Escape From Alcatraz

A famous law professor once told his class, “We are here to protect the sheep from the wolves”. Further adding that the “wolves can take care of themselves, even against other wolves”.

As we ponder how the recent killings by police have resulted in no indictments, we wonder what can be done to tip the scales of power to where justice is blind and all men are treated fairly and equally by the court system.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009 the rate was 743 incarcerated per 100000 population. This means that 1 out of every 135 U.S. residents was incarcerated in prison or jail, or roughly 7.3 million people. Are we as a people really that immoral, or is our court system just extremely good at locking us up?

Roughly 52% of those incarcerated in state prisons were for violent crimes, and no one can make an argument for allowing those harming others the opportunity to walk free. What can be said about the other 48%? Can we explain why half of the prisons’ populations are made up of non-violent criminals? We already know it’s not the white- collar criminals from the housing meltdown. To date only one of them has been brought to trial.

From 1980 through 2003 prison populations quadrupled. Can we explain why such a tremendous surge during this period? As the old saying goes, “follow the money”. The two biggest factors, the war on drugs and for profit prisons.

The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs. That’s right, one year, $15 billion dollars and it is estimated that state and local governments spend about another $25 billion per year. 40 billion dollars of taxpayer’s hard earned money to incarcerate 1,663,582 in 2009, a little over half of them for marijuana.

Let’s ask ourselves a couple of basic questions:

1. Is the war on drugs working, are there less drugs available? Couldn’t you find anything you want on the street in an hour? So the answer is no, the war on drugs is not working.
2. Is incarceration a viable solution for drug offenses? California estimates to spend $47,000 a year to jail a person. Using $30,000 as an average for all states, the total comes to $2,694,000,000 (2.7 billion) each year to lock up just drug offenders.
3. Is the punishment being meted out fairly? In information compiled by the FBI, it shows that over a ten-year period, from 1995 to 2005, whites made up 68.9 percent of the total arrests and blacks made up 27.8 percent. Of the 2,131,200 incarcerated in all facilities in 2004, 42.7 percent are black, 18.5 percent are Hispanic, and 36.5 percent are white. It appears that while justice may be blind, it’s not color blind.

The beneficiaries of the “war on drugs” are obvious. It’s the same military industrial complex outfitting our excursions into other countries. If one couples the desire to have a country engaged in an endless, unwinnable “war”, to a desire to lock people up for profit, you’ve created an unstoppable juggernaut for filling prisons.

Currently my family can boast there are no family members incarcerated. “Often indicted but never convicted”, as the saying goes. I credit good genetics, we’re all white. One more thing for Momma to be proud of, along with no harelips and any “serious” mental disease. Unless you count the occasional Democrat here and there.

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