US Prisons--a growth industry


Let us not launch the boat ...
Valued Senior Member
The following I copied from the website for the Financial Times. Apologies for that, since they move stories through quickly and links evaporate.

My only comment on this story is that we can alleviate this situation by relaxing the War Against Drugs, and by taking our duty to educate our citizens just a little more seriously.

I have formatted text for accent. Thanx ...

... Tiassa :cool:

Prison numbers still rising
By Nicholas Timmins in Washington
Published: April 19 2000 23:41GMT | Last Updated: April 20 2000 00:04GMT

Unemployment is at a near 30-year low, welfare rolls are falling and crime rates dropping, but the US prison population, already the highest per capita in the western world, continues its inexorable rise.

The prison population hit 1.86m in June and is likely to reach 2m next year, the Department of Justice's statistics bureau said on Wednesday. Already, more than one in 150 American residents is incarcerated, with 712,000 more inmates than at the end of 1990, when just one in 218 residents was imprisoned. In Louisiana and in Texas, the base of George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, more than 1 per cent are locked up.

"The main thing driving up the numbers is the reliance on prisons and jails as the answer to every social problem," said Jason Ziedenberg of the Justice Policy Institute.

"Many of the problems of the homeless and the mentally ill are being solved by jail and the war on drugs is also driving up the prison population for possession and dealing.

"It's going to reach 2m, and 2m is too many. The US has about 5 per cent of the world population but close to 25 per cent of the world's prison population."

The numbers are now high enough to affect the near 30-year low in US unemployment figures, as those in prison or jail are not counted in either the numerator or denominator of the official unemployment rate.

The number imprisoned is more than 2 per cent of the labour force, and economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger calculated in a paper for the Brookings Institution last year that the rise in the prison population between 1985 and 1998 reduced the male unemployment rate by about 0.3 per centage points. For women the figure was lower, between 0.1 and 0.2.

Last year's 4.4 per cent rise in the prison population, up 58,333 or an extra 1,122 inmates a week, was slower than the average growth of 5.8 per cent annually since 1990. The increase in absolute numbers was about 800 fewer than the rise in the previous 12 months.

We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)
Yes prisons are relied upon for taking up social problems, but the answer is not to just say, "Hey lets pretend drugs aren't a problem any more". Using that pretext, why have any laws? That way you can reduce the prison numbers to zero.

Education is the answer. Family is the answer. These two points together, if emphasized can reduce the social problems. It is too easy for people to think they do not have a role, because somebody else will clean it up, when really I feel it is everybodies fault because they do not take the time to educate and spend time with their own families.

As far as the statistic about more people in US prisons than anywhere else in the world, is that a fair comparison? Most countries do not have the same set of laws to compare to, or a police force to enforce those laws. If they had the means, I am sure they would use their prisons to control some of their social problems as well. I don't think the comparison can be made unless their is a globally enforced legal system.

You have raised excellent points, many of which will find no argument from me. I agree that education is, hands down, the answer. And, there is no way to deny that family is an important part of that equation, though I will limit myself with the disclaimer that family can also be a source of difficulty (as in the case of drugs).

As far as foreign laws and customs are concerned, it is very difficult to make a direct comparison. However, when we look at the rise of mandatory-minimum statutes coinciding with the growing popularity of "privatization" of prisons, I'm inclined to ask where else in the world Prison has become a growth-industry. Regarding the morality of economics in prison, I always point to Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays (Dover Press, 1969), and also that lovely line from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter declaring the perpetual necessity of jails and cemeteries. These, at least, for a starting point, but one usually finds them either a wonderful anti-paradigm, or a good place to begin arguing loudly; I assert no correctness to those ideas aside from my own acceptance of them.

I would, however, like to take issue with one of your statements. (If I may ... ;) )

Yes prisons are relied upon for taking up social problems, but the answer is not to just say, "Hey lets pretend drugs aren't a problem any more".

Nobody has ever adequately explained to me why the act of taking a specific drug should be a crime. I would not assert that heroin or cocaine are harmless, but I'm not inclined to make it a crime to destroy oneself.

In the case of Marihuana, the big benefit we get from its prohibition is Nylon. I mean, the answer apparently was to say, "Hey, let's pretend this drug is a problem." Literally. Harry Anslinger (Bureau of Narcotics), who testified--I beg your pardon, who perjured himself gravely--before Congress, had only months before his testimony been researching the "decorticator" for hemp with the intent of empowering American farmers with new technology to grow the stuff. Then, suddenly, he declares before Congress that Marihuana is more harmful than opium, and without a shred of the benefits found in opiates. The result? Marihuana prohibition. The law? The Marihuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937.

That's right, pot prohibition is a purely commercial consideration ... and always has been. They're locking people up for Dow Chemical's money. Well, these days, the pharmaceutical, fuel, textile, and timber industries, at least, see massive financial benefits from maintaining a war on drugs. So much so that if you watch closely, you will see that anti-drug ballot initiatives will be backed by commercial interests, and not "well-intended" groups like DARE, PDFA, or otherwise.

Alcohol Prohibition didn't end simply because everyone wanted to get drunk again. The move to reduce casual violence and general sin in the communities resulted in organized violence and sin as the mafia ran the black market. Shootouts, bombings, massacres ... the people had enough. Yet we continue to pretend that the difficulties that did not exist before Nixon's "War Against Drugs" in 1972 are somehow independent of our publicly-funded persecutory efforts.

Cocaine, Heroin, and Methamphetamine are all controllable social difficulties if we focus more on education and less on the satisfaction we get from punishing people. A ranking Reverend in England tore into that country's drug policy in '98, claiming that the public regard for MDMA had alienated a massive portion of the younger generation, and possibly caused irreparable damage to the British social fabric.

Why is it so important? Why is it so important to win the War Against Drugs that the UN has declared its intent to erradicate marihuana and opium from the planet in ... oh, about a decade?

Why is it so important that the US government should engage in censorship-for-money arrangements with popular TV shows and news-media sources? And this from a Drug Czar who backed down from the European press when questioned over whether he would submit to a urinalysis drug-screening?

Why is it so important that a Grateful Dead fan in New Jersey should spend 25 to life in prison for possessing a burned-out roach and a 50/350 Tylox that was legally prescribed to his companion?

In Missouri, a drug conviction was so important to prosecutors that they had police change the location of the sting to bring the target unwittingly within 1000 yards of a school, and thus double his sentence. Also in that state, Rep. Bobby Moak introduced legislation that would punish distribution convictions with dismemberment. Newt Gingrich, back in about early '96, signed his name onto a drug-enforcement bill that would have executed anyone crossing the Canadian border with an indeterminate amount of marijuana that is approximately equal to two ounces (the bill read, "100 standard doses"; I've never counted how many bong rips I get from an ounce, so I'm using numbers from

According to Department of Justice, the number of federal inmates increased from 200,000 in 1972 (when Nixon declared War on drugs) to 1.7 million at the end of 1997. The shocking thing is that it works out to approximately 65-70% of those convictions are for nonviolent possession/distribution charges.

There were over 600,000 drug arrests in the US in 1998. I worked that out to 60.67 an hour, or just over one a minute. Ever wonder where the cops are when a violent crime begins? They're shaking down ethnic minorites, or else bugging hippies for a joint.

Anyone know when the last property seizure was for "Insider trading"? Hey, you don't have to be guilty of any crime to lose your house drug-related asset forfeiture.

How much money are we wasting each year criminalizing our drug users?

How many lives are we destroying?

Is it really worth it if it means that our own Marine Corps will be gunning us down?

Truly, it would be foolish of me to declare that drugs are a good thing: I never have made that blanket statement, but I sometimes think I should.

For instance, do needle exchanges work? I would say yes, but it's hard to figure out since the political establishment does everything it can to interfere with the implementation of such programs and therefore the valuable research that we can perform simultaneously.

Does Marihuana have a medicinal benefit? I can say that, by roundabout mechanisms, it is. But it's roundabout enough to start wondering what else is happening at the same time. Why don't we find out? Because every time we try, the Drug Warriors have a hissy-fit. It seems more than coincidental that, during 1998, while a National Institutes of Health symposium was spelling out its best recommendations for exploring the medicinal value of marihuana, the US Congress passed a resolution declaring that it (Congress) had determined marihuana to have no medical value.

You're right, though, that we can't say that "pretend", as such, that drugs aren't a problem. Rather, I cannot say that there is not a multitude of problems associated with drug use. But the drugs themselves are only different from guns and bullets in that drugs don't have a Constitutional protection. But it's not the drugs that are the problem, it's the idiots taking them. Wisdom is not hard to come by: Cocaine--it was green and pretty, now it looks like powdered sugar ... is this a good thing? Hey, I can't help if someone actually thinks it is a good thing. And there's where education comes in.

Frankly, I would assert that if we educate people properly and truthfully, we will raise a generation that's too smart to smash itself against the drug-induced wall of frustrations that defines the present period of cultural relations to the drug subculture.

But I do think the War Against Drugs is dangerous. And I do believe that ending it will alleviate both the number of prisoners and the number of violent crimes plaguing society.

I mean, we'll put a bunch of jailers out of work, but even they would think twice before shedding a tear.

Hmmm ... as a parting note, I will point out an irony: the people who will, in a short period of years, be making the political decisions in our lives are subject to the same inadequate educational system as those who enter the drug-subculture. (Actually, the two groups of later products overlap, but ....) Think about it: the same slipshod educational system we all wonder about is preparing a future President of the United States.

That just occurred to me now.

Sorry to be so long, but once I started .....

thanx for the time,
Tiassa :cool:

We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)

I generally agree with the senselessness of the war on drugs when it comes to such innocent things as marijuana. However, I disagree when it comes to the so-called "hard" drugs, like crack for example. Those are so addictive, that the habit in itself drives people into crimes. It is common for people to steal, rob, and even kill for pocket cash only to get enough to satisfy their urge (and being drugged out all the time, the addicts are unable to earn their own money to fund their habit.)

So indeed, the "hard" drugs should be outlawed, and stay outlawed forever. Marijuana, however, is a different issue altogether, and I share your indignation at the commercial persecution of hemp.

I am; therefore I think.

Perhaps the only issue I have with your statements about hard drugs is that leaving them "outlawed" forever appears to fail to address the issues of hard, addictive drugs.

I would start with the notion that there are addictive, psychiatrically-affective chemicals out there that are not listed under narcotics schedules for the simple fact that nobody is dumb enough to take them. Now this lack of stupidity is not consistent or universal; I cannot explain, except for factors of poverty, inhalants like paint or glue.

What I'm after with that is that coke and methamphetamine should be that way. Of all the anti-crank arguments I've ever heard, I had to write my own when I learned about its manufacture--I mean, the stuff has diesel in it. Threaten a kid with jail--well, that's 'cuz we made the stuff illegal; it speaks nothing of the reasons why we did so. Threaten a kid with alienation--well, that's the choice of those who abstain from various substances to feel that way. Scare them with lurid tales of crime and debauchery--frankly, the one consistent experience I've had with any drugs whatsoever is that such sinister aspects disappear the closer to the surface the subculture comes. (For instance, about the only thing we don't do amid my circle of friends is wander down the street openly smoking jays on a daily basis. It's when people cluster up in dank, sweaty rooms, hiding from police and family, that they turn desperate.

And as to desperation, I would like to include the idea of treating the symptom versus treating the disease. For instance, I'm well-addicted to nicotine; the general opinion of our own local medical community is that doctors would rather treat heroin addicts, not only because of the immediacy of need, but because it's easier to break junkies than smokers. But I'm aware of the damage I'm doing, and constantly plotting to quit. (Every once in awhile I do--eighteen months is the usual success period, and that one might have worked had the ritual of inducing the nicotine that returned me to the smoking life not been more important than the nicotine itself.)

But my folks finally figured out to stop hounding me about cigarettes and alcohol and pot. I remember the look on my mother's face when she figured it out: she had been encouraging me to alleviate symptoms while trying to drive me deeper into the disease. Thus, instead of working against my vices, she now works in favor of my happiness, trusting that said happiness will provide the necessary latitude to begin eliminating the vices. (Family gatherings are much more pleasant now that nobody blames drugs for a behavioral pattern that predates my nicotine, alcohol, THC, or halluncinogenic histories.)

I think we should look at hard drugs in a similar manner. There is a reason one takes drugs in the first place; if we redefine our regards and priorities toward drugs, we might be able to exploit this knowledge. For now, though, we (as a society) generally push people farther down into the muck and mire, and then get angry when they get dirty.

But consider a vice-ridden soul: he cheats on his wife, drinks too much, and uses cocaine. We can treat his cocaine addiction, his alcohol addiction, and even address his "sexual" addiction. But it doesn't change the fact that something motivates the person to want to cheat, drink, and snort. That motivating desire is the real target with any addcitive, obsessive, or compulsive behavior.

One need not declare, "Free cocaine for everybody" in order to affect the current situation. But we're cramming users into jail while letting pimps walk. We're targeting low-level dealers instead of busting those same pimps who keep their tags in line with drugs. In Tacoma, I recall that gang-bangers who were selling 14 year-olds out on the streeets were being turned out of jail after 24 hours because all the crack smokers were taking up the bedspace. One of my friends died in that scene.

Thus I submit that we end Richard M. Nixon's War Against Drugs. The Nixonian War has already cost us too many lives, too much money, and incalculable time resources.

Why do we need to increase sentences if someone was on coke when they robbed a liquor store? In principle, shouldn't two drunks in a fight receive heavier sentences than if they had, in all sobriety, decided to knock the crap out of each other?

But the War Against Drugs must end. Prison should be a last resort, not a convenient cure-all. I sometimes wonder, when I watch American society at large, if it isn't that we've decided that it isn't economically viable to do the right thing; that, at least, I could understand, since it is the preferred modus operandi of American compassion. But right now, it seems that the Drug War a sick, sick joke perpetrated by a bunch of bored moral zealots.

I mean, 1 in 150 Americans in prison? If the Drug "problem"--I mark that because we could pick from myriad problematic issues--were showing any signs of abating, I might decide that this number, as a maximum, is an acceptable evil for the greater good.

Labor issue for scale: Consider, please, the last big GM strike ... rough calculations of my own put that strike as possessing a calculable percentage of the labor-force, approximately two-tenths of the work-force (my original factors were estimates starting with 300,000,000 Americans total, though I expect the census to give us a slightly lower number). Okay, but the point is that the GM strike equalled perhaps 0.2% of the work-force. The number of people in prison is ten times the size of the GM strike.

I merely assert that enough is bloody enough. I just don't want it to come about in the future that I go to jail for something (anything), merely because the Drug War set a massive precedent for the suspension of Human and Civil Rights. Just about any trick you might use in your defense for any crime has been thrown out in the Drug War. Right now, the Fed is prosecuting Peter McWilliams for growing marijuana. Mr. McWilliams, who is an AIDS patient, performed perfectly under California's Prop 215. As a matter of fact, he never began cultivating marijuana before his arrest, and had decided not to cultivate. Unfortunately, his documentation of the transfer of growing equipment to the California Cannabis Buyer's Co-Op is what he's being prosecuted for. Not only did federal officials deny McWilliams all of his medications for AIDS, but they held him without an attorney while doing so for four days, which is against the law. Furthermore, despite the fact that this whole case centers around Prop 215, for medical marijuana, the judge in the case has ruled that the jury may not be told that Mr McWilliams has AIDS, and my not consider that his actions were legal in California.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroin ... the Drug War is flat-out enough. It's a losing effort, it's a license for cruelty and indignity. It's a cause whose adherents lack any sense of compassion or redemption. The Drug War itself is the greater threat to American security and stability than the drugs.

As far as addicts go ... well, that's their right as much as anything. As far as violent, drug-related crime goes, we have the precedent of alcohol prohibition suggesting that that violent crime will undergo a massive reduction at the end of drug prohibition. As far as treating drug users is concerned, I think "acceptance" will do more to reduce drug addiction than "intervention", in the sense that we might be able to reduce the motivations to use drugs.

I suppose that it just disturbs me that the Drug War has gone so far that the USMC is patrolling inside our own borders, assaulting and killing our own citizens, and getting carte blanche while doing it.

I subscribe to a weekly e-letter from ... I recommend it in general, but it is specifically a drug-legalization organization. Perhaps the most astounding thing about it is the number of Drug War tragedies that go unmentioned in the mainstream press. No matter what tragedies occur, one of two conditions will prevail: silence, or else a logical construction that absolves the civil authority, and which the public will not accept in regards to anything else.

But it will be hard to say what to do until the dust clears, and that won't happen until the Drug Warriors stop their shooting, stop their persecutions, and stop their devastating assault against Liberty.

Education and the better aspects of family are the strongest keys to winning the "Drug War". But it's apparently not worth fighting without the bullets.

So in the end I would say that I agree there are myriad problems to address, but the first thing that needs to happen is that we need to stop relying on bullets and prisons to win the day. Find some other way to intervene, but crime and punishment begets crime and punishment. Break the cycle, and we get a fresh swing at the problem itself.

Cocaine may be a tumor. Heroin may be a tumor. But are we not foolish to remove only the tumors we can see? In what shadowed corner of the soul does this cancer hide?

When I say end the War Against Drugs, I also propose that we seek that shadowed corner.

thanx much,
Tiassa ;)

We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)
<img src = ""> Well said, Tiassa. I don't want to repeat what you have said above, but I need to comment on this thread. I will keep it short.

I remember when, as a child, I had faith in the phrase: Liberty and justice for all. But these past two decades of the Just-say-no approach to curing our national drug addiction have diminished my appreciation for my home nation. The ideals which were passed in the classroom while we pledged our allegiance to the United States have been replaced with something more sinister. I agree with you that we are reaching a crisis situation, and that this "Drug War" is a crime upon society and the people who live in it.

I don't see how anyone could honestly see the imprisonment of minorities (dopers) as a rational solution to our problems. Yes, drugs can be associated with crime, but most of that criminal activity would end if drugs were managed in a controled market rather than a black market.

God damn yes! Let's end this internal war! It's time for peace in America. Leave people alone and help those who ask for it.

It's all very large.

[This message has been edited by Bowser (edited April 21, 2000).]

I remember when, as a child, I had faith in the phrase: Liberty and justice for all. But these past two decades of the Just-say-no approach to curing our national drug addiction have diminished my appreciation for my home nation. The ideals which were passed in the classroom while we pledged our allegiance to the United States have been replaced with something more sinister.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!


If everyone else has forgotten what they tried to teach us about justice being blind and all that crap, well that would explain it, eh?

If I had read Emma Goldman when I was in ninth grade, I could have explained why I refused The Pledge and despised hand-on-heart flag-worship. Of course, I can point to the War Against Drugs to explain it now.

I love being an American. It's just that there's too many people making a living from killing all the fun. If conventional wisdom had its way in the mid-90's, the nation might not have recovered from a mind-numbing rage of "line-dancing".

But there are only a couple of occasions when my government truly fails me so that I must hold the values of my childhood as examples, and not as truths. Suffice it to say that the War Against Drugs is one of them.

Thank you, though, for inspiring a wonderful memory of an afternoon I once spent trying to explain to someone how revolution is patriotic, and also memories of the stony spring I learned about Emma Goldman.

Coolness & springtime goodness ....
Tiassa :cool:

We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)

The two above links are to The Week Online (2/11/2000), from the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

The first link pertains to the killing of Ismael Mena, age 45, by Denver (Colorado) Police executing a "no-knock" raid. The complications of no-knock raids, I would think, become apparent in this article. However, I did want to note that the Drug Warriors have murdered an innocent man:

.... After breaking open the front door and entering the apartment, the SWAT team officers found the door to Mena's room latched, and kicked it in. According to the officers, they found Mena, armed with an 8-shot .22 revolver, standing on his bed. Officers screamed "police!" and "drop the gun!" repeatedly, at which point, they attest, Mena started to put the gun down, asking, "policia?" At that moment, Sgt. Anthony Iacovetta emerged from behind a wall and moved to disarm Mena, at which point Mena once again raised the gun at police ....

....No drugs were found on Mena's person or in his apartment. But the primary controversy in this case is not the conduct of the police during the raid, although protesters and commentators have certainly challenged that conduct. The issue, according to Denver officials, is that the day following the raid, SWAT team officers learned they had raided the wrong residence -- they should have gone next door, to 3742 High Street.

Unfortunately, this kind of result is frequent enough to make me want to vomit.

A greater tragedy from the same article:
Officer Joseph Bini, the five-year veteran of the Denver police department who wrote and applied for the warrant to raid Mena's apartment, is currently facing a felonious charge of first-degree perjury for his alleged fabrication of evidence to obtain the no-knock warrant. He faces a sentence of two to six years.

When will the Drug Warriors learn?

The same article goes on to describe another kind of scandal as well, in which the St. Louis Post-Dispatch disclosed that the DEA was paying informants to lie ... this is not really news to any of us, but one person getting up to $4 million to be a chronic stoolie?

The second link is from the same newsletter, and leads to an editorial which just gives some more numbers from the Prison Solution:
* Our incarcerated population is larger than the populations of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming (using the 7/1/99 census estimates).

* Our incarcerated population is larger than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska combined.

Yet more numbers, from the first article in that same issue of The Week Online, :

* The US has the world's highest incarceration rate, surpassing Russia and China, and the world's largest prison population. With less than five percent of the world's population, the US now has fully one-quarter of the world's prisoners.

* There are six times as many Americans behind bars as are imprisoned in the 12 countries making up the entire European Union, even though those countries have 100 million more citizens than the US.

* Nearly one in three African American boys born this year will spend some time in prison.

It's over ... the Drug Warriors are fighting a lost cause. Had anyone projected the future in such detail as the present, would we have followed this road from the start?

But the Warriors have lost their War. Liberty, and its consort Wisdom, will have to step up and rule where tyranny failed.

We must end the War Against Drugs.


Tiassa :cool:

We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)

[This message has been edited by tiassa (edited April 26, 2000).]
In 1972, when then-President Nixon kicked off the modern phase of the drug war, the Federal budget for the effort was about $100 million; today that figure is about $18 billion. "If Social Security payments to retirees had gone up the same amount," McNamara said, "the average monthly payment of $177 in 1972 would now be more than $30,000."


We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us. (Ranier Maria Rilke)