21 April 2011

The Capitalist Effect on our failed drug war

If you have been sitting in your armchair wondering about which politicians are being on the level about deficit spending, you can be rest assured that none are.  There are only three things that will reduce our deficit spending, 1) raising individual taxes and cutting credits for the wealthy 2) slashing spending on the military complex and the various wars we are fighting 3) cleanup social and educational programs to make them more efficient.

On the war front, this week the Government Accountability Office published their findings on immigration incarceration.   "The number of criminal aliens in federal prisons in fiscal year 2010 was about 55,000, and the number of SCAAP [State Criminal Alien Assistance Program] criminal alien incarcerations in state prison systems and local jails was about 296,000 in fiscal year 2009 (the most recent data available), and the majority were from Mexico."

The report details the types of crimes illegal immigrants are being taken into custody for, "About 90 percent of the criminal aliens sentenced in federal court in fiscal year 2009 (the most recently available data) were convicted of immigration and drug-related offenses." The drug war our country has been waging for the past 20 years is the unmentioned, non-debated war our enforcement agencies are fighting everyday and not winning.

At what cost does the prison system house criminal immigrants? The GAO estimates that "costs to incarcerate criminal aliens in federal prisons and SCAAP reimbursements to states and localities ranged from about $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually from fiscal years 2005 through 2009"

The GAO estimated that selected operating costs (i.e., correctional officer salaries, medical care, food service, and utilities) associated with incarcerating criminal aliens in our nation’s state prison systems totaled $7 billion from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2009. These costs ranged from about $736 million in 2003 to $1.1 billion in 2009, about a 56 percent increase.

The prison industry, and our war on drugs in particular, is essential a waste of money.  More and more studies indicate that punitive recourse is far less effective than more proactive and reformative processes.  Unfortunately, most conservatives are unwilling to budge when it comes to changing our drug laws.  And most liberals are too concerned about the general perception that liberals are soft on crime to push for an overhaul.  Our economy would breathe a huge sigh of relief by eliminating the prosecution of drug offenders charged with possession of 200 grams or less of THC.  However, the mockery of the three strikes law and truth in sentencing is that the amount of money necessary to fund housing convicted criminals, specifically those who have been convicted of small time possession infractions,  is adding to our endlessly burgeoning budget.

These are serious problems that will eventually need to be addressed and should be sooner than later.  As it is, we live in a sort of blissful ignorance.  The American public refuses to acknowledge that our prison industry is broken.  Until recently, California prison population was growing faster than the system could process them.  As a result, California is releasing inmates early to relieve the stress on overcrowded prisons and jails.  Because of strict federal anti-drug laws, California releases violators of property crimes, such as car theft rather than possession crimes.

There are many alternatives to incarceration.  According to the Urban Strategies Council, "Rather than blindly increasing funding for a correction system that does not work, we need to stop investing in criminal justice and begin investing in community justice. Community justice investments begin by adequately funding the basic needs of children and their families including health, housing, education and training, and youth development programs. It continues by diverting funds from the criminal justice system for incarceration and redirecting them to providing support services needed by young people who do come into contact with the criminal justice system.  Finally, it uses programs, such as transformational mentoring, to provide intensive, community based programs and supports to youth for whom prevention and early intervention have not worked."

One final note: the percentage of 21 year-olds or younger released from prison who do not possess at least a GED is around 25%. The percentage of these offenders to return to prison is an astounding 54%, whereas those offenders earning a GED while incarcerated face a recidivism rate nearer 40%.

"According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The more education received, the less likely an individual is to be re-arrested or re-imprisoned."  Open Society Institute (1997). Research brief. education as crime prevention, providing education to prisoners. The Center on Crime, Communities and Culture.

Should businesses be capitalizing on crime?  Should private industries receive tax dollars to imprison citizens and essentially function as for-profit institutions?  At what cost does the prison industry function on our society?
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