Sunday, January 25, 2004


Prison reform seems to be on everyone's mind lately. DRC Net reports a study by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission found the state could save $30 million a year if nonviolent drug offenders were sent to treatment instead of prison. The study attributed the bloated prison population to the War on Some Drugs and mandatory sentencing.

That decision was only one of many that led to "a combination of intended and unintended consequences" for drug warriors and the state budget, the report said. "In addition, reductions in treatment resources at both the state and local levels have contributed to a growing number of drug offenders recycling through our criminal justice system," the report noted.

Meanwhile in Kentucky, the Governor unveiled a plan that would put more drug offenders in treatment and fewer in prison. The plan would also expand the state's drug treatment complex and fledgling drug court system, and it could put a hold on opening a new 1,000-bed prison under construction in Elliot County.

Of course these measures are being proposed across the US for budgetary reasons and not out of concern for the prisoner's plight, but I'll take reform any way I can get it and the savings make a compelling argument. With nearly 12,000 prisoners jailed at a cost of $17,200 each a year and treatment costs coming in at $5,000 per annum, Lt. Governor Pence states the obvious, "...treatment is more effective and cheaper than prison."

It's certainly more humane. Drug Sense Weekly sends in a piece on filthy and cramped conditions in the Glacier County Jail. Prison officials attribute the over-crowding to the growing numbers of meth addicted offenders.

...three female prisoners spent the night in a cell so small they had to take turns leaving their beds to stand.

Upstairs, 14 male prisoners endured the sharp smell of human waste while cramped in a filthy cell designed for eight.

My guess is, the first thing these low level offenders will do on release is go out and do some more drugs, to help them forget the inhumane treatment they were subjected to.

The meth problem is of growing concern and I attribute its rise directly to this administration's having focused their resources almost solely on marijuana. By suppressing the cannabis demand, they merely drove the poor consumer into using cheaper and easier to obtain chemical drugs that are much more destructive than a simple dried plant.

And people do get really addicted to meth. Drug Sense posts this article on women being locked up at a rate that's outpacing men in Hawaii, and their charges stem mostly from drug problems. Many of those are meth addicts. Thirty years ago, there were few women in jail, the current population numbers some 600. Sixty of those were shipped to Oklahoma, far from family contact, because of over-crowding.

Treating prisoners like animals is not 'tough on crime', it's 'dumb on crime'. How are we to expect them to behave when they get out after being treated so callously? Charging inmates even a token amount for inadequate facilities, and banning a magazine because it contains an advertisement that would save them money on phone calls to their family, will not contribute to their return to a productive life.

It's long past time for civil society to take a hard look at our current model of correction by punishment and put real rehabilitation programs back into the system.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home