Pubdate: Fri, 26 Sep 2008
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Burlington Free Press
Author: Ben Mitchell
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


I am Ben Mitchell, the Liberty Union candidate for lieutenant governor
in the state of Vermont. If I am elected and the governor leaves the
state for even 10 minutes, I will pardon all nonviolent drug offenders
serving time in Vermont or Kentucky prisons. I think it is stupid to
pay $45,000 a year to lock up drug users when we won't spend more than
$7,000 a year to educate our young people. Besides, I thought this was
a free country.

I believe the current system is totally ineffective. During almost 30
years of the War on Drugs, we have seen an increase in prevalence of
drug abuse and incarceration. The Bureau of Justice's own statistics
tell the story. In 2001, an estimated 2.7 percent of adults in the
United States had served time in prison, up from 1.8 percent in 1991
and 1.3 percent in 1974. Three out of every four convicted jail
inmates were alcohol or drugs-involved at the time of their current
offense. Drug offenders, up 37 percent, represented the largest source
of jail population growth between 1996 and 2002. More than two-thirds
of the growth in inmates held in local jails for drug law violations
was due to an increase in persons charged with drug

Knowing that 75 percent of those serving time suffer from drug and
alcohol addiction should suggest that the real issue here is
addiction. We are using the criminal system to deal with a medical
issue. I do not see any benefit in throwing people struggling with
addiction into a population that will provide little help for the core
problem and in most cases drives inmates to become more violent. If we
were to focus on the problem of addiction, we could provide treatment
that would be much less expensive and significantly improve the
outcome. With the savings, we could focus our corrections budget on
protecting society from those who are truly dangerous.

Also by legalizing drugs, we could tax and regulate them, providing a
significant new income stream for the state and eliminating the
criminal profit. The retail drug trade in the United States is
estimated at $60 billion annually. The true criminals who make the
profit are often shielded from the risk, leaving the addicts to serve
the time. Also, if Vermont were to legalize marijuana, we would create
a huge new revenue stream for the agricultural community. I am certain
that our neighbors from New York and New Hampshire would be very loyal
to the Vermont organic label given the opportunity.

It is time to acknowledge that the War on Drugs has failed. It is bad
policy. Although profitable for the privatized prison system -- who in
some cases even exploits the inmates for slave labor -- the War on
Drugs is by every measure not only unsuccessful but increasing the
problem. How stupid are we?

Ben Mitchell of Putney is the Liberty Union candidate for lieutenant
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