Pubdate: Thu, 30 May 2002
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (MS)
Copyright: 2002 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Robert Sharpe


In his May 21st column ("Prison report shows state's crisis of vision," May 
21), Public Editor Eric Stringfellow hit the nail on the head in stating, 
"those who own private prisons - and apparently those charged with paying 
their bills - have a vested interest in the fate of citizens who become 
involved in criminal activity." For far too long, entrenched interests 
riding the drug war gravy train have dictated drug policy. As a result, 
state budgets favor incarceration over education.

In California, the prison guard union is one of the state's most powerful 

The union funds politicians who support mandatory minimums and 
zero-tolerance laws.

This is the business approach to drug policy. The more citizens behind 
bars, the more money the prison-industrial complex makes. This is a clear 
conflict of interest. Drug war profiteers should not be deciding drug policy.

All substance abuse, legal or otherwise, is a public health issue. It's 
time to put drug policy back in the hands of doctors, where it belongs. A 
study by the Rand Corp. found that every additional dollar invested in 
substance-abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs. It costs 
roughly $25,000 to keep someone behind bars for a year. Prison sentences 
and criminal records are hardly appropriate health interventions. Those who 
have money invested in for-profit prisons - and the shameless politicians 
who rely on their campaign contributions - would no doubt disagree.

Robert Sharpe, Program officer

Drug Policy Alliance, Washington, D.C.
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