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America’s Prison Culture Destroying Our Future

Our most populous state has pioneered a prison system rife with horrendous abuses. It’s now under pressure to reform.

NYT (“Fighting a Drawn-Out Battle Against Solitary Confinement“) [via Jonathan Rue]:

Ernesto Lira is not a murderer. He has never participated in a prison riot. The crime that landed him behind bars was carrying three foil-wrapped grams of methamphetamine in his car.But on the basis of evidence that a federal court later deemed unreliable, prison officials labeled Mr. Lira a gang member and sent him to the super-maximum-security unit at Pelican Bay State Prison, the state’s toughest correctional institution.

There, for eight years, he spent 23 or more hours a day in a windowless 7.6-by-11.6-foot cell, allowed out for showers and exercise. His view through the perforated steel door — there were 2,220 holes; he counted them — was a blank wall, his companions a family of spiders that he watched grow, “season by season, year by year.”

Mr. Lira insisted that he was not a gang member, to no avail. He was eventually vindicated and is now out of prison, but he still struggles with the legacy of his solitary confinement. He suffers from depression and avoids crowds. At night, he puts blankets over the windows to block out any light. “He’s not the same person at all,” said his sister Luzie Harville. “Whatever happened, the experience he had in there changed him.”

[…]

Few dispute the threat posed by prison gangs, or the murders, assaults, drug smuggling and other mayhem they are responsible for. In 2011, there were 1,759 gang-related homicides, attempted homicides and violent attacks on staff members or other inmates inside state prisons, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Most states identify inmates who are members of prison gangs, and gang members account for a large percentage of the prisoners held in solitary confinement around the country. But California’s policy has been among the most severe, sending not only full gang members but also inmates found to associate regularly with gangs to one of the state’s three super-maximum-security facilities. More than 3,000 prisoners judged to have gang ties are held in such conditions. Of the inmates sent to the unit at Pelican Bay for gang affiliation, 248 have been there for 5 to 10 years; 218 for 10 to 20 years; and 90 for 20 years or more.

Lt. Dave Barneburg, lead gang investigator at Pelican Bay, said incarcerated gang leaders commanded a vast network in the prisons and in cities like Los Angeles, Salinas and San Francisco, ordering attacks on rivals and running drug rings and other illegal businesses. One gang, Nuestra Familia, at one point identified Pelican Bay as its “White House.” The gang problem is so tough, he said, “No one has the answer. You do the best you can with the tools you have.”

This is obviously a horrible situation and one for which there are no easy answers. Lira shouldn’t have been in prison to begin with, much less in solitary confinement. But the fact of the matter is that gangs continue their criminal enterprise while locked up and are a real menace.

As I noted with regards to the shameful treatment of Bradley Manning, long term solitary confinement is torture, pure and simple, and thus an obvious violation of the 8th Amendment. As Atul Gawande notes, it leaves psychological scars that remain long after physical injuries heal:

“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

There may, nonetheless, be times when solitary confinement is warranted.

Protective custody is the most obvious case: sometimes, a prisoner is in danger and segregating him from the rest of the population is the lesser of evils.  Punishment for severe transgressions of prison rules is another; a short stint in solitary can serve as an effective attitude adjustment.   And, of course, segregating high value intelligence assets so they can’t conspire with their fellow inmates to concoct lies is standard procedure.   But these are all short duration, controlled situations.

Can we really justify solitary confinement and its psychological torture, though, years on end? On the suspicion that someone fits a gang profile?

Now, as the NYT piece notes, California is trying to figure out how to move the pendulum the other direction without undue risk.

California corrections officials — prodded by two hunger strikes by inmates at Pelican Bay last year and the advice of national prison experts — this month proposed changes in the state’s gang policy that could decrease the number of inmates in isolation.

Depending on how aggressively California moves forward — critics say that the changes do not go far enough and have enough loopholes that they may have little effect — it could join a small but increasing number of states that are rethinking the use of long-term solitary confinement, a practice that had become common in this country over the past three decades.

The changes in California’s system would represent one of the largest shifts in how it handles prison gangs since officials began pulling gang leaders, known as shot-callers, out of the general population in the late 1970s. Prison reform advocates say that if California, with the largest prison population in the nation, changes its practices, states like Arizona that have similar policies might follow suit.

“California really pioneered the mass segregation of gang members,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “So California could start to show the way out.”

Recall also that the US Supreme Court ordered the state to release 40,000 prisoners last year, citing conditions that constituted cruel and unusual punishment. One hopes that part of the upshot of all this is a major rethinking of the war on drugs and the treatment of non-violent offenders in general. While the case of Ernesto Lira is outrageous because he was unjustly accused of being a gang member and tortured for years owing to a lack of due process, his case is more sad still because he should never have been in prison to begin with. Even if we agree that it’s society’s business to stop people from using methamphetamine, it simply makes no sense to use incarceration as a tool for achieving that goal when there are radically cheaper, less destructive alternatives.

As Fareed Zakaria notes, even some unlikely folks are coming around to this conclusion.

Something caught my eye the other day. Pat Robertson, the high priest of the religious right, had some startling things to say about drugs.

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Mr. Robertson said in a recent interview. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

The reason Robertson is for legalizing marijuana is that it has created a prison problem in America that is well beyond what most Americans imagine.

“It’s completely out of control,” Mr. Robertson said. “Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties, the maximums, some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all.”

He’s right. Here are the numbers: The total number of Americans under correctional supervision (prison, parole, etc.) is 7.1 million, more than the entire state of Massachusetts. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker, “Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America. . .than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.”

No other country comes even close to our rates of incarceration.

We have 760 prisoners per 100,000 people. Most European countries have one seventh that number (per capita, so it’s adjusted for population). Even those on the high end of the global spectrum – Brazil, Poland – have only a quarter the number we do.

If you say this is some kind of enduring aspect of America’s “Wild West” culture, you would be wrong. In 1980, our rates of incarceration were a quarter what they are now. What changed was the war on drugs and the mindless proliferation of laws that created criminal penalties for anything and everything.

Zakaria also has some eye-popping stats on the fiscal costs:

In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it’s built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.

In addition to the barbarism that is our penitentiary system eating away at the basic principles on which we founded our society, our obsession with locking away people for violating arbitrary rules is destroying our human capital. We’re literally choosing locking up drug offenders over investing in our children. That’s madness and it has to stop.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. KariQ says:

    We’re literally choosing locking up drug offenders over investing in our children.

    I remember a time when expressing such a sentiment was proof that you were a bleed heart liberal who was soft on crime. I do hope that has changed.

    California is working to change some of its laws, and I am hopefully that the process will continue. While I have little hope that the recently proposed bill that would change possession into misdemeanor will pass this time, I think there’s a good chance that it could eventually become law. It’s still an sign that it’s proposed at all; it was unthinkable for so long. This alone would put us on the path to resolving the crisis in both our prisons and our schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But James, prisons are profitable!

    Anyway, thanx for the read. More people need to speak out against this insanity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  3. Graham says:

    The drug war is a dismal failure by any metric you’d care to measure it.

    Even if it was morally justifiable to lock people in cages for mildly self-destructive behavior, it simply hasn’t worked. Millions of Americans smoke marijuana each and every day, doing no harm to anyone, and no one who wants to try hard drugs like meth or heroin is dissuaded by it being illegal.

    Honestly, has anyone ever heard anyone say, ever, “I’d really love to smoke meth, there must really be something to that, but, man, I’m afraid of the legal penalties!”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Like prohibition before it the war on drugs is a self afflicted wound that has killed more people in the US and Mexico than al Qaeda ever could. But it’s still here because people are making a lot of money.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  5. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    This blog reads like a parody of an ACLU hash party.

    Of course there are problems with the California prison system. The system is run by unionized Democrats who for years have been giving and receiving political favors. Saying that the California prison system has flaws is like saying there are high rates of poverty, crime, murder, unemployment, teen pregnancies and school dropouts, in big liberal cities controlled for decades by liberal Democrats. Um, yeah, duh.

    The concept of gang segregation is the hallmark of good prison management and has saved literally countless lives. The other alternative is to have guys shanking and strangling each other to death. Sure, they’ll be less depressed out of solitary and segregation, right up until the moment a fellow inmate of their stabs them in the eye socket. You’d literally have to be a liberal to come up with something so absurd. It’s like when the ACLU got all mad that cops were Tasering people, instead of shooting them to death so there would be proof of their brutality. Leftism is a mental disorder.

    Granted, there do need to be reforms for drug offenses and for minor offenses too. Everyone with a functioning cerebrum agrees with that. That does not mean, however, that you cut the overall spending on prisons and corrections. If anything we should be increasing spending on newer and larger prisons for violent and repeat offenders. States, cities and counties can multitask. Spending money here (corrections) doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend less money there (education). There are other programs that can be cut or jettisoned. High-speed bullet trains, anyone?

    Plus if you’re really all that worried about public education you should be trying to get enacted school voucher programs with teeth, instead of creating millions of Willie Horton fiascos. Our kids aren’t failing because we’re trying to keep child rapists behind bars. They’re failing because unionized Democrats are filling their heads with air.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 27

  6. Bob Morris says:

    Anmesty has said that California’s SHUs (Special Housing Units) are a form of torture. I agree.

    I once spoke with someone who was in one and he said, when you get out you’re just a walking time bomb,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  7. The problem is the degree to which we’ve largely lost control of our prisons. In most cases, the prisons are really run by gangs, and thank to a near complete public indifference to issues of prisoner abuse, this means prisons are basically a school were petty criminals (or in the case of non-violent drug offenses, people who aren’t criminals at all) get turned into violent thugs.

    Our basic startegy is in essence to respond by crime by asking, “Can we justify locking this guy up forever? No? Well let’s make him worse so we can!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. Graham says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Losing control of the prisons certainly a problem, but I wouldn’t say it was the problem.

    A much more central issue is that we just have too many damned laws. We’ve made too many criminals out of innocent people, and now we’re reaping what we’ve sown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. garretc says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    It’s like when the ACLU got all mad that cops were Tasering people, instead of shooting them to death so there would be proof of their brutality. Leftism is a mental disorder.

    Yeah, that’s EXACTLY why liberals were angry about tasers for a while. Nothing makes us happier than sacrificing lives in the name of our convictions!

    It has nothing to do with what seems to be a gross over reliance on tasers among law enforcement officers, see “Don’t tase me, bro” or, I believe, the case of the tasered granny (which I’m almost certain I didn’t make up just now.) Either case could have been easily handled with nothing more than physical force by the officer, but why bother when I have a fee thousand volts of electricity handy, right?

    I mean, remember all those joyous bay area crowds that took to the streets to celebrate an officer using his gun on Oscar Grant instead of his taser? Gee, those liberals were really stoked about that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  10. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    I admire the fact that you are standing up on this issue.

    Tsar:

    You’re a cretin. A cretin who has chosen to identify himself with an anti-semitic, pus*y-whipped nincompoop who lost an empire and got his own family killed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  11. anjin-san says:

    But James, prisons are profitable!

    The whole “war on drugs” is profitable. And it all goes back to the repeal of the Volstead Act – the criminal justice system had become an industry, and with the funding for whiskey busting going away, everyone realized there were going to be a lot of layoffs.

    Presto – “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth” was born. And we are still paying the price for this stupidity. End the war on drugs. It is doing more harm to society than the drugs are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. MM says:

    The issue is that the is no downside for politicians to be “tough on crime” and many downsides to being seen as weak on crime. Study after study shows that crime has been on the decline for years, yet study after study also shows that most people think crime is rising every year.

    This is a recipe for longer prison sentences, harsher prison conditions and more reasons to lock someone up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. superdestroyer says:

    The question is if the prisons put an end to solitary confinement, then how many more murders, attempted murders, and assualts are acceptable in order for some prisoners to not be in solitary.

    The article makes it sound like that solitary confinement can be ended with no now side. Of course, this is about the same as saying that the U.S. can repeal to controlled substances act (and most provisions of the food and drug act) without any downside.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  14. I wonder whether the problem is more that voters still prefer “tough on crime” without understanding consequences, or that more people understand the over-incarceration problem now, but we have “path dependency.” Is it just hard to unroll a few decades of 3rd strike laws and etc?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    Have the soft on crime people forgotten what the U.S. was like after 20 years of soft on crime, medicalization of criminal behavior, and the refusal of the government to be responsbile for high levels of crime. Urban cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Newark are still feeling the impacts of soft on crime initiatives from the 1960’s and 70’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  16. @superdestroyer:

    I doubt that we are talking about the same things. Do you really think that arrests for possession were the missing link in the 60’s and 70’s? I wasn’t that into it at the time, but I heard the stories of “doing 20 years for a seed” in Texas, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. Backing up, as superdestroyer seems on a different page with respect to 3rd strike, the question is whether voters understand how many 3rd strike inmates are there for simple possession, and whether the average voter wants that to change ..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. KariQ says:

    To clarify, the specific laws I’m hoping that CA will continue revise are those related to drug possession, which are responsible for far too many people going to jail. Our 3 strikes law is a nightmare, as well. (Apologies for the convoluted language in my first post. I blame lack of sleep and too many Victorian novels.)

    Not directly related, but this is also a good idea: Missouri May Ease Sex Offender Registry Rules

    The law would eliminate sex-offender registry for certain crimes, such as promoting obscenity, and would create a way for offenders to come off the list early based on the severity of offense, which would be 10 years for most offenses and 20 years for more extreme offenses.

    Anyone wishing to be removed from the registry would have to petition the prosecuting attorney in the county of conviction, would have to prove they have met all of the requirements and have not had any new offenses.

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/03/30/45188.htm

    Sex offender registries are another one of those “feel good” laws that just don’t do what their proponents thought they would. I’m all in favor of letting people guilty of “crimes” that didn’t really hurt anyone stay off these offenders lists. Well, I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea of the lists, to be honest, but let’s at least make them more targeted to criminals who are actually dangerous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Backing up, as superdestroyer seems on a different page…

    Please…that is being too kind…when it comes to most things, superdestroyer is reading out of an entirely different book of warped racist fairy tales…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    The three strike law came out of the repeat offender. How many times were people harmed by someone out on parole, probation, or early release. Three strikes goes along with minimum sentences, taking away discretion from judges, and limiting probation.

    I would say that no prison for limited offenders, early release, and no solitary confinement would be okay as long as the legal profession accepts responsibility for their decisions. If prisons do not put wardens in solitary because they are limited risk, then the prison officials would be responsible for the impacts of their decisions just like handlers of hazardous waste are responsible for their actions.

    If the justice system says someone is not a treat, that same justice system needs to be responsible when the threat becomes real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  21. Woody says:

    Two points:

    1. As far as the ruined lives of Americans: it’s perfectly acceptable, as they’re completely expendable; i.e. there will be some demographic Mark of Cain that differentiates them from Real Americans.

    2. No worries anyway, Dr Joyner: as far as “investing in our children”, the same ilk of “Market Better!” crony capitalists are worming their way into state and federal governments on the education end as well. Hell, after awhile, these privateers will undoubtably merge and get those Market School!™ troublemakers into Market Prison!™ with remarkable efficiency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @Woody:

    Considering that there are graduates of UCLA working at Starbucks because they cannot find a better job, what does everyone believe will happen if more money in spent on education. Instead of 20 people applying for every open position, the number will go to 30?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  23. Ben Wolf says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Considering that there are graduates of UCLA working at Starbucks because they cannot find a better job, what does everyone believe will happen if more money in spent on education. Instead of 20 people applying for every open position, the number will go to 30?

    Considering the unemployment rate of college graduates was a quarter the unemployment rate of those without st the height of the recession, your comment seems remarkably inane.

    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The point was about underemployment instead of unemployment. http://www.joannejacobs.com/2011/11/how-we-ruined-the-occupy-generation/

    What does spending more money education do for the UCLA graduates working at Starbucks besides make their takes higher? What does releasing virtually everyone in prison do except make more neighborhoods unlivable, raise their car insurance, and put more small business out of business?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. matt says:

    @Ben Wolf: Remarkably inane covers most of SD’s posts..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  26. Richard Gardner says:

    I think someone doesn’t understand that the political purpose of prisons is high wage employment in rural areas (yes, snark). Follow the money.

    Meanwhile fear mongers promote getting tough on crime and scaring the bejesus out of you, without mentioning that crime rates are way down from 20 years ago. 24/7 cable news doesn’t help either, sensationalizing rare instances (the plural of anecdote is not data).

    UCLA is not a good comparison (as a UC graduate myself) – for every UCLA grad working at Starbucks in CA, there are 20+ CalState/Poly and community college graduates doing likewise. (Meanwhile I know a VP of Starbucks that is a CalState grad and making way more than I).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @Richard Gardner:

    Are you really claiming that the the crime rate being lower than 30 years ago is totally disconnected with the rate that people were sent to prison since then? Maybe one of the reasons that the violent crime rate is lower is that so many criminals were punt in jail.

    Also, the claim was that money spent on education would produce a better return than money spent on law enforcement or anything else is not support by the data. How does producing more college graduates working at Starbucks help the economy. Does California really have a shortage of any form of college graduate? How does producing more underemployed people help anything?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Ben Wolf says:

    @superdestroyer: If sending people to jail for things they haven’t done has caused a drop in violent crime, then I’d like the violent crime back please.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  29. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Where is the evidence that many people have been sent to jail for things they haven’t done versus the claim that drug offenses are virtimless and that drug users, dealers, distributors, and wholesalers should not be arrested.

    Look at the closer rates from crimes like burglaries and robberies and it is obvious that many criminals are never arrested and too many crimes go unpunished.

    Of course, no one cares about people who have their houses robbed, their stores looted, or their family members murdered. Status seeking and being politically correct are much more important.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  30. Fog says:

    James, I cannot recall reading a better, more timely post here or anywhere else. Nothing will be done about this because the opposition to it is fragmented over economic issues. There is a ton of overlap concerning civil liberties between the ACLU types (like me) and libertarians. We are now closer to a police state than I would have thought possible growing up. If we can’t put aside our differences over the free market to address things like “free speech zones” or the “war on drugs” then I guess we deserve what we’re getting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. Neil Hudelson says:

    There was actually a slight taste of bile in my mouth after reading Tsar’s post. He really is just a horrible excuse for a person.

    -Neil

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  32. @superdestroyer:

    How many times were people harmed by someone out on parole, probation, or early release.

    Again, given the nature of prison is this a suprise? If you take someone guilty of some petty crime like, say, shoplifting and the let gang members beat them around for six months, is it a shock that when they get out they’ve become more criminal instead of less?

    The purpose of prison shouldn’t be ot just hold people for a time, but to try and reform them. And that begins by making it a situation where their primary social contact while inside isn’t even worse criminals.

    And that would be a lot easier to do if we weren’t wasting most of our prison resources on people who shouldn’t be there at all, like non-violent drug felons, prostitutes, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  33. al-Ameda says:

    Here in California, the state budget for prisons is approximately equal to the combined budget for the University of California and the State University systems.

    We keep finding ways to incarcerate more and more people for longer periods of time. Voter initiatives have created mandates that have severely curtailed prosecutorial discretion in sentencing for many criminal convictions. The system is broken, and the public shares much of the blame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. garretc says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Look at the closer rates from crimes like burglaries and robberies and it is obvious that many criminals are never arrested and too many crimes go unpunished.

    You know what might help police to focus their attention and funding on stopping those burglaries and robberies? If we stopped forcing them to spend so much time and energy locking up drug users, for one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  35. Ben Wolf says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Where is the evidence that many people have been sent to jail for things they haven’t done . . . [?]

    I’d suggest you start here.

    http://www.innocenceproject.org/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  36. Eric Florack says:

    Given that the more we “invest” in government schools the worse the test scores get, and the higher the unemployment gets, maybe your juxtaposition is missing something?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  37. anjin-san says:

    Given that the more we “invest” in government schools the worse the test scores get, and the higher the unemployment gets,

    Ah, so it’s public education that is causing unemployment now.

    Dude, you are becoming a parody of yourself. Given that you are a joke on your best day, its got to be kind of rough being you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  38. Rob in CT says:

    Prohibition 2.0 hasn’t worked out. Well, it has for certain people. There’s a lot of money in it.

    I think we could, if we had the will, take about 1/2-2/3 of what we currently spend on the “War on Drugs” and spend it on treatment programs and regulation of a legalized industry. The remaining money could be used on deficit reduction. And that’s w/o even talking about the tax revenue…

    Plusses: 1) liberty; 2) less violence; 3) safer product; 4) less waste of taxpayer money/borrowed money on unhelpful things + new source of tax revenue; 5) fewer folks in jail, less strain on the judicial system

    Minuses: 1) more people would likely use, and some portion of them would not be able to handle it; and 2) possible uptick in DUI. I can understand worrying about these downsides. I think they’re real. I also think the net result of legalization is good.

    Something is badly, badly wrong with our society if we simply *must* put this many people in jail. And I think we all knows what happens in jail. It seems to simply produce more hardened criminals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. mannning says:

    Does anyone have a handle on the recidivism rates for felons? Does early release from prison affect the rate of recidivism? Are there stats on the number of one, two and three time losers currently in prison, and the recidivism rates for one and two timers? Is the percentage of dope convictions and incarcerations a high percentage of the total population? Without a handle on these stats, it is not easy to consider reducing the time in jail for felons, or considering abandoning the three-time loser rule.

    Wrongful convictions must be corrected where possible, of course, but that is not the same level of problem as reduction of sentences across the board, or dropping many felony charges altogether under the assumption that we need to reduce the prison population. This is premature to say the least!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  40. An Interested Party says:

    Since it is question time…Is the War on Drugs worth the price we are paying for it? Why should non-violent offenders go to prison if they aren’t a physical threat to others? Why do we not sever the profit motivation from the prison-industrial complex? Why are any consensual acts criminalized?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. mannning says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Why should non-violent offenders go to prison if they aren’t a physical threat to others?

    I suppose someone, perhaps his lawyer, must guarantee (with penalties for failure) that the person has not been, is not, and never will be violent under any circumstances, in order to be let free to roam, or to be paroled under some kind of supervision. A first-time, non-violent offender is often given this treatment, and must serve out his term if he repeats any offense, however small.

    The question then is, who takes the risk and suffers the penalties together with the offender if he does become criminally violent later on: other citizens, the state, a lawyer, or all of them?

    Count me out of making such a personal guarantee. The odds are against success.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  42. grumpy realist says:

    @mannning: well, we don’t seem to feel that there’s any problem letting people convicted of violent felonies to get their hands on guns again after they get out…

    (We won’t let them vote, but boy do we want them to have their 2nd Amendment rights!)

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  43. mannning says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I do believe that “We” don’t have much to do with released felons acquiring guns. The convict network takes care of that, and the felons don’t show up at the parole office with their guns in hand, now do they? Any criminal knows how to obtain weapons without going through the check system at all, as many have pointed out the the rabid and senseless anti-gun people.

    All many gun control laws do is to effectively disarm or make it difficult for the general public, while not disturbing the criminals one whit. It is also true that the current check system could use some tightening. We should take lessons from the horrible experiences of the UK public since the passage of extreme gun control laws and denial of any “Castle Laws” to protect your home and family.The place to be a criminal today is the UK. They needn’t fear the home owner at all; he has become totally helpless if he obeys the law.

    This is completely insane, but the fearless gun control addicts won out there, and their rapidly rising crime rate accurately reflects their utter stupidity. It won’t happen here! There are some 60 to 80 million gun owners in the US that will act to stop such nonsense.

    I suppose you didn’t know that each year an average of about 3 million gun incidents are reported to the police in the US where the homeowner has thwarted an intruder or a more serious criminal act, such as rape or assault, and perhaps even murder. The idiots in the media only count the bad gun incidents, quite deliberately. What a false world we live in when the media conspire to suppress a key fact about gun usage!

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