Prisons of Your Mind
By Mark David Blum, Esq.

One fourth of all the people incarcerated in the entire world call a U.S. prison their home. Two point two million human beings are locked up behind our secure walls. This is more prisoners than Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. America’s prison population has risen eight fold since 1970 and notwithstanding these numbers and harshening of our laws, crime rates have not fa...llen and the system is about to break.

Election cycle after election cycle, cowardly and empty headed politicians raise the specter of being tough on crime and they rush off new laws, harsher sentences, enhanced punishment, and quieting parole and probation. We spare nobody in our fear of bad guys. Crime rates today are comparable to 1973 rates and yet the numbers bear out the following: One-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives. Women represent the fastest-growing segment of the prison population. Add to that almost 3,000 American children who are imprisoned for “life”; non-white children, are 10 times more likely than white children to be given life without parole.

Prison as an institution has gone through a radical change in our nation. Once thought of as being Penitentiaries, the concept was about repentance and rehabilitation for a return to society. With our national anger and hostility toward anybody even accused of a crime combined with our cowardly fear of boogiemen, we have been pushing toward longer, harsher sentences. Our prison system no longer focuses on rehabilitation and instead has turned itself into a storage facility and punitive setting. Free citizens always bemoan budgets for prisons and whine about the “privileges” that prisoners get. What people fail to realize that the sheer cost of housing and building prisons runs in the tens of millions of dollars per year per institution.

We have surrendered the idea that convicts can be rehabilitated. How is it on one hand we advocate and sanction harsh treatment and abuse of prisoners yet at the same time recognize that all but very few of them will be returning to our streets and communities. If society is going to abuse and torture its prisoners, their return to society poses a great risk to all of us. Since every convict is not going to be executed or serve a life sentence, the time has come to evaluate how we use our prison system.

For me, “prison” should be used only to house those who pose a threat to people or property. As an institution, we do not need prisons to house all convicts and we must start looking elsewhere for remedies and solutions for punishment. Failing to do so creates a situation where prisons become schools for criminals, destroys otherwise productive citizens, and consumes tens of BILLIONS of dollars each year.

If you are curious about the numbers, here are some more: By year-end 2003, federal prisons held a total of 158,426 inmates, of whom 86,972 (55%) were drug offenders and 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 At the same time, drug law violators comprised 20.0% of all adults serving time in State prisons, of which 27.9% of drug offenders in state prisons are serving time for possession; 69.4% are serving time for trafficking offenses; and 2.7% are in for "other" all of which costs the States approximately $6,186,127,675 per year.

At an average cost of $40 million to build and maintain, every prison we build to house non violent, non threatening citizens is a testament to our failure as a free society. Drug use, like cigarettes, twinkies, gambling, sex, and skydiving are all issues of choice that harm nobody but the doer. The nanny staters, the same folks about to make tobacco illegal, have issued a proclamation that prison is a better situation than is getting high. I always tell people not to do drugs because if you do drugs, you will be arrested and go to jail and in jail, drugs are real expensive.

The time has come to end the War against Drugs. In reality, it is not a war against drugs as drugs are inanimate objects and cannot be the target of a legitimate military or police action. The War on Drugs is really a war against American citizens and their liberties. Run by people who as children probably were beaten up for their lunch money or perhaps were not cool enough to hang with the druggies; this War is costing society massive losses and giving us nothing in return. In return, we get angry criminalized citizens returning to society who cannot get a job or student loan and who have little opportunity to live full and peaceful lives. This stupid War against Americans is destroying not only lives but is consuming the precious few dollars we have left to attend to the Homeland. Today, states and municipalities are breaking their own banks to fund an ever increasing prison population.

We need to change our policies. We need to end the drug war. We need to stop imprisoning people who are not a threat to people or property and find other alternative sentences. Society has to learn tolerance and stay out of how others live their lives. Nannystaters should spend six months in their favorite prison before they run off and pass new and harsher laws. Just once, I would like to see a Judge sit in prison for a while as nothing would impact sentencing more than having first hand experience of the sentence about to be rendered.

The time has come to be a free nation once again. A government that has declared War on its own people and imprisons all who disagree therewith has no legitimacy.

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