Friday, February 29, 2008

Addicts, Alcoholics Overwhelm Prison System

1 out of 100 Americans now in jail.

For the first time in American history, according to a study released by the Pew Center on the States, more than one in every 99.1 adult men and women are now in prison or in jail. States spent a total of $49 billion on prisons in 2007, compared to $11 billion 20 years ago. The United States incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other country. China ranks second.

“For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn’t been a clear and convincing return for public safety,” according to Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project. The report says that higher incarcerations rates have not been caused by increased crime or a corresponding surge in population numbers. Rather, stricter sentencing policies, such as “three-strikes” laws, as well as longer sentences, are behind the surge. A PDF version of the full report is available here.

A Newsweek article by Claudia Kalb notes that the number of drug offenders in the federal prison system leaped by 26 per cent between 2000 and 2006. In addition, more than one out of every three women in prison are serving time for drug-related crimes.

In 2000, fed-up California voters passed Proposition 36, designed to steer nonviolent drug offenders into treatment and job training programs--but funding has been precarious. Other states, including Texas, have resorted to specialized drug courts and greater drug treatment efforts to cope with the overflow of drug addicts in the legal system. As John Whitmire, a Texas State Senator, told the New York Times (Reg. required), “we weren’t smart about nonviolent offenders. The [Texas] Legislature finally caught up with the public.

The Pew study reveals that addiction is as firmly criminalized as ever. The compressed essence of the war on drugs is simply to put as many people in jail as possible. Obviously, long prison terms will not cure addicts of their condition, any more than long prison terms for diabetics would cure that condition.

As a forced cold turkey treatment for addiction, perhaps some would view prison as harsh but necessary. Yet drugs are known to be widely available within the nation’s federal prison system. As an inmate in an Oklahoma federal prison wrote in a letter to Time magazine: “If the Government cannot stop people from using drugs in a few fenced-off acres over which it has total control, why should Americans forfeit any of their traditional civil rights in the hope of reducing the drug problem?”

The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that promotes alternatives to jail time, said recently that as of 2002, 45 per cent of all drug arrests were for marijuana. Simple possession is the rule--only one-sixth of the imprisonments involved charges of marijuana trafficking.

According to Reuters, the latest drug czar, George W. Bush’s man John Walters, alluded to new research showing that “marijuana use, particularly during the teen years, can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide and schizophrenia.” Even assuming this dubious statement to be true, it would seem to argue against prison and in favor of treatment.

The American criminal justice system cannot support the burden of a continual flood of minor drug possession cases. Plea-bargaining—the accommodation that keeps the legal edifice afloat—becomes the rule of the day. The legal system would break down in gridlock if every drug defendant insisted on his constitutional right to a jury trial. Prison sentences are bartered and sold like pork futures, and the jury trial has become an unaffordable luxury. For those accused of drug possession, pleading innocent sometimes looks like a risk they cannot afford to take.

Drug prohibition itself is a major part of the reason why the more potent and problematic refinements of plant drugs keep taking center stage. Since crack cocaine is more potent, more profitable, and more difficult to detect in transit, it replaces powdered cocaine, which, in its turn, replaced the chewing of cocoa leaves. Just as bootleggers switched from beer to hard liquor, so international drug dealers switch from cannabis to cocaine whenever the U.S. enforcement engine lumbers off in the direction of marijuana interdiction and eradication.

If addicted crack dealers sometimes receive stiffer sentences than wanton murderers (and they do), then it is a double irony, since people convicted of drug offenses are often good candidates for rehabilitation. However, public treatment programs are overbooked, and private programs are out of reach for those with little or no health insurance.

Photo Credit: California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation


Love Always Hopes said...

I just found your blog. This post is very interesting. I really haven't been into politics because I never really have understood to much. Might have to do with the lack of parenting I had. Well growing up in an alcoholic family there is a lack of everything.
Well I did find this post very interesting. It makes me think of how un-beneficial it is to incarcerate people who are addicts and alcoholics. It seems to be trying to band-aid the problem.
What needs to happen is to get to the actually problem. Figure out better solutions to these issues.

I think we should be educating ourselves as well as our children with the true facts about these issues. Once we understand them then thats when we will be better able to figure out better solutions like sending the offenders to rehab. Now where the funding comes in I don't know how that works. Maybe if we figure out how to budget and prioritize issues better then maybe that issue can be solved as well.

Well thats just some feeling that I got when reading your post. Like I said I don't know much about politics, except that when it comes to politics the real issues and reason seem to not matter. I guess its something that I should try to understand.

Dirk Hanson said...

Austin attorney Jamie Spencer puts it nicely on this blog:

"Judges can't sentence 'Drugs' to prison... instead, they sentence people to prison."

David said...

"Running Away From Me"
I have just finished and sent my memoirs to my publisher about my obsession with drugs and how it landed me in jail. I expect it to be released in late summer or early fall.
"From inside a prison cell, a young man takes an honest look back at his life and tries to figure out how he ended up locked up away from society and labeled a violent criminal. His story is engrossing, gripping and true. Take a dark journey through the author's real-life nightmare as he battles his self-destructive obsession with drugs, which leads him on a roller coaster ride through hell on earth. Witness the progression of his addiction, which takes him to death's door as he runs from drug dealers, cops, God and more tellingly, himself. In the face of every negative consequence, he continues using until he reaches the place where all hope is lost, and he still can't stop."

Anonymous said...

Cost/Benefit Analysis of my Addiction

After the completion of my book "Running Away From Me" I was thinking back about the cost and benefits of my drug use. Putting this in context should be enough to keep me from ever using again.

Costs: fear, anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, shame, guilt, disgust, boredom, impulsion, emotional exhaustion, loneliness, instability, pessimism, feelings of worthlessness, feeling half-dead and suicidal, abnormal, out of control, suspiciousness. I didn't fit in anywhere, never learned any social skills, constant conflict with others, had to deal with thugs, hoodlums, and other shady characters, had no time for the ones I loved, RUINED THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP IN MY LIFE. Costs to my health include low energy level, CONTRACTED HEPATITIS C, poor personal hygiene, headaches, diarrhea, hangovers, vomiting, intense craving, sexual dysfunction, poor sleep habits, GUNSHOT WOUNDS, hallucinations and delusions, and withdrawal symptoms. Mental costs include no creativity, couldn't think clearly, poor memory, unproductive at work when I actually went to work, no personal interests or hobbies, no interest in anything that did not involve getting high. Financial costs include debt, unpaid bills, ruined credit and all around financial chaos, and lost time spent hunting drugs. Other costs include PRISON, I was dishonest with myself and others, no self-respect, irresponsible and always let down and dissapointing others. I was a hypocrite by acting in conflict with my values.I LOST FREEDOM IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD.

Benefits: a fleeting feeling.

Author: David Reeves

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