Italy to Release 10,000 Prisoners on Drug Charges Due to Overcrowding. Should We?

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February 13, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

Italy jail

Hey, pass that thing to me…it’s okay I’m leaving soon.

Italy announced its plans to open its jail cells and release over 10,000 prisoners currently incarcerated on drug-related charges. This is a move widely seen as an attempt to reduce the soaring rate of jail overcrowding throughout its nation. Italian jails have the highest rate of crowding in all of the European Union.

The Roman Constitutional Court cited the controversial “Triple Sentencing” laws passed under former conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi as only making already overcrowded jails worse, to the point of “bursting.” These “Triple Sentencing” laws increased jail time and made minimum sentencing mandatory for convictions of selling, possessing and cultivating the cannabis drug.

Similar in aim to our own “Three Strikes” laws as it relates to drug convictions, the Italian move has reignited the debate here in the US as to how best to handle our own prison overcrowding problem.

Should we open the doors to our overcrowded jails and prisons and release thousands of prisoners now serving time on drug related charges?

Well, let’s take a look at a few facts about our system here first.

The US locks up the highest percentage of its citizens than in any other country. It costs over $65 billion a year just to house and feed the prisoners in our federal system alone. There are over 350,000 prisoners serving time on drug related charges in the federal system today. This number makes up about 52% of all prisoners incarcerated right now in the federal penal system. An increase in the number of laws incarcerating so-called corporate and White-Collar crime (fraud, money laundering, identity theft, computer crime, embezzlement) accounts for a part of this prison population increase at the federal level as well.

CAP jails

Cozy, to be sure.

Not only is our prison population increasingly skewed toward drug related offenses, it continues to be disproportionately an issue of color.

While African-Americans make up only about 12% of the US Population (US Census Bureau 2010) they make up nearly 60% of all those incarcerated currently. 1 of every 15 Blacks are in jail, 1 of every 36 Latinos are in jail while 1 out of every 106 Whites are in jail. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics over 1 out of every 3 Black Men will serve time in prison at one point in their life. Black women are now 3X more likely to serve time than White females and 2x more than Hispanic females.

Certainly, there are a number of reasons for our overcrowding prison population. Truth in Sentencing laws, reducing diversionary or rehabilitative options for convicts, including drug offenders, elimination of reduced sentences for “good behavior” and an increase in minimum mandatory sentencing for a wide variety of charges, including drug crimes.

But here’s what we don’t spend enough time talking about when it comes to locking up our own citizens and throwing away the key.

The management of prisons and jails in the US is a highly profitable and booming business. As more federal, state and local officials are privatizing or contracting out the management of prisoners to private companies more and more security firms are wanting to and getting in on a slice of this cash cow.

Private prisons has in just two decades gone from a bit of an oddity to a full-fledged multi-billion dollar business. It creates jobs and with those jobs and money comes lobbying power.

big money

Crime pays. And so does the big business of locking folks up.

Next time, take a look at the interest groups behind increased “tough on crime” laws and those behind any attempts to reform or reduce sentencing on drug related crimes and you’ll get a “Who’s Who” list of money interests of those conglomerates now running many of our jails and prisons.

So, I guess the real question in the US may not be should we open our prison doors and release our own prisoners serving time on drug charges, but it may be can we afford to?

Look, I’m not at all for releasing the drug lord or the gang polluting our streets with drugs but it sure seems that when we look at the numbers far too many of our youth, far too many of our youth of color, both boys and girls and men and women, are being locked up. And they are being locked up on charges in a system heavily skewed to incarcerate folks doing drugs. And increasingly, they are being put in overcrowded penal system even more ripe for gang violence.

And I’m not sure the answer is to keep the prison population flowing so that private companies can continue to make huge profits.

Crime does pay. Just not in the way we always thought.

bengal-tiger-why-matter_7341043

 

 

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/

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30 thoughts on “Italy to Release 10,000 Prisoners on Drug Charges Due to Overcrowding. Should We?

  1. Justin L says:

    Each weekend that I make a trip back home (Warner Robins, GA), my brother and I watch countless episodes of “Lockup” and “Jail” in which they deeply analyze the life of criminals. Honestly, from what I’ve seen, it seems as though they commit these petty crimes with drug offenses, etc., just to go back to jail. Once there, they receive three meals a day, education, security, free cable, free water, so on and so forth. They’re basically committing crimes, to live off of tax payer money and continue to generate wealth for the prisons which house them. Do I agree with releasing them back to the public? Not necessarily. Because if they broke the law which is set forth by our Federal and State Governments, then they should be sent to jail. End of story. However, I do believe that with the growing popularity of marijuana becoming legalized, I think we will be seeing less and less of these “drug charges” for possession and intent to sell throughout the United States.
    On another note, I believe we have some of the most useless laws that result in jail time. This is why we, as a nation, lead the world in having the highest percentage of our citizens in prisons. Is that really a statistic we want to continue to lead in globally? I don’t think so. Hopefully in the next few years we will see a drastic change in how our prisons and its prisoners are dealt with, and stop wasting valuable money on those who couldn’t follow the laws that are set forth in this country.

  2. TAkym V. says:

    I think its crazy that because of limited space, we just set the prisoners free and back to commit more crimes. THere should be another solution than setting them free and back when their punishment still has not finished.

  3. Taylr T. says:

    These prisoners are in jail for a reason and their reason for releasing them does not seem valid at all. Granted not everyone there is a murderer, but it doesn’t seem right that just because their crimes were based off of drug charges, they get to be set free. If this is really going to happen, I believe there will be a huge uproar from not only other inmates, but families and friends of inmates (and victims) as well.

  4. Brian U says:

    Although it may sound bad and unfair to reduce the amount of prison time someone is serving, it really comes down to dollars and cents. The unfortunate part of our prison systems in the United States (and other countries like Italy) is there truly is “no room at the Inn.” Housing prisoners is a costly feat for every level of government. I recall reading somewhere that on average, the US spends more than twice the amount of tax dollars on prisoners than they do for students in public school systems. If that isn’t backwards, I don’t know what is!

    As much as I’d love to say, you do the crime, you do your time, I don’t think it has been feasible for most state and local jails/prisons. On a federal level, prisoners receive harsher sentences which equates to more time. Releasing prisoners for non-violent crimes is a necessary evil to prevent overcrowding/overspending. The alternative is to pay more in taxes and I don’t see that happening. I’d much rather give directly to the public school system than to the prison system.

    I’d rather they make room for the violent offenders and allow the non-violent offenders and drug offenders to serve the balance of their sentences on some type of reporting parole with frequent drug screening.

  5. Steve M says:

    I think that the justice system needs to take a good look at what they are doing to the country. Because of the current way things work, they will put someone convicted of a minor drug (cannabis) in prison while letting a convicted child molester out on only a ankle monitor. This is a common practice currently in Florida and I am for one, would rather see someone who has been convicted for having an ounce of pot go out with an ankle monitor then a sex offender. Also while we are at it about the incorporation of prison system to private entities, this is something that should have never been allowed as it has put this country in a position that it should never have been put in, incarceration for profit. This needs to be stopped and a better system put in place.

  6. Casey H says:

    I agree that we have many laws that result in jail that should in fact not. In many cases, drug-related charges should not result in jail time I feel. There are people in prison for very long lengths of time for having marijuana, while there are white-collar crimes that are resulting in no jail time which are much more devastating. There should be jail time when an individual does have a certain amount, but below that amount I think it should just be a confiscation and a large fine. The amount of citizens incarcerated in the UC is mind-blowing and the amount spent on prisons mores. Releasing prisoners on drug-related charges based on the severity of their crime is something I agree with.

  7. Brittany T says:

    I think they should be released but not let off that easily and i think they should have to like participate in group workshops that helps them get jobs and to try to turn away from that life style. They have bigger problems than drugs and I don;t think drugs are the same as murder.

  8. Kyle B says:

    I think it’s stupid that we waste so much money caring for inmates. Why is it that if you break the law, you can get “punished” with shelter, three square meals, and the opportunity for extracurriculars (depending on behavior) while we have people starving to death all over the country. I believe that we should let drug related sentances off the hook and out of jail and instead use that money to fuel something beneficial, such as rehab. Drug charges should be punishable by something other than being locked up.

    • Wade M says:

      Along the lines of what it cost to house a prisoner for a year versus the cost of educating a student in the K12 system definitely says to me that we have our priorities in the wrong place. While these inmates are in prison, whether they have to be released early or not, they need to be learning a skill that can lead to a job and consequently being a taxpayer. On the other hand, the business community needs to be working with the prison system on what their skill needs are and to begin a relationship with those inmate who are about to be released and have obtained some skills that will match companies needs. We have a skills gap in this country from electricians to welders. This in my opinion would be a win-win for everyone concerned.

  9. Sean S says:

    I feel that the entire point of prison is distorted in the US. When someone breaks the law, the point is to teach them, whether through punishment or other methods, to live within the law. In cases where the criminal act makes the criminal too dangerous to be in the general populace, they are removed with the intent to rehabilitate them. If the criminal proves impossible to correct, the original practice was to “take care of them.” Now that I have stated my most basic and idealized version of criminal justice, let’s get into the corruption of the system. If someone is too dangerous to be in public and this person has proven incapable of reform, why not execute him or her? It’s quick, cheap, and fixes the problem so that others may live in peace. However, being that this is controversial, our nation, in many states, would rather lock up these extreme criminals to rot, meeting a slow, meaningless, and expensive death. Next up, we have the non-violent criminals. For this example, we’ll continue with the drug offenders. Why are they given such extensive sentences and tossed into prisons with violent criminals? Time and time again, non-violent criminals turn violent thanks to their wonderful stay in cells with only violent people to ‘befriend.’ Without going into statistics and simply looking at how the system works here, would it not appear as though our corrections system creates more problems than it solves and cost insane amounts of money to do so? Why not actually try to help criminals see the error of their ways instead of handing them a sentence as though human psychological issues were a math problem. Drug possession does not equal ‘send him to prison, it’ll be good for him.’ Murder does not equal ‘lifetime without fiscal problems at the taxpayer’s expense.’

  10. Dante.G says:

    The justice system should take a look at how repeating offenders want to go back to prison. If a petty criminal goes into one of our jails, they become a smarter criminal and tend commit more crimes. They should lessen the convictions of minor crimes in order to not have repeat offenders.

  11. Harley J says:

    I don’t feel like minor drug charges are something people should be thrown in jail for. Especially when there are people with much worse offenses being let off with virtually no punishment (like the rich kid that killed 4 people driving drunk). I think police should focus more on getting the murderers and gangs off the streets. So yes, I believe Italy is making a good decision. It will save money and they can worry about the more important things.

  12. Britleigh R says:

    I would rather them release the people with the drug charges than people that commit felonies like murder and identity theft. If they release the people that commit crimes such as smoking marijuana, which is legal in some states now, they would have more room for the criminals that really should be in jail.

  13. Vincent J says:

    I’m kind of in the middle . I can see that they have nothing else to do and they have to clear out the jails . But then again I am not comfortable with them just releasing prisoners . These prisoners really did get lucky. And I also believe that most of them will eventually find their way back to prison.

  14. Anjelica J says:

    The federal and state courts should release the prisoners from prison on a minor felony charges such as possessing weed rather than releasing gang-banger’s and drug-lord’s to take control in their cities streets again. Releasing those on minor drug charges would allow not only more space in the prisons, but also keep the public safer. So as long as they are not releasing those on major drug charges and keep the charge on their permanant record, i do not find it an issue. This would be making room for the criminals who need to be locked up as a priority in order for the public’s safety.

  15. stszep says:

    President Eisenhower in his farewell speech warned about the growing power between defense contractors and the armed forces. I would submit there is a new danger the Military-Industrial-Prison Complex (MIP). The increase in the number of privatized prisons and the growing influence of the MIP over local and state officials causes me a great deal of concern. Incarceration now has a profit motive.

    Bad enough that our current system cannot decide whether to serve as a punishment or rehabilitation, now contractors and private corporations earn bonus and stock prices rise when the number of Americans incarcerated increase.

    My preference is that the focus is placed on violent criminals, very much in favor of 10-20-Life types of sentences. In contrast, low level drug offenders should be offered (in some states it is already occurring) rehabilitation. Decriminalization of certain drugs is another option. From my perspective minimum mandatory sentences should primarily apply to violent offenders, with non violent crimes requiring restitution and sentencing left to the discretion of judges.

  16. Dominique E says:

    Although they did break the law. I would much rather them let out the people with drug charges than the people with serious charges like attempted murder, murder, etc. I also believe there could be another way to punish them like house arrest. Releasing them from jail would just make room for more serious crimes. Minor drug chargers are no big deal, so this would help save money and focus or the more important things.

  17. Erik C says:

    I think that letting these people out is pretty stupid but if they are going to let anyone out it should be the people with not that serious charges.They should have probation or house arrest for their remaining time in prison. But the serious charges should be left in prison.

  18. Christi B says:

    This just proves that the United States needs to have a stricter policy on drugs. If we make it almost impossible to get drugs then the next generations will not have a drug problem and there will be less people in prison for that.
    I do not think that we should let them out of prison because of overcrowding. Sure it takes money but I for one would rather pay a little more to keep a criminal off the streets then to have him free selling more drugs to people.

  19. kevchavez says:

    I rather let the drug abusers out of jail rather than the murderers and rapists. If the jail is overcrowded and they have to let people out it would be a lot better to let them out than the people who committed serious crimes.

  20. Car-ra B says:

    Prison reform is a hot topic. I personally believe that there should be something done to prevent the overcrowding of jails. This ultimately starts with making changes to what is done outside of the prison system. Changes in sentencing and other legal procedures will help with overcrowding. It’s upsetting to know that the overpopulation of jails is seen as profitable. It seems to work against the idea of justice and lowering the crime rate when private prisons require such a high occupancy percentage. I think what Italy is doing is worth observing. Since once illegal drugs are becoming legalized there should be some movement to reduce the sentences or release those who were previously convicted of committing nonviolent drug crimes (provided that they are on good behavior).

  21. David P says:

    It has always seemed unfair that prisoners are being sentenced to life just for marijuana charges and yet most murderers and rapists get much less severe prison sentences. I definitely feel like some of the prisoners with minor drug charges should be released to make room for others that have committed far worse crimes.

  22. Julie M says:

    I’d also like to add that the adult incarceration disparity may be stemming from earlier issues in the juvenile court system. From an Annie E. Casey Foundation program, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, project summary, “In April of this year, Clayton County juvenile court judge Steven Teske testified before Congress, telling legislators that the county was alarmed to find that one-third of its court referrals were from schools and over 90 percent were misdemeanors stemming from minor disciplinary matters.” The article, “As Suspensions, Expulsions, and Juvenile Arrests Grow, JDAI Sites Push Back,” states that local school systems implemented zero-tolerance policies to comply with the 1994 Gun Free Schools Act and other federal requirements to receive federal aid. The result is that minor disciplinary incidents are routinely referred by school resource officers to the court system. This is disproportionately affecting minority students, putting them in a “pipeline” to criminal charges later in life.

    The article above cites the privatization of jail systems as a force behind harsher drug laws such as Three Strikes, and the influence of money and power in the criminal system. With such pressures on the federal system, it makes sense that the greatest reform impact can be seen at the local level, while children are still in school and have opportunities open to them. Clayton County, Georgia began an initiative between the juvenile courts, school system, school resource officers and law enforcement, to create greater leeway for alternatives to arrest and sentencing for children, including warnings and conflict classes, and training for officers and school personnel. They have seen improvements in interactions between children and resource officers, higher graduation rates, and lower juvenile felony rates. In the same vein, President Obama’s recent announcement of My Brother’s Keeper, if it can allow for greater local control and intervention, may help improve the opportunities for children in our communities.

    Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Dentention Alternatives Initiative. As Suspensions, Expulsions, and Juvenile Arrests Grow, JDAI Sites Push Back.” http://www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/JuvenileDetentionAlternativesInitiative/Resources/May10newsletter/FeatureStory.aspx (March 1, 2014).

  23. Kay A.L. says:

    I think that those arrested and put in jail due to drug related charges should be released. However, I do feel that those who have caused an impact on others such as murder should stay in jail. My best friend has been to jail plenty of times for distribution of drugs, but he has never hurt anyone in the process. I’m not saying what he did is right, but I don’t think he should be put in the same prison with people who kill, murder, and molest people. He’s not that type of person and although drugs are bad, with him being in jail, it’s not like the same people won’t get their drugs from someone else.

  24. Jayne D says:

    I am going to second that. Putting people in jail on just a drug charge is a waste of tax dollars. Sure there are some cases, as was mentioned the case of drug lords, were maybe releasing them should be examined very closely. Nevertheless, putting someone in jail for a drug charge puts them around people punished for worse crimes and exposes them to a community of crime. The US has some of the longest sentences for crimes in the world. If the drug offender already did a significant amount of time save us some money.

  25. K. Reigene M says:

    Honestly, I think we should release someone of those who are in prison and jail for drug charges. But not everyone deserves to be let out. Most of the drug charges are either for less than a ounce or a having a slightly more than a ounce of some type of illegal substance. Most of the time it’s weed which to me is ridiculous. Don’t arrest someone who has less than a ounce of weed on them. If anything send them to court, fine them with a heavy fine, and make them do community service (ie. clean the highways, plant trees, something that benefits the community). Don’t arrest them and send them to jail, so my tax dollars that I already try my hardest to keep can go to them as they just sit there in the jail to rot.

  26. Y'Keisha says:

    In my opinion, I believe that everyone deserves a second chance if they are given the freedom to be released from jail, even though if it is due to overcrowding of jails. Since mostly everyone is being released due to drug charges, it would be most helpful if they could set up seminars for the inmates to attend to reduce and stop the use of drug trafficking so they will not end up back in jail on drug charges, but gain the freedom of not being locked behind bars for the rest of their life.

  27. Phil says:

    Absolutely. Cut all minor drug offenders loose, and do so immediately in the federal system and all 50 states all at once. Every prisoner costs approximately $40,000 per year on average nationally to incarcerate, and every student costs approximately $10,000 a year to educate a public school student. Therefore, why we keep beating out heads against the wall is beyond me.

    I would argue that private prisons don’t create jobs at all. They supplant good, full-time government with good benefits with jobs barely worth having in competitive markets. Because if there needs to be a certain number of corrections officers in a certain place, those jobs are going to exist regardless of what entity employs those people. Therefore, in the privatized model, more money flows to the investor class (the stockholders of the prison corporation) instead of middle class consumers (the employees). This privatization of public services and the failed social experiment that has been the New Public Management (NPM) has only served to make the rich much richer, the poor much poorer, and the gap between the two much wider. There are those who have an automatic response to arguments like this, and they say that regulating the private sector is tantamount to being a “job-killer.” In response, while some government contractors do in fact “create” jobs by creating new wealth or innovating, private prisons do no such thing. Private prisons are nothing but immoral, unethical job supplanters. Its shameless profiteering and unethical economic rent seeking. During WWII, “profiteering” was the dirty word, not “democratic socialism.” Unabashed selfishness and greed are not patriotic values or virtues.

    Federal acquisition regulations 7.503 (d)(19) basically say that “Contractors providing special non-law enforcement, security activities that do not directly involve criminal investigations, such as prisoner detention or transport and non-military national security details” are not “inherently governmental functions.” I say that assertion is GARBAGE. If…as part of the social contract…you deprive someone of their freedom by separating them from society for something they did, whether they deserve it or not…then it is unethical and immoral to hand that person over to a private entity that is cutting corners to maximize quarterly profits. Dim lights and minimal calorie counts at meals. Society incarcerates fairly harmless people, creates hardened criminals by treating them inhumanely for years on-end, and then re-punishes them through recidivism. Then everyone is left scratching their collective heads cluelessly as to why crime persists despite Draconian laws and sentencing guidelines. As if the poor souls who commit these crimes were already aware of the sentences those crimes carry and weighed that consideration into the decision of whether to commit the crime. Please. Seriously? Rational choice theory assumes complete and perfect information, neither of which is ever the case, especially when dealing with the most disadvantage and uninformed among us. Therefore, the social policy of people who don’t understand the root causes of crime rules the day, and our robotic response from the stupidest voter to the smartest judge is “LOCK ‘EM ALL UP!” Even when a sensible-headed judge might show some discretionary leniency to someone who isn’t such a bad person, the stupid voters and the stupid pandering legislators tie his hands with mandatory minimums. Now the judge has been rendered little more than an automatic process server in a system that’s apparently too stupid to ever self-correct. In addition, we senselessly funnel a small fortune into the pockets of a small, select group of shameless investors in the process to boot.

    These profiteers also has a vested interest in pushing bad social policy to make sure there’s plenty of business for their company by making sure there are plenty of “criminals” to incarcerate, e.g. pushing Draconian drug laws under the false pretense of keeping innocent people in society safe. No marijuana law has ever kept anyone safe, ever. The substance is misclassified because it is neither highly chemically addictive not bereft of medicinal benefit. Legalizing it would probably even alleviate some of the epidemic of opioid abuse in this country caused by the toothless FDA rubber-stamping approvals for profiteering drug companies who lied to doctors about the addictive properties of the medications. Marijuana is a plant. The federal government could no sooner make it illegal to grow a tomato. Our society has skewed extremely to the side of protecting the interests of profit-seeking collectives that wield a wealth of influence that was bought and paid for within a corrupt campaign finance system electing career legislative politicians who have no term limits. Private prisoner detention should be illegal across the board, hands down, no conversation or debate necessary.

    Reagan’s failed war on drugs is the equivalent of modern day prohibition. De-criminalize (fines only, no jail time) all the drugs like Portugal did, and all of a sudden all of the *organized* criminal activity surrounding them will just disappear. Just as it did when we re-legalized booze. There will still be people get high and lose their inhibitions and do something else otherwise illegal out of desperation or poverty, but those crimes will not increase just because the drugs have been decriminalized. The drug is not the root cause of the crime. They’re both just symptoms of something else: the poverty. Which is what we should be trying to solve directly, not indirectly. In addition, as a bonus, the tax bases of all 50 states and the federal government would get a shot in the arm from all the economic activity that’s been brought out of the untaxed underground and into the well-regulated sunlight of the legitimate retail industry that pays sales taxes. This would happen despite what the lying private prison lobby and CCA will tell you. It also keeps many harmless people in our jails COSTING money instead of CONTRIBUTING income tax revenue by being otherwise productive in working jobs and hence contributing to our economy as a net positive. Instead, inmates cost society $4.56/hour 24/7/365 just to lay there and sleep, eat, and breathe. And for what? Marijuana? Really? Such an aggregate price tag for no increase in safety…

    End mass incarceration. From a finance and budgeting standpoint, mass incarceration is a pointless drain on our sacred liberal social security budget and our sacred conservative defense budget from federal prisons all the way down to county and regional jails, and everything in between.

  28. valdostaphil says:

    Absolutely. Cut all minor drug offenders loose, and do so immediately in the federal system and all 50 states all at once. Every prisoner costs approximately $40,000 per year on average nationally to incarcerate, and every student costs approximately $10,000 a year to educate a public school student. Therefore, why we keep beating out heads against the wall is beyond me.

    I would argue that private prisons don’t create jobs at all. They supplant good, full-time government with good benefits with jobs barely worth having in competitive markets. Because if there needs to be a certain number of corrections officers in a certain place, those jobs are going to exist regardless of what entity employs those people. Therefore, in the privatized model, more money flows to the investor class (the stockholders of the prison corporation) instead of middle class consumers (the employees). This privatization of public services and the failed social experiment that has been the New Public Management (NPM) has only served to make the rich much richer, the poor much poorer, and the gap between the two much wider. There are those who have an automatic response to arguments like this, and they say that regulating the private sector is tantamount to being a “job-killer.” In response, while some government contractors do in fact “create” jobs by creating new wealth or innovating, private prisons do no such thing. Private prisons are nothing but immoral, unethical job supplanters. Its shameless profiteering and unethical economic rent seeking. During WWII, “profiteering” was the dirty word, not “democratic socialism.” Unabashed selfishness and greed are not patriotic values or virtues.

    Federal acquisition regulations 7.503 (d)(19) basically say that “Contractors providing special non-law enforcement, security activities that do not directly involve criminal investigations, such as prisoner detention or transport and non-military national security details” are not “inherently governmental functions.” I say that assertion is GARBAGE. If…as part of the social contract…you deprive someone of their freedom by separating them from society for something they did, whether they deserve it or not…then it is unethical and immoral to hand that person over to a private entity that is cutting corners to maximize quarterly profits. Dim lights and minimal calorie counts at meals. Society incarcerates fairly harmless people, creates hardened criminals by treating them inhumanely for years on-end, and then re-punishes them through recidivism. Then everyone is left scratching their collective heads cluelessly as to why crime persists despite Draconian laws and sentencing guidelines. As if the poor souls who commit these crimes were already aware of the sentences those crimes carry and weighed that consideration into the decision of whether to commit the crime. Please. Seriously? Rational choice theory assumes complete and perfect information, neither of which is ever the case, especially when dealing with the most disadvantage and uninformed among us. Therefore, the social policy of people who don’t understand the root causes of crime rules the day, and our robotic response from the stupidest voter to the smartest judge is “LOCK ‘EM ALL UP!” Even when a sensible-headed judge might show some discretionary leniency to someone who isn’t such a bad person, the stupid voter and the stupid pandering legislator tie his hands with mandatory minimums. Now the judge has been rendered little more than a process server in a system that’s apparently too stupid to ever self-correct. In addition, we senselessly funnel a small fortune into the pockets of a small, select group of shameless investors in the process to boot.

    These profiteers also has a vested interest in pushing bad social policy to make sure there’s plenty of business for their company by making sure there are plenty of “criminals” to incarcerate, e.g. pushing Draconian drug laws under the false pretense of keeping innocent people in society safe. No marijuana law has ever kept anyone safe, ever. The substance is misclassified because it is neither highly chemically addictive not bereft of medicinal benefit. Legalizing it would probably even alleviate some of the epidemic of opioid abuse in this country caused by the toothless FDA rubber-stamping approvals for profiteering drug companies who lied to doctors about the addictive properties of the medications. Marijuana is a plant. The federal government could no sooner make it illegal to grow a tomato. Our society has skewed extremely to the side of protecting the interests of profit-seeking collectives that wield a wealth of influence that was bought and paid for within a corrupt campaign finance system electing career legislative politicians who have no term limits. Private prisoner detention should be illegal across the board, hands down, no conversation or debate necessary.

    Reagan’s failed war on drugs is the equivalent of modern day prohibition. De-criminalize (fines only, no jail time) all the drugs like Portugal did, and all of a sudden all of the *organized* criminal activity surrounding them will just disappear. Just as it did when we re-legalized booze. There will still be people get high and lose their inhibitions and do something else otherwise illegal out of desperation or poverty, but those crimes will not increase just because the drugs have been decriminalized. The drug is not the root cause of the crime. They’re both just symptoms of something else: the poverty. Which is what we should be trying to solve directly, not indirectly. In addition, as a bonus, the tax bases of all 50 states and the federal government would get a shot in the arm from all the economic activity that’s been brought out of the untaxed underground and into the well-regulated sunlight of the legitimate retail industry that pays sales taxes. This would happen despite what the lying private prison lobby and CCA will tell you. It also keeps many harmless people in our jails COSTING money instead of CONTRIBUTING income tax revenue by being otherwise productive in working jobs and hence contributing to our economy as a net positive. Instead, inmates cost society $4.56/hour 24/7/365 just to lay there and sleep, eat, and breathe. And for what? Marijuana? Really? Such an aggregate price tag for no increase in safety…

    End mass incarceration. From a finance and budgeting standpoint, mass incarceration is a pointless drain on our sacred liberal social security budget and our sacred conservative defense budget from federal prisons all the way down to county and regional jails, and everything in between.

  29. Justin W says:

    First, on the question of ‘should we release non-violent substance abusers from our prisons’ to relieve overcrowding, I think we have to consider at least two things: 1) The rehabilitative treatment they are receiving to help them reintegrate into society if/when they are released; 2) The situation they are going back to.

    I don’t think we in the United States do a particularly good job of focusing on rehabilitative treatment. There are many criminal justice theories that discuss rehabilitative treatments that we should more fully explore to see what seems to reduce recidivism the most for certain populations, including positive criminology theory and reintegrative shaming theory.

    I also don’t think we focus enough on reintegration. I don’t think many people are surprised that, without any or much rehabilitative care in prison, ex-prisoners have a hard time making different decisions once put back into their own lives.

    So, if the idea of releasing them is to relieve overcrowding, I don’t think this will have much effect, as many of them will, sadly, resume their old behaviors, get caught, and re-enter prison.

    Now, regarding your second point about prison privatization, I think there are some perverse incentives at play here, especially considering rehabilitative treatments — or, really, the lack thereof in order to build a profitable looped pipeline.

    I think both issues are symptoms of a main problem: poverty.

    These aren’t the only symptoms of this problem. And many suggestions have been proposed for how to solve this problem. But, regarding prisons, here’s a thought: For those that are convicted of non-violent crimes, rather than putting them into an overcrowded prison using taxpayer dollars, I’m curious whether it would be possible to tap into a public-private partnership to outfit ‘open prisons’ (i.e., apartment buildings with many security measures) that provide ‘prisoners’ with skills-training and ultimately a job at local government-owned facilities, allowing them increasing amounts of freedom based on time served and good behavior and ultimately providing them a small stipend when released for a few months to allow them to integrate back into their community. This way, they are learning a skill, proving that they can work a job, and eased back into their previous situation but in a better position than when they left.

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