why does the punishment continue outside the prison walls? They’ve done the crime, they’ve done the time, and now they have prison debt and no access to jobs?

Those who argue for this system might say it’s a “deterrent” or that if you don’t want to fall into this cycle don’t get mixed up in it in the first place. But if the cycle starts in schools, and if a large portion of the US population is caught up in it, is it really that effective? If we’re keeping the same people, the same population, behind bars for crimes we’re not punishing the other half of the population for (i.e. drug possession) then can we honestly say it’s a deterrent? Or is it just control of a population?


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