Newsflash: Our prison population over the past two decades has soared to a record-bursting 2.4 million. Almost one out of every 100 Americans is currently incarcerated. (Personally, I blame Hollywood celebutantes Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber for much of the overcrowding problem.)
The USA has more people in prison than any other country in the world – yet one more achievement about which Americans can proudly shout We’re #1. The cost to house all these charming folks is staggering. Check out these startling statistics:
- The average annual operating cost in 2012 was $28,000 per inmate.
- Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail awaiting trial costs $9 billion a year.
- The cost to put my two daughters through four years of college would be enough to house the entire prison population of Wyoming for four months.
- An ant can carry 50 times its own body weight.
- Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes.
As these alarming statistics clearly demonstrate, we need to do something about the runaway costs of housing our inmates – not to mention cracking down on Donkeys Gone Wild.
On the left is a chart showing the increase in our American prison population over the past 86 years. (Coincidentally, a mirror image of this chart displays the value of my investment portfolio from 1990 through 2013.)
One humanitarian solution I’ve lobbied for vociferously for years is to simply turn the entire state of Mississippi into a federal prison. I mean, it’s not like the place is being used for much else these days. But an even better idea comes from Argentina. Their solution? Soccer ball prison guards.
Recently, Argentina made an unscheduled surprise announcement about its unique cost-cutting solution for its prison system. Turns out that one of their prisons was running severely short of funds to staff their guard towers – so much so that only two of the fifteen guard towers actually were staffed by guards. The prison decided to staff one of the towers with a dummy. “We’ve made a dummy out of a soccer ball and a prison officer’s cap. We named him Wilson, like in the film Castaway, and put him in one of the towers so that the prisoners would see its shadow and think they’re being watched,” an unnamed prison source told the Río Negro newspaper. (I could not make this stuff up.)
I did a detailed cost analysis. Cost of one soccer ball: $8.95. Cost of one guard cap: $11.50. Total cost: $20.45. Annual cost of one human Argentinean prison guard: $20,500. Average annual savings of soccer ball guard: $20,479, a savings of 99.9% compared to human prison guards. In full disclosure, that’s before factoring in the cost of engraving the ball with the Official Seal of Argentina and the necessary legal disclaimers like “This prison guard is the property of [insert name of prison here]. Do not try to escape past me or attempt to do a header. Do not deflate me. Not intended for use in recreational sports.”
Think about the cost savings to American taxpayers if we implemented this innovative solution. Right off the bat you can eliminate the cost of salary, food, and medical benefits – not to mention guns and ammo. And problems like substance abuse and prisoner abuse by guards and guards grumbling about dangerous work conditions become things of the past. Oh sure, prison wardens would need to remember to inflate their soccer ball guards now and then, but beyond that, they’re pretty much maintenance-free and would most likely require minimal supervision.
We could debate for days whether soccer balls, footballs, basketballs or volleyballs would function best as substitute prison security personnel. But I would strenuously argue that golf balls are simply not up to the task. Not even Titleists. I will leave it up to some Congressional sub-committee to recommend the proper spheroid to use, proper inflation pressure, and how much to skim off the top from the lobbyists for Spalding, Wilson and Rawlings to get Congress to recommend their brand of ball. I envision that, before long, millions of Americans will start purchasing sports balls, dressing them up as German Shepherds and placing them in their living room windows to deter burglars.
One thing to learn from Argentina’s bold new experiment is to not actually inform the prison population that your towers are being guarded by soccer balls. This was Argentina’s one tiny mistake. Apparently, word got out that the guard in Tower #3 – the guy who never seemed to look around, smoke or ask for a bathroom break – was in fact a soccer ball. As a result, two convicted armed robbers escaped over the wall into the night and have yet to be found. (True.)
But that’s just a small hiccup in the system. The only other mistake the Argentine prison authorities made was in forgetting to remove the giant gold and green FIFA WORLD CUP logo on its “face” – a sure giveaway, if you ask me. But that could have easily been painted over – if only they’d had the budget to buy a paintbrush.
With a well-inflated soccer-basket-volley-ball, our prison system could order thousands of balls with fiercely intimidating faces on them like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Samuel L. Jackson in, well anything he’s ever done, to keep the prisoners from even thinking about escaping.
But why stop there? Think how much the U.S. military could save each year by replacing soldiers on the front lines with soccer ball dummies. Think about how many American lives we could save, not to mention the millions that Hasbro and Mattel could make selling the new GI Joe soccer ball dummy action figures.
Of course, there are a few logistical challenges our military commanders will have to work out, like how to get the soccer ball soldiers to shoot … or drive a tank … or disarm land mines … or salute their commanding officers. But I’m confident the top military brass will figure out those minor details. After all, they pretty much solved the whole Afghanistan mess, right?
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2014