Building a prison didn't help this small town

Your article "Town need revitalizing? Build a prison" (April 5) doesn't give the whole story. Prisons are being marketed to rural communities as "economic development," but they should be seen for what they are - a tragic reminder of society's failure. Long-term effects of becoming a prison town are economically and culturally devastating.

I live in a Kern County, Calif., prison town. Our prison was expanded about 15 years ago, and now houses around 6,000 inmates. The impact on our town is only now becoming clear: Economically the prison itself is not a benefit. It does not buy locally, is not built by local tradesmen, does not generate business taxes or sales taxes, and actually takes huge pieces of property off the tax rolls. What it does bring to the community is people - lots of them, both staff and families of inmates.

This sudden population influx puts a huge demand on city and county services, and also attracts national retail chains. Before the prison expansion, we had a charming little downtown, with grocery stores, locally owned retail businesses, four banks, and a post office. Now our downtown is dying, replaced by new strip malls of chainstores on the outskirts, bad traffic problems, and uncontrolled sprawl. A huge housing tract was opened with homes on septic tanks where the ground barely perks. The water of the whole valley is now threatened.

Perhaps most distressing of all is the mental atmosphere these facilities bring with them. The prison-industry complex is big business, built on the concept of disposable people. Unless the cities begin to address their deep social problems, instead of exporting them, this industry will continue until rural America becomes nothing more than a depository of lost humanity.

Deborah Hand Tehachapi, Calif.

Churches do promote social change

Regarding your opinion piece "Charity that changes society" (April 3): Authors Chuck Collins and Patricia Maher make a fallacious assertion that giving to churches does not promote social change.

Writing on behalf of one Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ, I raise up a long and profound history of social change fostered by our churches. Our forebears were a driving force in Abolitionism; the American Missionary Association founded more than 500 schools and colleges for emancipated African-Americans after the Civil War; the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was grounded in communities of faith; our denomination began advocating for the rights of lesbian and gay persons even before the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

To infer that churches are not agents of social change reflects ignorance of our history and our commitment to God's world.

Rev. Hal Chorpenning Hartford, Conn.

Estate tax unfair

Regarding your April 5 opinion piece "Estate tax - a necessary evil": As an elected official, I am fully aware of the need for revenue to fund the inexhaustible needs of the citizens. As an American, I feel that the death taxes are unfair. If the money earned has been taxed once, why should it be taxed again at death? The need for the revenue is undeniable, but the fairness of the tax is not. Why is the government constantly trying to regulate people's lives?

I'm disappointed in the author's reasoning to maintain the death taxes. I do admit that most taxes aren't about fairness, but need. Need is really the only viable argument for maintaining any tax. But do we really need everything that our tax money is sponsoring?

Elizabeth Arnett Haslet, Texas

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