February 24, 2004 - The Morning Call (PA)

Throw Money At War On Drugs; It Works So Well

By Paul Carpenter

Oh dear. Oh dear! Pennsylvania's stingy taxpayers, we learned Sunday, are not paying nearly enough to keep throngs of people in prison.

The state Corrections Department's budget went from $816 million in 1995 to $1.25 billion in 2002, the story said, but Gov. Rendell wants $1.37 billion for the coming year.

That is because we have 40,836 prisoners in a system with a capacity of 34,439, and mandatory sentencing and other inflexible measures will give us 42,409 by year's end.

It cost $28,129 a year in 2002-03 to keep one inmate behind bars, and it was noted that Pennsylvania spends less than a third of that, per individual, for public school students. Such are our priorities.

Other weekend stories said 15 people were arrested on drug charges in Carbon County, and eight more in a big drug raid in Easton. No doubt the prison system, tra-la, will be replenished by several more guests, at $28,129 a pop.

Meanwhile, official estimates say that as many as 80 percent of Americans in prison are there for drug-related offenses. Those are either people who harm themselves or each other by mutual consent, or those who steal to support expensive drug habits.

I know most taxpayers are delighted to be paying all that money, but I have a subversive attitude about this.

For one thing, I believe that draconian penalties for drug use and drug trafficking only make the problem worse.

As I have argued before, cocaine cost less than soap when it was legal, and nearly everyone ignored it except for those who used it in soda pop. Now it costs more than gold.

I do not believe that preaching against vice has the slightest effect except to increase the forbidden-fruit appeal. I once proposed that those idiotic "Be smart, don't start drugs" bumper stickers be changed to, "Be stupid! Go ahead and do drugs! See if I care!"

Most subversive of all, I believe the war on drugs is designed with one purpose in mind: to keep our law enforcement and prison cartels rolling in money. (The cartels know, for example, about laissez-faire Denmark, which has about half our crime rate.)

The cartels will never willingly give up $1.37 billion for Pennsylvania prisons and all the other money that goes down our war-on-drugs drain.

Sunday's story said average prison sentences in Pennsylvania are the longest in America, so I checked on the percentage of Americans in prison.

It is hard to find comparative statistics from U.S. government sources, for some reason, but British government reports say the United States has a prison population of 686 per 100,000 of population. That compares with 638 in the former champ, Russia. In Canada, it's 102; it ranges from 59 to 68 in laissez-faire Scandinavia; in Japan, it's a measly 48.

Good golly! Those poor countries are letting hordes of miscreants run around loose. They must be awash in crime. Their streets must be soaked with blood. Their drug agents and prison employees, sob, are suffering the hardship of having to go find regular jobs.

U.S. politicians, in contrast, enact ever more get-tough laws, such as three strikes and mandatory sentencing.

California's three-strikes law has one guy doing life for stealing cookies, and another, more serious, California case (involving the theft of golf clubs) went all the way to the glorious U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled, of course, in favor of that life sentence.

Many Pennsylvania politicians are clamoring to emulate California. They will not be happy, I'm sure, until we have millions of people behind bars, each sucking up $28,129 a year.

I'm also sure taxpayers will keep electing these donkeys -- if they bray about being tough on crime-because the war on drugs is working so well, and because taxes are too low.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform, they also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project