Our elected officials voted against the will of ”we, the people” by voting to borrow $14 million over the next 40 years for a new judicial center, that is, a new center of justice. By all accounts, I won’t be around in 2052, but, God willing, my son will be, and he’ll be 62 when the debt is finally and burdonsomely paid, which in my opinion, is the least ”judicial” decision our supervisors could have made.
Had the state come to Montross and told our elected officials that we needed to renovate or rebuild W&L High School, I’m sure our supervisors would have pursued the mandate with the same alacrity as they have with the judicial center. Instead, the state declared that we needed to upgrade our courthouse to comply with state and federal regualtions.
Could we have complied without building a $14 million judicial center? Of course. Nonetheless, I don’t think our supervisors decided to build a judical center as a result of indifference towards our county schools. Rather, they voted to build a judicial center because all localities, including Westmoreland, are but branches of a behemoth and self-perpetuating federal and state judicial system whose roots run deep and are nourished by an egregious penal system. Had every Westmoreland County citizen stood in protest, the judicial center would still have been built despite the fact that a new high school would have been in our better interest.
Today, America’s judicial system monitors more “criminals” than ever before. Including those who are either in some form of incarceration or in the parole and probation process, 13 million Americans are processed in one way or another through our federal, state, and local courts per year.
With the private prison industry having grown 350 percent over the past fifteen years, our judicial system has now evolved into a prison-for profit-paradigm. In 2000, the U.S Department of Justice reported 87,369 private prisons operating in the country. In 2009, that number grew to 129,336. The private prison industry is eager to take over state prisons as long as it remains lucrative. Just recently, officials from a private detention company in Pennsylvania were charged with bribing two judges to order youths imprisoned.
Unfortunately, incarceration (not unlike war) is good for the economy. From construction contracts and weapons manufacturers to furniture and food vendors and medical and maintenance personnel, Virginia’s Department of Corrections employs 18,000 peple in a variety of 58 occupations not counting its ”boots on the ground” Corrections personnel.
With numerous weekly TV shows featuring the ”Locked-Up,” and generating millions of dollars in ad revenue, incarceration has now seeped into our pop-culture entertainment psyche. The latest capital venture comes in form of a newspaper, Crime Times , which posts the latest mug shots of Virginia’s latest convicts and is riddled with ads by trial lawyers and bail bondsmen.
Conversely, when once the US ranked number one in the world in Education, we now rank number one in the world in incarcerating its citizens; Virginia ranks 13th in the country. Like any other locality, Westmoreland County is a stakeholder in the federal and commonwelath’s justice system. The latest figures (2000 to 2007) show that the Northern Neck Regional Jail housed more Westmorelanders than either Northumberland or Richmond County residents.
The most dire and alarming statistic in my opinion is that the United States ranks first in the world in youth incarceration. The U.S. places into detention 336 youth out of every 100,000, which is five times that of the notorious second-place contender, South Africa. If this trend continues on into the 21st century, the unsettling question arises: Will our grandchildren be attending the same W&L High School that their grandparents attended (as are W&L students today), or will they just all be in jail?
I love and fought for America. But this is not the America I love and fought for.
Scott Duprey, Montross