Monday, March 17, 2008

One way to decrease America's prison population . . . .

. . . will never be tried, according to one of John McCain's potential running mates.

Recently Dana and I traded arguments over the new statistics that showed the US leaping ahead of China in terms of percentage of the population in prison.

Now Florida Governor Charlie Crist (often mentioned as a possible Republican VP candidate) has declined to review Florida's draconian penalties for drug possession.

This by way of Drug War Rant:

There's a must-read article by Marc Caputo in the Miami Herald today: Crist wants to maintain drug penalties

Check out the well-constructed lede:

Though he has admitted to smoking marijuana, Gov. Charlie Crist said he still favors Florida's tough drug laws and doesn't support legislative plans to review whether to lessen penalties for some crimes such as non-violent drug possession.

There's an incredible amount of meat in that one sentence -- the hypocrisy of Gov. Crist, the fact that Florida's drug laws are tough, the fact that the legislature is actually considering reform, and that many locked up for drug possession are non-violent offenders. This is a real breath of fresh air in a news piece.

It continues:

The state's prison population is expected to swell at year's end to a record 100,000, about 20 percent of whom are non-violent drug offenders convicted of crimes such as trafficking and simple possession.

And some legislators have wondered aloud and in private how the state can afford to pay for it now that Florida's economy is sagging and crime is rising. It costs more than $19,000 a year to lock up an inmate, not counting the millions it will cost to build two prisons per year through 2013 to keep up with prison-population growth.

Two prisons per year. Wow. See, this is the kind of reporting that can really make people sit up and take notice. And it's an article where the "smart on drugs" crowd really look like they've got it together much more than the "tough on drugs" Governor.

So, let's see. . . . Just in Florida we could release 20,000 non-violent drug offenders? And nationwide?

Well, maybe at least in Texas, where Grits for Breakfast has a detailed story on how the Lone Star State early release program actually favors murderers and rapists like convicted murderer Glen Semento (who has now been charged in Florida for "aggravated battery, robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card")
instead of non-violent offenders:

There's only one reason that's happening: The prison system needs the space to house addicts, drunks, and non-violent offenders like this guy, and this one, and this schoolteacher, and homeless people who steal copper wire, and a host of others who didn't commit nearly as serious an offense as this fellow. They're locked up and he's out carjacking people. What's wrong with this picture?

A past campaign client of mine, former state Rep. Ray Allen, likes to say that Texas should only lock up people we're "afraid of," not those whom we're only "mad at." This case shows that's not just a catchy slogan, it's damn good public safety advice.

I hesitate to think about how many pot-smokers Texas has locked up, but I certainly sleep sounder knowing it's a big number.

1 comment:

sathish said...