According to the State, there are currently over 5,600 prisoners in State custody, and another 1,300 being held for violation of probation/parole.
Also, according to the State, 80% of these prisoners have substance abuse issues.
There is also the issue that, in the US in general the HIV/AIDs population in prisons is three times the national average, but in Delaware it is ten times the national average.
Baseline assumption (modeled on other States because I have no hard data for Delaware, although the Governor surely does) is that 20% of our incarcerated population is there as a result of non-violent drug crimes.
That would mean, roughly, that at least 1,380 of our incarcerated population in Delaware is composed of non-violent drug offenders.
In 2004 the cost per inmate per year of incarceration in Delaware was just under $21 K.
I suspect but cannot prove that by 2009 that cost has crept up to around $23K.
Suppose we decrminalized personal drug use (even just marijuana, which is the primary drug of choice in Delaware)?
Suppose we then commuted the sentences of all non-violent drug offenders?
That would, with no other considerations, save the State an immediate $31.7.
There are two ways to look at that figure.
1) The savings would actually be higher, because the per-inmate cost does not completely capture fixed structural and logistic costs, or even salary costs.
2) Decriminalization and the release of that many inmates would have two immediate consequences:
a) It would dramatically reduce prison overcrowding and unclog the courts.
b) A certain amount of the savings would have to be re-invested into substance abuse treatment programs, but that cost would cover only people with serious issues. As a society we need to get our heads around the fact that an adult can toke a few times a week and stay as productive and functional as the guy down at the bar in the evenings.
This is a discussion whose time should have come, but unfortunately for Delaware, it is one that Governor Markell apparently didn't even think to have.
There are similar discussions to be held.
As a historian, this pains me to say, but the whole issue of our Department of Historical and Cultural Affairs needs to be examined. What could a public-private non-profit foundation not do as well or better than a government entity?
In our schools, before we start talking about reducing teacher salaries, let's talk sports. If my kids want to place sports at the YMCA, Hockessin Soccer Club, or with the Diocese of Wilmington, guess what? I pay a hefty fee for that privilege.
Exactly why are we (the public) subsidizing public school sports while we are cutting special education services and teacher salaries?
We need to have the painful discussion about pay to play and how it could be inaugurated. Between booster clubs, ticket prices, corporate donations/sponsorships, and individual fees it should be possible to make athletics in this State mostly self-supporting, without harming those who have a genuine inability to pay.
What about the SEEDS program? Wonderful as it is for the State to provide tuition for deserving students, shouldn't this benefit at least be converted from a State payment to UD or DelTech into a State income tax credit?
But, instead, we're playing the game of threatening massive State pay cuts (promising the rest of the population that no services will disappear) in order to convince the General Assembly to approve larger tax increases.
It's business as usual in a time that demands innovative thinking, and no amount of town meetings or listening sessions can disguise that fact.