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June 1, 2008

A government waste attack on over-incarceration

I am pleased to see this local editorial emphasizing government waste when assailing excessive incarceration of non-violent drug offenders.  Here are excerpts from the editorial:

Stop government waste. That's what state taxpayers are clamoring for, right? Cut out the padded pensions, lavish trips, no-show jobs.  But all the money spent in those time-worn examples of "waste" pales in comparison to the millions and millions of dollars state taxpayers are spending to lock up nonviolent drug offenders who unwittingly found themselves within 1,000 feet of a school, or who are first-time offenders better served by drug treatment or other alternatives to jail.

The Drug Policy Alliance released a study last week finding the state spends $331 million per year jailing nonviolent drug offenders, or more than the entire corrections budgets for 16 states.  More than one-third of the state's prison population was convicted of drug possession or low-level distribution offenses - at a yearly cost, per prisoner, of $46,880....

The report pointed out that not only is money being wasted, but lives.  Serving a jail sentence reduces someone's earning ability by up to 40 percent, the study found. Lives often spiral downward after prison. Society, as well as the individual, suffers.

Politicians in the past refused to budge on rolling back these tougher drug laws. They feared looking soft on crime — even if their stubbornness flew in the face of common sense and fairness.  Perhaps in the context of hard budget choices and tapped-out taxpayers, politicians finally see this issue as one of economics as well as justice....

At a time when the state is being forced to cut money for otherwise-worthy programs, it is inconceivable that it is spending $46,880 a year to lock up people whose lives could be infinitely more productive — and society better served — with a cheaper and better alternative. That, folks, is government waste.

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June 1, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Permalink

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But to the average dumb American (well over 50% of the population, and they vote) it's never a waste of taxpayer dollars to put people in prison - no matter the cost. Not even innocent people. Taking someone off the street who there's so much as probable cause to believe is a criminal is justifiable no matter the cost. It's better to have someone in prison than to have them running free, even if they are innocent, because even innocent people can endanger TPC. And if there's a chance that they're guilty, by all means waste our money to put the scumbag away. We don't need healthcare, we don't need national security, we don't need roads and bridges. We need more prison cells and people to put in them. Buy CCA stock. Talk of locking up less people is bad for business, and a danger to TPC.

Posted by: bruce | Jun 1, 2008 10:34:09 PM

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