Modern poorhouse, anyone?

It appears that the Tea Party (Republican) candidate for governor of New York has a surprising-but-not-new idea for dealing with poverty.

Carl Paladino’s plan includes consolidating inmates and possibly privatizing prisons, then opening the empty prisons for the poor to enter “voluntarily.” He compares his program to the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

There are several differences, however.

Paladino has previously said that his state’s social services programs encourage poor and illegal immigrants to move there.  He also states that his “poor prison” plan will teach needed skills and “personal hygiene” to those who enter, and that they will need to do work for the government as needed in return for their keep.

Requiring work from those helped in this way is similar to the CCC and to current social programs like welfare. According to Jessica Pieklo at Care2.com, however, Paladino does not comprehend the causes of poverty in the US.

While I appreciate the irony in Paladino giving credit to the CCC for his idea, I’m more than a little disturbed by his overall misunderstanding of poverty in this country.  For a large percentage of the population, poverty is not simply a function of a lack of skills or poor hygiene.  Those who do receive some kind of public assistance already work in exchange for those benefits.  They have to.

I perceive that Paladino does not miss any meals or wonder where he will sleep each night. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean he can’t empathize… except that he doesn’t, quite.

The Huffington Post also covered this story, emphasizing Paladino’s plan to have the poor work in various types of service including military service. He has not specified whether they would get pay or not, nor from where the money for this program will come. However, he promises a 20% reduction in New York’s budget and a 10% reduction in income tax.

I believe that Paladino’s plan could work, with certain caveats.

  1. Moving into the former prison wards would be strictly voluntary.
  2. Families would be able to live together.
  3. Children would go to school as usual.
  4. Workers would receive payment, at least minimum wage, but hopefully more since the minimum wage is below poverty level.
  5. Every person living in the dorms would receive medical, dental, optical, and mental health treatment free of charge. The reason for this is that a healthy individual is better able to take his/her place in society as a functioning, contributing member.

IMHO, this plan is good, IFF (if and ONLY if) the above characteristics are met. If done properly, it could totally change the economy and crime level of a state.

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