Sunday, April 22, 2012

Watching Incarceration Nation

I started to post a picture to go with this blog.  But, truth is the topic is just too sad to associate with a picture.  The number of people currently incarcerated in this Country is completely out of control and disproportionate with the amount of actual crime committed.

I have known for years that we have a huge problem with the number of people currently in prison in the United States.  This Morning on Sunday Morning, this topic was visited with great clarity.  Plain and simple, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the entire world.  We do little to rehabilitate them.  Most of them are there on non-violent drug related charges.

It costs anywhere between $25,000 and $60,000 a year to incarcerate ONE prisoner.  What a tragic waste.  Truth is, approximately 75% of all individuals in Federal Prisons today are there on NON-VIOLENT DRUG RELATED charges!  Since the so-called war on drugs began in 1972, the rates of incarceration have increased dramatically.  The use of drugs has not decreased.

Additionally, due to the fact that when a person enters prison on these type of charges everything they own is confiscated, they are not re-educated or rehabilitated in any way, about 50% of them will end up back in prison.  When they are released from prison, they are given $25.00 and assigned a Probation Officer, who will collect monthly payments from them.  They have trouble finding jobs, particularly if they have been charged with a "felony."  If they find a job, it will probably not pay them enough to pay their probation cost per month and find a decent place to live. 

Part of the problem with the War on Drugs is the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines attached to this program.  These sentences are ridiculously long, and judges can no longer make wise decisions based on individual circumstances.  Many judges have left the bench in protest due to their frustration with the current mandatory sentencing guideline system.  I have talked with several who express their frustration at attaching thirty and forty year sentences to non-violent drug related charges on persons who are not "drug kingpins." 

There is an organization out there called FAMM.  The letters stand for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.  Some of the stories you can read in their monthly publication are positively horrifying.  Sentencing of persons who happen to be riding in the car of someone who is carrying drugs, even though they were not aware the person had the drugs in the car.  Wives of husbands who are selling drugs that they were not aware of are sentenced to time which could even be worse than the person actually selling the drugs.  How does that happen, you ask?  Let me explain.

If a person is arrested for selling drugs or conspiracy to sell drugs (that's a whole different story), they are frequently used to "set up" other individuals they know who are also purveying drugs.  In exchange for this information or cooperation, their sentencing can be considerably reduced.  So, if you are the poor soul who doesn't have anyone to "give up" or "turn in," your sentence will not be reduced.  That means the more innocent you are the longer time you get.  Ridiculous, isn't it?!

The system needs to change.  The War on Drugs needs to end.  It has not changed or decreased the amount of drug use in this country, and will not.  Prohibition in the twenties did not work, and the War on Drugs has not worked either.  There will always be people who use drugs, and there will always be people willing to sell them.  In the current economic state of this country, we certainly do not need to be spending up to sixty thousand dollars a year to incarcerate non-violent offenders.

We need to set up programs of community service and other forms of restitution for crime.  We need to end the huge probation charges people are required to pay which straps them so severely that they can not afford to live without resorting to further criminal acts.  Simply, we need reform, and we need it now! 

There are many abuses in the Prison System as a whole, and those also need to be investigated.  But for now, you need to be contacting your Congressmen and Senators to eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines.  This alone will save this country millions of dollars a year.

God Bless.  Peace, Love and Joy!

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