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While it would be easy to blame our country's absurd incarceration rates on some mass public crusade against drug use, I'm a little more cynical. The so-called "War on Drugs" is big, unregulated business which has run absolutely amok due to the greed of people who profit from it, not unlike many of the players in our healthcare industry.

This is my first entry, although I have perused this site with great interest over some time. I don't think of this as an inherently political argument, but there are probably some partisan overtones to what I'm going to say. I'm going to tackle an issue that nobody other than cops, correctional officers, sheriffs, prosecuting attorneys, police chiefs, mayors and fear-ridden idiots that drink the Kool-Aid that translates to their collective axiom, "More Cops, Less Crime" would even care about.

First of all, I have nothing against police officers. They do an unenviable job and don't get a lot in return financially or in any other way I can think of. The problem is the job description, in and of itself, and a correctional system that is fatally flawed.

I spent 3 months in a county lockup in a state for possessing a very small amount of marijuana. That was 3 months in a jail without ever appearing before a judge. (Hey! they're on vacation, as I was told) Naturally, I was eventually released, but what I learned about our correctional system is important for all of us to understand.

A government-run capitalist correctional system is doomed to failure. That concept may sound like an oximoron, so I'll try to keep it simple. Jails and prisons receive state funds to put as many people in jail for as long of time as possible with no regard for the crimes these people have committed.

This is the problem: When police officers are required to maintain arrest quotas, and correctional facilities are subsidized based on how many people are behind bars, the former will naturally target easy prey rather than legitimate criminals, and the latter will do everything in their power (in collusion with the courts) to keep those people in jail for as long as possible. For the cops, it's simply a lot safer and easier to arrest those who commit minor infractions rather than target major criminals. For the correctional facilities, more prisoners equals more subsidies equals job security.


Thu Oct 4, 6:57 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - Sheriff's deputies have been competing in organized contests to see who could make the most arrests, who could impound the most cars and who could question the most gang members.

The contests were meant to boost morale and motivate deputies, but some observers are crying foul, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

One of the competitions, outlined in an internal Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department e-mail, was "Operation Any Booking." The object of the contest was to see who could arrest the most people in a 24-hour period.

"It's just a friendly competition to have a little fun out here," said Lt. James Tatreau, who helped organize the events. "It's a morale booster."

Tatreau said that when he joined a station in Lakewood, he noticed some patrol deputies made 15 to 20 arrests a month, while others made seven arrests in an entire year.

The prize for winning was "bragging rights," Tatreau said.

Several police observers were not impressed.

Hubert Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation, said the competitions were "highly problematic and inappropriate."

"The arrest is one of the most potent tools in the possession of law enforcement and should be used with great thought," Williams said. "It's not a competition or a game."

Los Angeles County Public Defender Michael P. Judge, wondered if the games could prompt deputies to make illegitimate arrests to boost numbers.

"Certainly, it calls into question whether there was a legitimate reason to book any of the people who were booked during the time of the competition," Judge said.

According to a Times review of records, Operation Any Booking did not result in an increase in arrests on the day of the contest.

But the impound competition may have increased the number of vehicles seized, with records showing a spike in vehicle seizures the day of the contest.

Sheriff Lee Baca said the competitions were a well-meaning but poorly conceived idea that promoted "the wrong values."

"We're not into numbers, we're into quality," Baca said. "I don't think it will occur again."


This is a blatant but perfect example of what's wrong with the system. Police officers should not be driven by money, or by those who profit from them locking up pseudo-criminals.

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Justice, one in 136 Americans is behind bars today, including an astounding 12 percent of all black men between the ages of 25 and 29. The United States represents 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but houses nearly 23 percent of humanity’s prison population. Certainly, part of this is likely due to politicians’ unfortunate habit of addressing every social problem with a new law, and much of it is due to our ever-more-draconian drug laws. Here are some fun facts from the folks at Common Sense for Drug Policy.

• As of 2005, drug offenders accounted for 55 percent of the federal prison population. About 45 percent of them were in prison for possession, not trafficking.
• The number of people incarcerated in federal prisons for drug crimes rose from 14,976 in 1986 to 68,360 in 1999.
• It costs U.S. taxpayers $3 billion per year to keep drug offenders behind bars in federal prisons.
• Drug offenders have accounted for nearly half the meteoric growth in prison populations since 1995.
• About half the population of U.S. jails and prisons are nonviolent offenders, more than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska.
• Forty percent of the more than 1,000 state prisons in the U.S. opened in just the last 25 years. The state of Texas alone has opened an average of 5.7 new prisons each year for the last 21 years. Despite this, about half of federal and state prisons operate over capacity.
• Total U.S. inmates numbered 488,000 in 1985, 1.3 million in 2001, and number 2.2 million today.

While it would be easy to blame our country's absurd incarceration rates on some mass public crusade against drug use, I'm a little more cynical. The so-called "War on Drugs" is big, unregulated business which has run absolutely amok due to the greed of people who profit from it, not unlike many of the players in our healthcare industry.

The ridiculous part of it is it's taxpayers who are filling the coffers of prisons, correctional facilities, police, judges and attorneys.

The ironic part of it is 45 percent of our prison population should be filling the coffers (according to our present system) of the healthcare parasites. Why do we fund police and jails to lock up drug users without any regard for legitimate medical and psychological treatment? My only answer is so we can lock them up again and get the cash cow rolling again.

There's been a lot of talk by Democrats about socialized medicine. I'm listening, because our present system sucks. But just as alcoholism is a disease, so is drug addiction. Simply locking up and then releasing (only to later incarcerate) drug users to fulfill quotas and make money at the expense of tax payers is no longer an acceptable approach. Wouldn't you feel more comfortable if the crack addict next door was receiving medical treatment under some socialized program rather than sitting behind bars only to be released, only to be arrested again? With socialized heathcare, you have a choice where your tax dollars go, so which would you chose?

Frankly, I'd simply legalize drugs, tax the hell out of them, and use that to pay for it. But that's probably too pragmatic (or intelligent) for the American people.

Originally posted to geoffrotull on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 04:40 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great first diary geoffrotull... (7+ / 0-)

    please put up a tip jar!

    "I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps himself in the Constitution than someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps himself in the flag!"

    by SomeStones on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 04:47:19 PM PDT

    •  One Candidate for President (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "The supporters of the drug war have only one solution to this debacle -- more money for law enforcement, more people, more power, more prisons -- with no end in sight." --  Dennis Kucinich

      This is just one in a very long list of reasons that I am voting for Dennis Kucinich

      •  The Correctional Industrial Complex (0+ / 0-)

        is a vast, driving force--you are absolutely right!!!  They have been building their dream since the 70's, and now they've almost achieved it.  The voices of dissent have been weak, and dissed.  

        The Drug War has been a colossal and hugely-costly--in terms of both dollars and the cost, particularly on the Black and Brown communities in this country.  Uh...Amerika---Marijuana doesn't kill anybody.  In fact, it makes you very peaceful.  

        Hey, maybe that's why they're so against it....

      •  Also Ron Paul (0+ / 0-)

        Ron is for legalization, as is the one issue I can agree with libertarians on-- legalizing the vices.  If you legalizem you can regulate and control.  Right now, with prohibition, it's completely unregulated and out of control.

  •  Yes and now they're privatizing prisons (8+ / 0-)

    so none of them are interested in rehabilitation, the money is in housing as many prisoners for as long as possible.

    It's sick and the 'drug war' is a sham.

    When the government fears the people, that is liberty. When the people fear the government, that is tyranny. - Jefferson

    by CTLiberal on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 04:53:13 PM PDT

  •  In North Carolina, proceeds (4+ / 0-)

    from fines, etc. go to the school system so the local sheriff gives his busts to the feds who "rebate" 80% back to the sheriff.  Whenever I see a sheriff's vehicle with a decal stating it was bought with drug money, I put a card under the wiper saying it was stolen from our school children.

    "I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps himself in the Constitution than someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps himself in the flag!"

    by SomeStones on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 04:57:52 PM PDT

  •  I became acquainted with the system as a young... (6+ / 0-)

    hippie back in te 60s.  It is rotten to the core.  The better you get to know it the more you have to hate it.  And people wonder were thug culture comes from.  I could tell them...but they wouldn't listen.  Great first diary, keep it up geoffro!

  •  A neighbor of mine was a public defender (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Very committed to helping people. Also very angry, very depressed and very overwhelmed. Worked in Brooklyn btw.

    "There's a kind of freedom in being completely screwed... because you know things can't get any worse. " -- Matthew Broderick, The Freshman

    by friday durdikova on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 05:14:59 PM PDT

  •  recd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    enough, reflectionsv37

    Welcome to the Drug War at dailykos.
    There have been many excellent diary's written here.
    Many of us believe that this is another War that needs to end.
    END PROHIBITION w/harm Reduction the  goal.

    •  War - of any kind- has no winners (0+ / 0-)

      You can never win a war.  There may be victors and vanquished, but all are losers.

      The war on poverty.  How's that one working out for us?

      The war on cancer?  Same.

      If it's a "war" then it becomes inherently un-winnable.

      Jesus said, "You can not get good fruit from an evil tree."

  •  geoffrotull (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great handle BTW.

  •  I gave you a rec too (0+ / 0-)

    It was, indeed, a good first diary.  I hope you'll do more.

    I want my country back. NOW!

    by enough on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 05:35:51 PM PDT

  •  Double Standard (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave925, eastmt, brein

    It has always vexed me as to why people are labeled as criminals and charged with long jail times for merely possessing an illegal drug, especially when it comes to marijuana. Most drugs are harmful and detrimental to society but the authorities are avoiding fixing the problem.

    It seems almost hypocritical to prosecute and incarcerate someone who is pulled over for a minor traffic infringement and who happens to have a small amount of marijuana on them (which happened to a good buddy of mine) and the same day only hold a drunk driver overnight and release him the next day. Sure, the DUI driver has to pay some hefty fines but so does the marijuana user but only he remains in jail. The question is posed: Who is really more of a threat? In respect to both society and themselves?

    Targeting the users of illegal drugs will not fix the problem, but like you said I think that's the point. Drug possession arrests are only a cog in the system whose crank is turned by elected officials and drug traffickers/producers together. It's sad that this discussion is totally absent from the presidential debates and the popular media.

  •  "tax the hell out of them" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The major problem most people have now with recreational drugs is the crime caused by people trying to raise the funds to buy them.

  •  I regard drug treatment (0+ / 0-)

    as a joke.

    It's almost like trying to get a twenty-year old man to give up sex.

    •  Drug Treatment is NOT a Joke (0+ / 0-)

      For countless Americans, it's the only thing standing between them and death. Addiction is a medical disease that can only be treated, but not cured. So when a person relapses, it doesn't mean that their treatment was "a joke" or that they didn't take it seriously.

      Thousands of people get sober with proper medical/psychological drug treatment. It's just that right now many people do not have access to this necessary treatment. Treatment often requires an inpatient stay of weeks (sometimes months) with months/years of outpatient care. Plus, it can cost the same as an ivy league education.

  •  Drug use per se (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DJ Monet

    should not be illegal.

    Marijuana, and bottled beverage cocaine and opiates should be legal to consume by adults. The drugs should have to be locked up to prevent access by children.

    If the adults own cars, the cars should be equipped with a sobriety-check device. DUI penalties should apply.

    Other drugs like LSD should only be given out in licensed centers with trained supervisors.

  •  To taper people off of opiates (0+ / 0-)

    a one month supply [60 quarts] of methadone beverages with marked concentrations should be delivered to the addict's residence.

  •  one strike and you're out? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jakbeau, Dave925, fallina7

    I know people "with a record" would suffer some discrimination when I was a kid, but the philosophy was always supposed to be that when you served your sentence ("paid you dues to society") and got back outside, you were supposed to be able to start over again.

    Now we seem to have a maniacally punitive attitude where one conviction can cause you to lose your right to vote, where in effect we'd like to just push you outside of civil society completely. And all kinds of things are felonies now that used to be misdemeanors, so you're branded a serious criminal type for things that are essentially trivial life mistakes--pot possession being one, but how long before downloading MP3s from the Internet or copying DVDs become felonies too, or anything else that threatens a corporation's uncompetitive business model? And "underage" sex (as in before age 18, which would've been considered middling lateish back in the '60s and definitely late in the '70s) or even getting caught peeing in the bushes can get you permanently branded as a sex offender, with all the truly Orwellian consequences of that.

    We have become Puritanical, vengeful and more willing to throw people away in the "justice system" at the same time that surveys show us becoming more tolerant and laissez faire in our private lives. Part of it is undoubtedly the profit motive for those invested in privatization, but some of it seems to be a need to scapegoat a minority (very often a racial or ethnic minority) for the anxieties produced by our newfound sense of freedom and tolerance.

  •  Nice diary! n/t (0+ / 0-)


    Time to end the drug war.

    by Sam from Ithaca on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 06:23:01 AM PDT

  •  great diary legalization is the only answer (0+ / 0-)

  •  Three Months Incarcerated (0+ / 0-)

    For posessing a smal amount of dried weed flowers in a baggie.

    I don't toke much anymore, and never got busted, but damn! California is a stupid-crazy place sometimes, but at least here I'd just get a ticket.

    The hypocricy is mind bending when marijuana is compared to liquor, or prescribed mood-altering pills picked up at your neighborhood pharmacy.

    I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. - Albert Einstein

    by SecondComing on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 11:03:32 AM PDT

  •  Opium and Afghanastan (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I was listening to an NPR story about the problems with Opium poduction in Afghanstan - the problems with eradication and the Taliban's influence.  Aftger about 30 minutes of back and forth from teh experts on security and callers talking about ways of interrupting the flow and the demand (which was agreed was impossible) I had had enough- I sent an email in asking why legalization wasn't discussed.  The host read it and all of teh experts agreed that that was the only way to really pull the plug on the opium problem funding terrorism but "the public would never buy it."  Well, if it is such a security issue, then we need to educate the public.  There is always this hiding behind the "law and order" stick.  I think the reason prohibition continues is that is makes money for so many players.  Who cares if it funds terrorism if the bucks keep rolling in?

  •  Don't Forget Alcohol (0+ / 0-)

    Alcohol is considered a drug too. This "war" may be a front for Prohibition. That 21 drinking age combined with moralizing on both the drug and alcohol fronts is a gradual attempt at reinstituting Prohibition for all ages.

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