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Prisons or Universities

I mentioned recently that the US incarcerates a larger fraction of its citizens than any other country in the world. Yesterday I came across a couple more tidbits:

  1. The state of Michigan spends more on prisons than it does on public universities
  2. Spending on prisons takes approximately 20 % of the state's general fund.

So sad. Something has got to change.


We spend more because it is not spent right. Go to the Mackinaw Center website. They have suggestions on how to save the state millions - especially in the prison system.

Can you recommend any particular page from the Mackinaw Center's web site?

Mackinaw Center for Public Pollicy - click on How to Replace the SBT. Here it is including other ways the state could save money, but chooses not to.Note from Jonathan: I'm replacing the text of that article here with a link to it:

Prison privatization would probably be an improvement, but I'm more interested in understanding why we lock up more of our citizens that any other country. I recently spent a week in a country where prostitution and the purchase of soft drugs were legal (or at least not prosecuted). Society wasn't collapsing. In fact, I wouldn't have guessed it if someone hadn't told, their prisons aren't full of pot dealers.

It would take to long to go into this. Are you seriously suggesting that legalizing drugs would help? Please ---- I have two nephews whom I love who deal with drug addictions every day of their lives. One on heroin which he kicked in jail only to replace it with an alcohol addiction when he got out.The other one is addicted to prescription drugs (anything he can get). The first one did two stints in the Michigan prison system, not for possession, but for crimes committed because he needed money for the drugs and once for breaking and entering during an alcohol binge.Just imagine spending every single minute of everyday of the rest of your life fighting an addiction to drugs or alcohol. I have enough trouble resisting a cookie. One nephew is still fighting at age 34, but was in rehab yet again last spring having gotten addicted to vicadin (spelling) after getting a prescription for a badly broken ankle. The second just turned 27. He spent five years at studying at Michigan State, is a genius and now lives in a trailer and does nothing except doctor shop. (On our tax dollar by the way - he gets Medicare and is trying to get Social Security disability so we as taxpayers will pay the rest of his life, that's one reason you probably won't ever collect social security because of all the places it goes that isn't retirement - but I digress.) I believe that in their situations if drugs were legal that they both would probably be dead. What a waste of a life. Nothing good comes from drug use.

Robin, you asked:

Are you seriously suggesting that legalizing drugs would help?

In this context, we've been talking about the exorbitant cost of our prison system. Yes, I think legalizing drugs would help reduce that.However, I completely with you that hard drugs should be illegal.Of course, I would never encourage any one to use hard drugs (or even soft drugs for that matter) recreationally, for the very reasons you described in the heart-breaking stories of your relatives. And it's not like I'm speaking from a position of experience. I've never used an illegal drug and probably never will. In fact, I never even tried alcohol until my mid-twenties. Speaking of alcohol, you mentioned it several times. Would you advocate criminalizing alcohol again?There is a balance the we walk between allowing people the freedom to choose to screw up their lives versus the aggregate overall good of society (as well well as protecting others from the collateral damage). We learned from experience that banning alcohol did not work...that it was better for our society to regulate but not ban its use. I won't be surprised if we eventually reach that same conclusion regarding soft drugs like marijuana.Again, not that I would advocate drug use, nor that I even have a really strong opinion about decriminalization, but the wisdom of the current drug war seems suspect to me. Some drug war "facts" (link):

The Department of Justice reported that at year-end 2003, federal prisons held a total of 158,426 inmates, of whom 86,972 (55%) were drug offenders.In 2003, drug law violators comprised 20.0% of all adults serving time in State prisons - 250,900 out of 1,256,400 State prison inmates.Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions.According to ONDCP, federal spending to incarcerate drug offenders totals nearly $3 Billion a year -- $2.525 Billion by the Bureau of Prisons, and $429.4 Million by Federal Prisoner Detention.According to a federal survey of jail inmates, in 2002, of the 96,359 violent offenders in jail, 37.6% used alcohol at the time of their offense, 21.8% used drugs, and 47.2% used alcohol or drugs; of the 112,895 property offenders in jail that year, 28.5% used alcohol at the time of their offense, 32.5% used drugs, and 46.8% used alcohol or drugs; of the 112,447 drug offenders in jail that year, 22.4% used alcohol at the time of their offense, 43.2% used drugs, and 51.7% used drugs or alcohol at the time of their offense."Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them."

Yes, this thread is about the cost of prison and your belief that legalizing drugs would help reduce the cost. But it is more than the cost of housing inmates it's the cost it takes on people's lives, which eventually we end up paying for in some way or another as taxpayers whether it is through prison or paying for other social programs when someone is addicted.You state above that banning alcohol didn't work and and it is bett that we regulate it. Do you really think we do? How many lives has alcohol ruined? How many people are homeless because of alcohol. How many marriages, familes and lives have been destroyed by alcohol. You admit you have no history with drug use. You are very lucky. Most folks have family members that are affected by drug or alcohol use.Soft drugs as you call them lead to harder drugs. Both nephews started with alcohol and pot. Do you know any potheads? Pot kills the desire to do anything with your life. Can't hold a job so even if it pot was legal addicts would still commit crimes and steal to buy drugs because a drug addict doesn't care about anything except getting his next fix. Ask Scott.I think drugs and alcohol are totally unnecessary and have no use. However, the reality is that since most of the world drinks, getting rid of alcohol would never happen. So back to the original content of this thread, let's save some money. So why not go the next step and legalize drugs because there are too many people in prison. By that logic then maybe you should find statistics on child molesters in prison. There are probably too many of them crowding the system too. It really is a "lifestyle choice" anyway isn't it? It is what makes them feel good - right? Shouldn't they be able to live their lives the way they want without rules to encumber them?Without God's rules then we determine what is right according to what makes us feel good. That would be a wonderful society to live in, don't you think? Let's leave all our morals and God's law behind, it is too hard to follow all those rules anyway. Let's start down the slippery slope by legalizing drugs to free up prison space and save us money. Let's follow the european model, besides they know more about everything then we Americans do.

You wrote:

You admit you have no history with drug use. You are very lucky. Most folks have family members that are affected by drug or alcohol use.

What I meant is that personally (myself) I don't. I certainly do have family members affected by drugs and alcohol and agree that they take a horrible toll on many people's lives.Again, though, there is a balance between between the personal freedoms of individuals and the good of the society. Also, as you indicated, there are practicalities and realities to consider. I suspect that pot may be more like alcohol than like heroin in this balance and that the major effect of the war on pot is too fill the prisons with non-violent drug offenders, not to prevent someone from smoking pot who wants to do so.I'm not wondering whether pot should be decriminalized simply because pot smokers and dealers are filling up our legal system. That's not the logic I'm using. I am wondering if our current approach is the most effective way to address the issue. And I'm not all about saving money. I'd be glad for us to spend more money if the end result was more effective.Child molestation and smoking pot are crimes of completely different magnitude. My views on non-violent soft drug users have no applicability to child molesters.

The slippery slope only gets you deeper and deeper in the pit.

It's not about slipping down slopes. It's about figuring out what is the most effective means to achieve the desired results. Sometimes our plans don't achieve our goals and/or may have unintended consequences. Maybe the cure is sometime worse than the disease. If plan A isn't working, start thinking about what plans B and C might be.I've heard the anecdote in the past that alcohol abuse among youth is significantly worse in the US than it is in countries where there are fewer restrictions. The Netherlands (where pot can be purchased in small quantities in certain coffee shops) claims that the rate of marijuana use (and cocaine use) is significantly higher in the US than the Netherlands. (see the presumably cherry-picked quotes and figures here).Presumably, with time we'll get more and more data regarding the effectiveness of different approaches and we'll be able to see more clearly what the most effective approaches are.

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