Current Trends - War on Drugs - Minimum Mandatory Sentencing - Prisons and More Prisons

I recently started a thread in the MPSIMS forum about a Florida Movie Theater Shooting that Left One Man Dead in an Altercation Over Texting.

Some of the posts in that thread discussed what would happen if the shooter (who was an elderly retired police captain) was imprisoned and the trend of soaring medical costs for imprisoning elderly people. That led to a discussion of some current trends (War on Drugs, Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Drug Crimes, Building more Prisons and Imprisoning More People (especially minorities like Black & Brown people, Latinos and Chicanos).

I stated the opinion that the costs of these trends were increasing at an ever accelerating rate and would bankrupt the taxpayers if some way wasn’t found to stop them.

That got me to remembering a wonderful film I recently saw titled, “How to Make Money Selling Drugs”. The title is tongue in cheek. It doesn’t try to promote the selling of drugs and encourage people to sell drugs. It was about how these current crazy trends are bankrupting the taxpayers.

IMO, it’s a wonderful movie. But many people may disagree. It seems to be part documentary although I’m not sure how much of it is a documentary. It may not be a great film from the usual movie-making perspective (although it did get 7.8 rating on IMDB which is a very high rating.

I loved this film think that if you are interested in these issues, you will find it to be extremely interesting.

As far as these trends go, some people expressed concern over the number of prisons being built and the soaring medical costs for elderly prisoners.

Recently I’ve seens some celebrities (like Susan Sarandon, Woody Harrelson and others) express their disgust over the failure of the war on drugs and how it is actually a war on poor people - especially minorities.

The current trends are:

Imprison more people (especially minorities) for drug offenses and to imprison them for longer periods of time. This results in building more prisons and hiring more prison guards.
Soaring taxes to pay for all these new prisons, prison guards and the cost of housing prisoners which includes their medical costs.

The USA currently imprisons a greater percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. It’s not even close.

What are other countries to make of a nation that claims to be a lover of freedom if it keeps so much of its population behind bars?

Recently, it seems that more and more states are looking to scrapping some of these drug laws. Is it too little too late? Or is there still hope we can stop these crazy trends?

If nothing else, I would like to recommend this film to you all. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Sure there’s hope. There’s every chance we’ve already seen the peak of the War on Drugs. Americans have never been more tolerant of marijuana, for instance. Public policy follows public opinion, with, naturally, a significant delay.

ETA: Also, the Obama administration is willing to think outside the box on this one.

Obama may be trying a new strategy, but his actions up to this point have been just as regressive as his predecessors. Feds have been all over medical marijuana dispensaries in my state during his two terms, and they caused at least one to shut down in my city (the owner got tired of paying shitloads in legal fees). With still-on-the-books draconian laws for crack possession and the rise of for-profit prisons, I don’t see a lot changing in my lifetime.

In 2010, the weight-ratio disparity in sentencing between cocaine and crack was reduced from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1.

I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 28, and would be shocked if there weren’t major changes in drug policy in my lifetime.

I wasn’t aware that Obama cared a whole lot about the so-called War on Drugs. I would have thought he would have had his hands full at this point trying to cope with the aftermath of his Obamacare mess.

So far as I can tell, most all presidents love the drug laws that are the result from the WOD because it’s a way they can get more and more money for their budgets. But I have never understood why they like this so much because the money ultimately has to come from taxpayers and most presidents hate to try to sell tax increases.

Is the difference here that Obama is in his second term and so he doesn’t have to care about selling anything to the voters?

IMHO the point needs not only to be raised and made loud and clear, many of the people in prison for the reasons described here **are **in effect political prisoners. It has to be advertised more because many are not realizing this and continue to think that we are not like those nations that have human rights abuse issues.

I’m 43, and as I said, still-on-the books draconian laws for crack possession. 18’s better than 100, but it’s still wildly out of proportion, and targets specific classes and races (even though plenty of middle-class whites have smoked crack, the enforcement has been targeted on the inner cities). I’d like to believe such inconsistencies will be addressed in a humane manner, but the level of paranoia about drugs (and especially drug-related crime) still seems to be at idiotic levels in this country, IMHO.

You’re free to consider 18-to-1 draconian, a reasonable argument could be made either way.

This thread being about current trends, though, that reduction in 2010 is part of the current trend, which is away from the old methods of the War on Drugs. We have a clear majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana, a successful effort to reduce the disparity between crack and cocaine, and a new National Drug Control Strategy that includes:

Change is a-comin’.

There is going to be a lot of resistance to reform in the war on drugs

For one, it is an industry. If you change the policy then a lot of police officers, probation officers, corrections officers, etc. will find themselves unemployed. And seeing how no politician wants to be seen as pissing off the police, many will lack the courage to enforce changes. Too much money is made in the drug war.

Also there is cultural inertia. Drugs have become ‘unclean’, and there are large swaths of society that want to keep unclean influences out. Since wanting things like racial or religious purity aren’t PC, pushing dirty drugs (and their users and dealers) out has become a pretty big aspect of cultural purity (which is a major factor in political belief according to Jonathan haidt). Point is, reform in attitudes on drugs is going to be similar to reform on attitudes towards segregation. It will take time, and there will be large holdouts.

Also public opinion doesn’t mean much in the US. The vast majority of the public wants background checks on gun purchases. Doesn’t happen. The vast majority wants a more progressive tax system. Doesn’t happen. The vast majority wants medicare to be able to bulk negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Doesn’t happen. So it really doesn’t matter if 80%+ of the public opposes the drug war. As long as wealthy, powerful, well connected people like the policy it will stay in place.

I think the only hope is a state by state reform starting with the west coast, northeast and southwest, with maybe federal reform coming 20 years later.

I’m begging you to see this documentary film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1276962

Then ask yourself, **"Which **police officers, probation officers and corrections officers will find themselves unemployed? And do you really want those people working in the criminal justice system?

It’s your decision. I’m just asking you to consider an alternative viewpoint before deciding.

I’m all for changing/ending the war on drugs, but I’m saying there are a lot of powerful, wealthy groups that like the status quo. Overcoming them isn’t going to be easy.

I requested a copy from the library, but it’ll be a few weeks before it is available.

You are also not considering the other vested interests, some companies are doing very nicely out of a workforce that is paid a long way below minimum wage.

There are supposed to be guidelines that state that prison labour should not outcompete regular workers, but of course there are always ways around that.

If the work being undertaken could not be carried out economically in the US, then there is nothing to stop prison labour competing against labour costs in other countries. That makes it worthwhile putting into US prisons.

This of course can have the bonus of reducing the logistics train - its not just about money, its also about product turnaround time and reducing very long lead times.
If you were to order a few million widgets from China, you might get them at a very good price, but your lead time might also be extremely long. You would likely also reduce your shipping and importation costs.

What you have now are significant companies with an interest in ensuring the continuation of a large US prison population, you now have a Penal-industrial complex.

Given that the largest ethnic prisoner groupings are over-represented, both in absolute numbers and in proportion to their overall US population size, the fact that you do have so many such prisoners engaged in long term compulsory employment in closed conditions, well, you can see that Jim Crow would probably be highly pleased with the current situation.

I’m not really arguing against your main premise, but if you think a large reduction in force would lead to the prison system dumping their least qualified, least capable, least professional, and most sadistic workers, well, you’ve never been through the process. The people who ended up staying would come down to 1) seniority and 2) those most desperate to stay–i.e., those with the fewest alternatives outside the system. The first is pretty neutral in terms of incompetent louts keeping their jobs–the second positively encourages the worst possible people to be the ones that persist.

The point made so effectively in the film is that today, so many police officers, DEA agents and other federal agents have only ever been trained how to do one thing - arrest drug smugglers. They no longer have the skills required to do basic police work. That seems to horrify the ex-Texas cop - Barry Cooper - who is featured in the movie.

I searched for a video in another thread on some law professor that gave a wonderful presentation why no one who is the target of an investigation should EVER talk to police without a lawyer present and Googled:

regents university “never talk to the police”

I found this video when I did that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XtBvalUVKU

It is Barry Cooper who is featured in the movie. I’m not sure what he has to say in this video. I just wanted you to see who he is for your future reference. In the movie, he makes the above point about police officers and federal agents extremely forcefully.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

The above link is the presentation by Mr. James Duane a law professor from Regents University. He claims you should never talk to the police without a lawyer present. There are surely some exceptions to that. But so many people are in prison today because they figured there couldn’t be any harm in answering a few questions. You won’t believe what happened to them.

There are several related videos that are all excellent. I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are incredibly informative. They will really open the eyes of people who say we should always co-operate with the police because the police are our friends.

So many people are in prison today because they decided that was true and that it was best for them to talk with the police whether their lawyer was present or not.

I think there’s a strong case to be made for decriminalizing marijuana. I would like to see the Obama admin push for laws in that direction. My elderly father finds it helps his back pain. I fail to see where he should be punished for such usage if he sits in his living room without bothering anyone or performing actions that might put other people in danger.

By the way, for anyone who is interested, the point I quoted in my above post about the current skills the of police (namely that all they seem to know how to do is make drug arrests and have lost their basic police skills) was made a little more than halfway through the movie and it was made by the creator of the HBO series, “The Wire”. He was a police reporter for many years in Baltimore and said that he was very sad about the current state of the skills possessed by Baltimore police officers.

If you’ve never seen The Wire, it was rated very highly and most people seem to think it is an excellent series. I am just beginning to watch it.

The imprisonment rate dropped for the third year running in 2013.

More generally, I think the trends are actually pretty positive here. Public tolerance of legalization/decriminalization of at least the lighter drugs seems to be up (a majority of the Pop. now supports marijuana legalization, for example). As violent crime rates continue to drop, a lot of the fear that supported “tough on crime” legislation has gone away. The generation that grew up fighting Civil Rights and then supported higher incarceration of blacks out of bitterness of having lost that fight are dying off. And an aging population means State and Federal budgets will be under increasing stress, and prisons are a pretty tempting place to cut.

So I’ll go ahead and make a prediction, 2007 (give or take a year) will have been the peak year for US incarceration rates, we’ll never see another year with rates that high in my liftetime. The general downwards trend will continue.

That we’re not a nation that loves freedom any more, we’re just another stupid-ass oligarchy, sliding towards Third World oligarchy-hood as our ruling class (the One Percent) loots us.

Big Pharmacy makes big profits on illegal drugs, the typical meth cook needs to get their precurser PPA someplace.

No argument here.

Since the '60s, marijuana legalization has grown from 12% support to 58%. If it’s still considered ‘unclean’, it’s at its lowest ebb of the last 50 years. It may be at a tipping point in the near future, much like SSM.

Public opinion means plenty, historically. There are flaws built in to representative democracy, sure (like diffuse costs and concentrated benefits), but I submit that the drug war doesn’t take advantage of them. It’s not an abstract ideal, like a simpler tax code or a background check. It’s people being hauled off the streets and locked in prisons. The costs aren’t all that diffuse, in other words. People who are effected by it are crushed by it.