Sunday, August 03, 2003


Gray and clammy in lovely downtown Noho today. The kind of wringing humidity you can only find in August in New England. Sun showed her face a couple of times but it only turned it into more of a sauna. I don't tell people how much I love being this warm. No one else here seems to appreciate it.

The good news of the day is my archives were merely misplaced and easily restorable. I take back all the rude things I said about Bogger this week. My loyal readers might notice that I was so cheered up I fooled aroung with the template. I hope they find the color scheme friendlier and I ask my linkers to take note that I have decided to go with the alternate name for the blog, Last One Speaks, because I finally thought of a slogan I liked. Now if I could only figure out why I have that hanging dot on the links section.....

Marc Emery, one of my new heros, is still a free man. He was however, jailed briefly 4 out of the 7 times he lit up his bong on the police station steps during the Summer of Legalization Tour. Marc's report contains no live footage but I like watching him deliver his story. He's so obviously stoned and never at a loss for words. It appears he is single-handedly recruiting Marijuana Party candidates for the next election cycle. It's a strategy I'd like to see the reform movement in the US embrace.

In what could be the first rumblings of that, I received this in my inbox today, a reasonable and timely message from Steven Fenichel, M.D., a senatorial candidate from New Jersey.

From: Steven Fenichel
Sent: 8/3/2003 1:28:01 PM
Subject: Time to stop filling NJ prisons with non-violent drug(marihuana) offenders

The annual cost is $26,000 to incarcercerate a person in New Jersey. There are more than 10,000 non-violent drug offenders imprisoned in New Jersey. The price tag to New Jersey taxpayers just to jail these people is $260,000,000.
We must stop this worthless, expensive, destructive New Jersey Drug War.

Steven Fenichel, M.D.
Independent Candidate for NJ Senate
1st Legislative District

August 3, 2003

A budget-buster

Here's the upside of budget shortfalls plaguing state governments coast to coast: Many states are reconsidering mandatory-sentencing and other laws that have put so many nonviolent offenders behind bars. Why? Because prisons and prisoners are very expensive. That's something often overlooked in the mad rush to "get tough on crime."

According to figures released last week, America's prison population grew again in 2002 - to 2.1 million inmates. Federal and state taxpayers paid $40 billion last year to house those prisoners. Some experts say mandatory
sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders, are the reason prison populations are continuing to rise.

So remember - for every politician spouting facile sound bites about "locking 'em up and throwing away the key," taxpayers take a hit. Each new cell costs an average of $100,000. In New Jersey, it costs $26,000 per year to feed, clothe and house a prisoner, according to the DKT Liber! ty Project, a civil-liberties organization. Add in other costs, and the state's 23,100 prisoners cost close to $1 billion a year.

Of course, these costs are justified if public safety is the issue, if justice is served, if a real threat to society is kept behind bars. But many mandatory-sentencing laws, "three-strikes" laws, no-early-release laws, drug-free zones and other politically popular "solutions" don't always snag violent threats to the public's safety. Too often, they tie the hands of judges and result in unfair and inequitable sentences.

And so, faced with soaring prison costs and staggering budget deficits, many states are reconsidering. Kentucky's governor gave 567 nonviolent inmates an early release. Michigan's former Republican governor, John Engler, signed a
bill repealing the state's mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, which could save that state $41 million this year, according to DKT. North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota have all reduced sentences for nonviolent and first-time offenders in their mandatory-sentencing laws.

With New Jersey expected to face an even more severe crisis next year, the state needs to consider now whether there are ways to reduce the prison population without harming public safety. A few worth reconsidering: New Jersey's ubiquitous "zones" - which establish a crazy-quilt of geographic areas where a crime involving drugs or guns can result in a significantly longer sentence; three-strikes laws that require certain elderly prisoners to remain behind bars until they die; and all of the state's mandatory-sentencing laws, which hamstring the ability of judges to truly administer justice.

Sometimes, it takes a fiscal crisis to get politicians to do what they should have been doing all along, for reasons of common sense and fairness rather than the bottom line. New Jersey lawmakers should start reconsidering some of these ill-advised laws now.

And that my dears, is the last word today.


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