This past week, I met a Latino fellow who had done some time, about three months in jail, for a non-violent drug related crime. He had been caught with three ounces of marijuana, twenty Vicodin pills and an ounce of cocaine. He didn't have the resources for a private attorney so his public defender represented him. In a plea bargain, he got six months in country lockup for a felony possession of narcotics charge and he served his time.
It turns out he was very interesting to talk to, because until then, he had been a law abiding citizen. And if you saw him on the street, you'd never know this man was a felon. I always thought these guys were seedy, easy to pick out of a crowd types of people. He was an engineer. And he really poses no threat to us. But his "crime" did cost a lot of tax payer money to keep him behind bars. It got me to thinking, especially when I read this article in Friday's HuffPo.
Chris Kirkham reports:
Because of punitive drug laws, drug offenders still make up more than 46 percent of the federal prison system, according to the Department of Justice. Immigrants are the third-highest category of offenders, at 11 percent. But this year, more than 60 percent of all federal criminal convictions have been for immigration-related crimes, federal data show.
So, with a little help from the National Association of State Budget Officers, I found this interesting bit of information:
In 2007, around $74 billion was spent on corrections. The total number of inmates in 2007 in federal, state, and local lockups was 2,419,241. That comes to around $30,600 per inmate.
Let's put that in perspective:
In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education..... The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.
I understand the need for incarceration, especially for violent crimes. The guy or gal who embezzled money, received child pornography or sold some marijuana doesn't quite rank up there as the same risk as armed thieves, rapists, and killers.
Here are some numbers from the Office of National Drug Control Policy:
Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.
Maybe there's some logic there -- book more of them and keep them longer. Well, we do need to be protected.
These policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, but instead yielded high rates of confinement for nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. 49 percent of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses.
Huh? Our policies are increasing the number of non-violent offenders? At $50K per prisoner, per year? I'm not so sure I like that. The huge increase in what we tax payers are coughing up and seeing spent is money to incarcerate mostly drug users, sellers, and undocumented men and women. In many cases, people who've committed one of two crimes -- a drug offense or crossing the border without the proper papers. These non-violent discretions hardly call for multi-year incarcerations. I'm getting a whiff of scam here -- and I'm feeling like the victim.
Again, from Chris Kirkham's expose:
The Federal government is embarking on an unprecedented campaign to criminally prosecute undocumented immigrants crossing the border. The result: A new wave of non-violent offenders are flooding the nation's prisons.
"This is the crime du jour," said Judith Greene, director of the nonprofit Justice Strategies, which has focused on the private prison industry's growing reliance on incarcerating undocumented immigrants. "It's the drug war all over again. It's what's driving the market in federal prisons."
Damn, that translates to a lot of money. My money. Your money. Smells like someone's making big bucks here. But whom?
Immigration offenders represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the federal prison population, providing a lucrative market for private prison corporations that largely control these inmates in the system. Over the last decade, revenue from the federal prison system has more than tripled for the GEO Group and nearly doubled for Corrections Corp. of America -- the two companies that dominate the private prison industry.
This is outrageous. We're supporting private prisons? For undocumented entrants to our country? Isn't it cheaper to just deport them -- which the Obama administration is doing at a record pace? I'm not a big fan of deportation, but I do realize that a "crime" has been committed. But do I have to overpay for their discretion? I think not.
Let's consider some alternatives, and more money for education and less for rounding up undocumented people who are not costing us nearly what the US government is charging us to incarcerate and deport them.
Some common sense here -- Prisons in California (alone) are allocated $9.6 billion. Education in California receives $5.7 billion. I'm for tipping the scales the other way.
Yes, by all means incarcerate violent criminals, and probably recidivists of non-violent crimes. But let's not put drug users and undocumented visitors in the same cages or categories. We all expect protection. Not subsidies for private prisons. With a sane justice code, we wouldn't be building more prisons, we'd be building more schools.
Ask yourself this, do we need more prisoners of non-violent crimes or more teachers and schools which lower the numbers of violent crimes? Prevention, not overpriced incarceration, is my suggestion.
Speak up and speak out. Revise justice. Improve education.
Get King some medical attention for all those wounds Navarro laid upon him. Couldn't have done better myself. Via.
ABC's Jonathan Karl gets a twofer today. First we saw him call out Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy on the sequester. Now we see him get Newt to say that the GOP will turn down any immigration reform by President Obama simply because they don't like him.
Yes, Newton Leroy Gingrich had no problem describing how Republicans hate Obama, so no way will they pass his immigration plan, despite what's good for the country and the people in it, despite the similarities in Republican ideas and the president's, despite his party's Big Political Reinvention based on a dire need for Latino voters, and despite the economic benefits of passing such a bill.
Marco Rubio poo-pooed it in pretty strong terms by calling the president's ideas “dead on arrival”:
“If actually proposed, the President’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come.”
Who won't compromise again, Marco? Who's been obstructing since Inauguration Night 2009? Oh that's right, your party. And under whose watch have illegal border crossings plunged? Oh that's right, our current president's.
Paul Ryan claimed that President Obama “seems to be looking for a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution." (The segment is at the beginning, the first two minutes of the video.) Project much?
Here's Newt Ginrich telling Karl that GOP disdain for Obama takes precedence over getting something accomplished for the good of the nation:
"I think there's a very important part of this that the Obama administration probably can't bring itself to deal with: an Obama immigration plan is not going to pass the House... Just as a Bush Social Security plan after '04 was dead because it was the Bush Social Security plan. So if you want to actually get legislation…"
"Can I ask you, will a Rubio immigration plan pass the House?"
"No, but I think a Rubio, the House Republicans and House Democrats have been meeting on immigration. I mean, I think there will be a House immigration bill that has a very substantial support that Boehner and Cantor and others will be supporting, and I think that negotiated with a Senate immigration bill that has to have bipartisan support could actually get to the president's desk. But an Obama plan led and driven by Obama in this atmosphere with the level of hostility towards the president and the way he goads the hostility, I think is very hard to imagine that bill, that his bill is going to pass the House."
Class act that Brewer. She must have felt constrained by the election, but now she can let 'em rip again. Via.
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