Monday, March 27, 2006

US Prisons Hold 25% of the World's Prisoners; 1/3 to 1/2 Are Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Photo courtesy National Conference of State Legislatures

Great post on the insanity of the drug laws in America and the millions imprisoned for nonviolent drug 'crimes, by guest poster Hypatia, at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory:

Prison & the War on Drugs: Just Say No

While the United States constitutes 5% of the world's population, this “land of the free” holds 25% of the world's prisoners – a third to a half are there for drug offenses . With all the talk of Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, many overlook that we have a Gulag Prison System here at home, fueled by our drug laws.

Most Americans seldom think about or discuss penal policies in any systematic or focused way. That failure is itself a poltical/ethical crime, because prison and its uses is a consummately moral issue. Sentencing citizens to prison entails sending armed agents of the state after them, then placing them at the tender mercies of scalp-seeking prosecutors, and if convicted, locking them in cages and robbing them of their autonomy.

For us to collectively decide that the consensual, adult use or sale of intoxicants will be criminalized, means we are agreeing that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans will experience life-destroying calamity. These POWs will be ripped from their communities -- and frequently from their children -- for years, decades and for life, pursuant to mandatory sentencing schemes as Draconian as those in any dictatorship; how else to characterize putting, e.g., non-violent, vegetarian 23-year-olds in prison for life for selling LSD at Grateful Dead concerts? (It is some small measure of progress that in New York, they recently did away with the life sentences for drug offenders.)

Instead of being with their families, these citizens will be confined among a population teeming with violent predators, under harsh and terrifying conditions. Conditions in which, especially for the disabled, their health often cannot be maintained, as this shameful example shows, as does the case of Lillie Blevins, a non-violent woman who died while serving her life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack cocaine.

As bad as the wretched attention to health, if not worse, is the fact that in many prisons drug-offender “criminals” cannot be (or are not) meaningfully protected from rape and assault. And the drug war is directly feeding prison rapes.

Read the whole thing. The War on Drugs (cited by Ronald Reagan as one of the greatest achievements of his administration) has cost us dearly. There's all the federal money that's ended up enriching drug dealers and their financiers, as well as the shattered lives of nonviolent drug offenders. A sensible drug policy would be so ... sensible. Will it ever happen? In the land of Reefer Madness, that's doubtful.

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