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The following was printed in the August 22, 2009 Baltimore Sun

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Prison construction moves state backward, not forward

As community members, how can we be comfortable with the state, already in budget crisis mode, preparing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new detention centers and more prison beds, when decades of research from criminal justice analysts to local law enforcement show that prevention and early intervention using less costly community-based services are better for public safety? ("Catching Up," August 20)

How can we be comfortable with our elected state officials proclaiming that prisons are a "good investment" because they will produce jobs in construction and hiring of state employees? Construction of schools, recreation centers, and treatment programs could do the same and would go further to keep our communities safe.

At a fraction of the cost, the state could invest in education services, evidence-based practices, re-entry services for youth returning from placement, and other alternatives to incarceration that reduce juvenile arrests, even among some of those young people that city prosecutors want to try as adults.

Thankfully, our federal legislators are catching up. More than half of the House of Representatives, including Congressman Elijah Cummings, are co-sponsoring the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act, a bill that promotes investment in practices that cost less, and yield savings due to reductions in crime, violence, juvenile delinquency, welfare, prison and other criminal justice costs.

But we do not have to wait for federal legislation to invest in what has been proven to keep us safe. We can encourage the governor, other elected officials, and state and local agencies to prioritize funding for these effective interventions now.

Angela Conyers Johnese
The writer is the juvenile justice director of Advocates for Children and Youth.

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You can read the original on the Baltimore Sun website

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