Libertarian Perspective: Captive societyWritten by Kenneth Sharp | | email@example.com
These names are familiar to all Northwest Ohioans: Victoria’s Secret, JCPenney, Target, AT&T, Microsoft, IBM — I could list many more. These names will be foreign to most Northwest Ohioans: Toledo Correctional Institution, Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio and Lucas County Corrections Center. The names may be unfamiliar, but it is likely you know someone who has spent at least a short while in one of these institutions, or, as we call them, jails or prisons. That is because the United States has the largest number of people incarcerated or under some form of judicial control in the world. That is not per capita, but in raw numbers of people. We imprison more of our citizens than China, a country with four times our population and a reputation for being repressive. We imprison more of our countrymen than Iran or Russia.
This hasn’t always been so. In fact, our incarceration rates were generally steady for decades and violent crimes have, even in recent times, declined overall. The rate of in incarceration began to pick up in the early 1970s. From that time, it has climbed dramatically. In 1970, there were 3,384 nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison and 17,302 violent criminals. In 2005 the number of violent offenders had increased by 294 percent but the nonviolent drug offenders rate had increased by 2,558 percent [numbers provided by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)].
LEAP is probably also unfamiliar. It is comprised of more than 1,000 police, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens more than 70,000 civilian supporters in 119 countries. They are spread over the globe because America’s drug prohibitions have spread violence and death to many nations. In Mexico, it has cost tens of thousands of lives in recent years, many of them innocent. At home, the cost has been no less in lives destroyed and money wasted.
Ever since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, we have made more than 46 million arrests and spent more than $1.5 trillion. What have we accomplished with all this capital spent and these lives destroyed? Have crimes been reduced by all the drug-related arrests? Have drug use and addiction rates gone down? What about overdoses? We all know the answer is no. In fact, in 1914, when the first U.S. drug law was introduced, the government stated our addiction rate was at 1.3 percent of the population. In 2012, after all we have done, they say our addiction rate is still at
1.3 percent of the population.
But elsewhere they have abandoned our criminal approach to a health and education problem. In Portugal, in 2001, they decriminalized all drugs. Contrary to the prohibitionists’ beliefs, the country did not become a drug user’s haven; their society did not fall apart. In fact, drug use overall declined by 25 percent and treatment sought increased 300 percent. All because they weren’t spending money to arrest, convict and warehouse people with health issues, and users were not afraid of arrest if they sought help.
Our prohibition has not been enforced uniformly. Studies don’t show that black males use drugs at a higher rate than white males. Yet the arrest, conviction and incarceration rates of minority males are many times higher than those for whites.
We have effectively destroyed the family in our urban areas as these men get hung with nonviolent felony convictions and can no longer get education access or decent jobs. Oh, remember that list of companies I began with? They are willing to employ these prisoners for practically nothing.
Because you are already deeply involved in our culture of incarceration, and because I can only scratch the surface here, I ask that you keep some time free to join some of your fellow citizens, along with special invited guests, for a week of varied programs on this subject. It will be in the first full week of April under the banner Toledoans for Prison Awareness.
For more information, visit http://toledoprisonawarenessgroup.org and watch these pages. This is a community problem that spans all political and religious ideologies. It requires we all work together.
Tags: AT&T, Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, IBM, JCPenney, Kenneth Sharp, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Libertarian Perspective, Lucas County Corrections Center, Microsoft, Target, Toledo Correctional Institution, Victoria’s Secret