Letters from the week of December 25, 2003

My mother referred to Phoenix as a "cotton housedress town," and I have heard Phoenix described as a " hick town" from different people, most of whom are recent arrivals. While I didn't agree with my mom at the time she gave that opinion, I agree with her now, as well as people describing it as a "hick town." Phoenix is a "cotton housedress town" and also a "hick town," and things have to change from within to bring forth a vibrant downtown for young, middle-aged and senior citizens.

Ruth Morgan

Jailhouse Crock

The mother of all prisons: Arizona is not alone in facing the dual crises of prison overcrowding and budget shortfalls ("Clink!" Robert Nelson, October 23). As states and localities across the country grapple with revenue gaps, the number of people in prison has reached two million, with women the fastest-growing segment of that population.

But another trend is emerging: In the past year, policymakers in 25 states have replaced strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws with correctional alternatives like drug treatment -- at a fraction of the cost of incarceration, and without compromising public safety. This is the real opportunity for Arizona.

Women offer some of the best evidence for why curbing incarceration makes sense. More than three-quarters of Arizona's women prisoners were convicted of nonviolent offenses. They don't present a risk to public safety. But they are poor and often have substance-abuse problems. More than two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers. Incarceration does little to aid them in becoming productive, and it does a great deal -- at great public expense -- to harm their children and their communities.

This is especially true when mothers are sent to out-of-state prisons, hundreds of miles from their families and neighborhoods.

The governor was right to halt the development of a new 3,200-bed women's prison. Cycling more people through more prison beds does nothing to strengthen families or make our communities safer. Now, policymakers can show true leadership by investing in community corrections with treatment, job training and family preservation services. This would not only create savings for government and taxpayers, but it would provide the resources that people need to live self-sufficient and law-abiding lives.

Ann Jacobs, executive director
Women's Prison Association and Home, Inc.
New York, New York

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