Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2004
Source: Morning Call (PA)
Copyright: 2004 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: Paul Carpenter
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake