OK, I still haven’t run down every detail of this, but I’m about to run to lunch and I don’t want this correction to wait another minute.
Cindi Scoppe brought to my attention this morning a serious error in what I all-too-hastily wrote last night about Nikki Haley’s State of the State speech. More about haste, and the problems with blogging as opposed to newspaper writing, in a moment. But first, what Cindi said:
I think you misread her point on prison costs: She was promoting lowering the number of prisoners, through a reduction in recidivism (“Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.”). If you really analyze this, it was one of the riskiest things she said (and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way), because she was essentially promising that Bill Byars was going to be able to substantially reduce the recidivism rate. I hope she’s right, but I’m not holding my breath.
In going back and more carefully reading the text, I think Cindi is completely right, and I was completely wrong. Here’s the passage I misread before:
Over the last eight years, Jon Ozmint did a tremendous job running our prisons at the lowest cost per prisoner in the nation. My challenge to the judge is to take Mr. Ozmint’s reforms and move them one step further. His goal will not be just to produce the cheapest meals, but to reduce the number of meals he serves each day. And we can’t do that unless we lower the number of inmates that come back into the system.
The cost savings to the taxpayers of this state would be substantial. The immediate savings would be approximately $6 million in administrative costs alone. But the real dollars will come on the back end, when the judge fulfils his ultimate goal, the reduction of our recidivism rate.
The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.
And think of the cultural impact. It’s immeasurable.
And here are the ill-considered words I wrote in my misunderstanding:
How’d you like this part? “The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.” Usually, when a politician says that, he or she is suggesting that we need to do more to make sure kids get a good education so they don’t end up in prison, which IS more expensive. Nikki says it to justify spending less than our current lowest-in-the-nation amount per prisoner. One way she’d do this? Well, we’re already spending rock-bottom per meal, so we’ll just serve fewer meals. If you think this is a great idea, there’s nothing I can say to you. Except that there is a danger to all of us in running undermanned, underguarded prisons full of starved prisoners. But let’s move on.
Well, kick me for a stupid idiot. The governor wasn’t proposing to violate the Eighth Amendment by starving the prisoners. She was proposing to have fewer prisoners. And there is hardly a more laudable goal that she can have than that. Cindi’s also right to question how easily Bill Byars can deliver on that, but it’s certainly the right intent.
I shouldn’t have made this mistake. I even remember thinking as I typed it, “I can’t see Bill Byars being a party to starving prisoners,” but I suppose I thought she was saying this without checking with him. Or something. Bottom line, I wasn’t thinking enough.
And that’s one of the problems with blogging — or with MY blogging. I don’t often make mistakes like this one (or as blatant as this one), but the potential is always there. Partly because of the fact that I have a full-time job of which the blog is not a part. But also partly because this medium doesn’t promote the same kind of rigor that my old job did. I have to learn to inject that rigor in spite of the things that dictate against it, but I guess I’m still learning.
Last night, after I FINALLY, at the end of a long day, got around to posting something on the governor’s speech (something I did far too hurriedly after chafing all day to get to it), I happened to have a conversation with Kathryn Fenner (I ran some clothes for the homeless by her house, because yesterday was the deadline for that). I mentioned to her that I had just written something about the speech, but that I was uncomfortable with it because it was far too hasty. I also knew that I was out of steam and wouldn’t be able to improve on it that night, but had posted it because I felt I was already too far behind the curve not to.
And then I said that there aren’t all that many things that I miss about newspaper work, but here’s one: While I hated having that weekly column deadline hanging over me (mainly because I worked a more than full-time job without counting any of the time I spent on those columns), what I DID miss was the discipline and rigor of writing that column, knowing that it would be in print.
I said that because I was feeling a familiar feeling. Often on Thursday nights, I would make myself stay at the office late (as I did last night), so that I could at least completely rough out a Sunday column. I would leave knowing that it was very rough, with a lot of stream-of-consciousness and maybe some holes in it, but that I had SOMETHING to start with. Almost always, I would come in the next morning and rewrite it from top to bottom, frequently completely changing my mind about a point I had made, or at least drastically changing the emphasis. And then, at the end of THAT process, I had something worth publishing.
On top of that, I had people like Cindi, highly trained and knowledgeable professionals who often knew more than I did about points I was making, reading behind me and correcting any errors in my final version. And then I had all day Saturday that I could come in and change it if I felt the need (and sometimes I did).
Blogging isn’t like that. Blogging is more NOW — which is why I was so antsy last night because 24 hours had passed without my saying anything about the speech.
Yeah, I know that sounds like excuses. And I pledge to you to do everything in my power to overcome the challenges inherent in this medium. But I failed to do that this time.
So, my apologies to Gov. Nikki Haley, and to you, my readers. And my praise to her for wanting to reduce the absurd number of people we lock up in this state, which aside from the social and moral cost, is indeed an excessive drain on our limited fiscal resources.
Now, to move on, and try to do better.