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Put the $15 million tabbed for jail expansion to better use

Gun News


Because 2021 hadn’t already exacted enough of a collective toll, Vanderburgh County has been presented with a $15 million plan for a jail expansion.

A proposal like this could work out quite nicely for Structurepoint, the firm submitting the design, but what does it actually offer this community? More space to incarcerate more human beings to make us feel we’re doing something about crime, so we can tell ourselves we feel safer.

We’ve been down this path before. Wars on crime, wars on drugs, wars period turn inexorably into wars to fill corporate pockets, ruin families, recycle harm and trauma and cast a pall on our futures. 

Expect that proponents for correctional concrete and steel will cite the horrific human cost in violence and especially shootings that have claimed far too many lives and have pushed families beyond what any should ever have to bear. 

The response to this carnage must not be another reflexive move to carve out more jail space. There just isn’t enough razor wire on the planet to cut out the sickness in us that enables this trauma. We won’t shackle our way to safety or justice. 

Like much of the rest of the nation, Indiana continues to pay the price for generations of a deliberately dysfunctional carceral state. Like a malignancy, this system grows for growth’s sake. It renders rural communities dependent upon itself for jobs and even incredibly enough to bolster the local census – as prisoners without the right to vote nonetheless have their bodies counted toward apportionment of congressional seats.  Alluring and addictive financially and politically, to be sure.

As for the incarcerated, instead of enabling those who’ve served their time the chance to rebuild their lives and their families after release, our prison-industrial state fosters a culture of permanent retribution and second-class status in perpetuity.

This nation has the dubious distinction of just about the highest rate of incarceration in human history, yet we are bound wholly to a cult of guns that brooks no heresy and no challenge because we still don’t feel safe? Our legislatures have made a graven image of Smith & Wesson. The gods they’ve made are invulnerable yet absolutely impotent to keep us secure.

Bankrupt as it is, the NRA still wholly owns Indiana’s 8th District Congressman, Rep. Larry Bucshon, and those in his caucus who apparently cherish the tragic poetry of “America is a gun.” Even if our streets were freshly paved with shell casings each morning, we’d be more likely to see more money thrown at building more and bigger jails and prisons than time spent on carefully crafted measures to enact sensible gun control upon our near-frontier mindset. 

Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding couches this $15 million jail boondoggle as some kind of compromise.  In his own words, “in a perfect world we would need about 800 or more beds … to serve Vanderburgh County’s needs.” 

We clearly – and fortunately – live in a decidedly imperfect world.  Maybe in our imperfection, we would find $15 million to renovate each community center, like the CK Newsome Center, a gathering point with mentors and coaches to give all of our youth an active, healthy present and a brighter future.

Maybe a city that is imperfect but sees its shortcomings finds $15 million or more to restore vibrant economic centers that once thrived along Lincoln Avenue despite redlining. Maybe an imperfect community strives to imagine and do better and makes food deserts bloom. Maybe an imperfect community in an imperfect world finds the will and the way to $15 million to tutor every at-risk child facing learning loss amid the pandemic.

Maybe an imperfect nation will see the gaping hole the 13th Amendment left in our humanity with its “except” clause and end convict leasing in all its forms and break the incentives corporations and jurisdictions have to imprison many non-violent offenders in the first place. Maybe there’s your jail space, Sheriff Wedding.

Maybe an imperfect state would renounce generations of vast racial disparities in profiling, arresting, charging and convicting and begin restitution now. Because the hour is already late, and our moral debt is immeasurable.  

However, $15 million may not be nearly enough to realize any of these alternatives to Dave Wedding’s “perfect world.” But in this moment can we not at least consider the possibilities in choosing to see our imperfections and working to, yes, build back better?

Thomas Stratton, Evansville



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