Pubdate: Sat, 05 Aug 2000
Date: 08/05/2000
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Author: Kevin Fansler

Hal Riedl advocates building more prisons to ease overcrowding and
stop releasing violent prisoners to commit more crimes ("More and good
prisons needed," Opinion Commentary, July 26).

Mr. Riedl is correct about the perils of early release, but violent
offenders have become a dwindling proportion of those who are entering
our prisons.

From 1980 to 1997, the number per 100,000000 people imprisoned in the
U.S. for violent offenses doubled, whereas the rate tripled for
nonviolent offenses. In the same period, the rate for drug offenders
increased more than 10 times.

Mr. Riedl's argument that increasing the prison population will
decrease crime rates does not apply to drug offenders.

States with higher rates of drug incarceration usually show higher
rates of drug use. Furthermore, high rates of drug incarceration in
prior years do not correlate with lower drug use in subsequent years.

We should explore alternate avenues for nonviolent offenders and drug
offenders, rather than sending them to these de facto crime schools.

By treating drug use as a health problem instead of one for law
enforcement, we could even close some prisons, divert more money for
other needs and, with surplus facilities, we could attempt the
rehabilitation of the nonviolent offenders.

Kevin Fansler, Havre de Grace