Letters

By , Judith Schmidt, and Sara Matzen

Culture versus economic development

Regarding "Ancient Bombay Feels the Hook" (Nov. 13): As an American who grew up in India, I am of the opinion that industrialization is destroying ancient cultures with a short-sighted and narrow-minded vision of economic development. What economists fail to recognize is that these cultures developed over centuries, and the destruction of culture through industrialization removes, without substitution, the foundation on which a country such as India stands. The resulting image is dismal, as people are thrown into chaos, no longer holding the same values, communicating in the same manner, or relating to either each other or their environment in the same way. What economy can flourish in such a state?

The Mumbai (Bombay) proposal similarly will remove the cultural foundation of the Koli fishermen. It is an unwise move for short-term gain, without thought to the bleak long-term effects. History provides numerous illustrations, but we repeatedly close that picture book in favor of short-sighted development theories. As Bhima Marde is quoted in the article, "It's a do-or-die situation for us." What will it be?

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Pamela Lialia Hoefer

Durham, N.C.

Dealing with delinquent youth

Thank you for "When Minors Break the Law" (Nov 12). I am a volunteer chaplain in the Maine state prison system, so I have been seeing that side of things. For years I have been concerned and largely opposed to locking people up. Now I am helping in the Jump Start program, which is an alternative for teens in trouble. It has been running in Rockland, Maine, for a couple of years, but has already shown encouraging results. I will be taking copies of this issue of the Monitor to the next session, both for this article and for "In Canada, Solving Youth Crime Tribal Way." I am so grateful for this sort of coverage.

It is distressing that we do not correct what clearly has been a failure for generations: putting problems out of sight rather than finding solutions, locking human beings away when we should be helping them to avoid wrong behavior in the first place. And, certainly, we should help them change once they have made mistakes. Not only is this the only humane route, it is also the best way to bless the whole community - for safety's sake, as well as financially.

Judith Schmidt

Washington, Maine.

Exploiting prison labor

I read with delight your headline, "Jailhouse Capitalism Stirs Revolt" (Nov. 10). However, the article itself missed the mark. The prison-labor industry is most revolting in its treatment of prisoners, much less so in its effects on business. The majority of people incarcerated today are people of color, are poor, and are serving time for victimless crimes such as drug possession.

Several factors work to keep a ready supply of prison labor: Corporations relocate either to countries with cheaper labor forces, or to prisons, leaving a dearth of living-wage jobs available to free people. Poor people are forced to commit nonviolent crimes out of economic need. Tough crime laws (such as three strikes) pour people into prisons. Voil! A cheap, desperate labor source is created, with no rights to minimum wage, unionizing, or benefits. And given the scarcity of living-wage jobs, what is the promise of rehabilitation?

Let's shift the focus away from the concerns of business and onto the plot to create a cheap, exploitable labor force. Instead of building more prisons, we should increase education funding, increase the minimum wage, and stop allowing corporations to play pick-up sticks with the labor market.

Sara Matzen

Oakland, Calif.

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