Friday, February 29, 2008

Stupid laws

More jails. We need more jails. The number of Americans incarcerated for one thing or another has been increasing by “leaps and bounds” for the past few years so that we are now jailing one in every one hundred Americans. Is that an accomplishment of which we should be proud? We have more people in jail in absolute numbers than any other country. And we have a higher percentage of people in jail than any other country. Not content with such a fine record many states are having trouble building enough jails, anticipating further increases in the criminal element that seems to be growing in our country. Apparently it is regarded as easier or more responsible to keep building more and more jails than it is to consider the laws and circumstances that are resulting in this problem. One interesting and depressing fact is that we seem to be spending more money on jails than on education. Apparently our “leaders” don’t think there is any relationship between education and good citizenship and lives free of crime. Here in Idaho our Republican led Congress would be happy not to have to fund education at all, but they don’t seem to balk too much when it comes to more jails. Our present governor, Clement Leroy Otter (otherwise known as “Butch”) recently suggested privatizing our jails. This was rejected quickly, not because it was an inherently stupid idea, but because there was fear that convicts from other areas might end up here (I don’t know how they passed up the opportunity to make a profit). Whether we privatize or not it seems to be clear that we desperately need more jails. There is, of course, a perfectly sensible and even easy solution to much of this problem, just get rid of our incredibly misguided drug laws.

I don’t know the precise statistics but it is a good bet that fully one third of prisoners (probably more) are in jail for violations of drug laws, especially laws relating to the use of marijuana. It is well known by now (and has been for years) that this substance is nowhere near as bad as alcohol, is not addictive, does not inevitably lead to other drugs, and has been stupidly maligned for years. There is no reason a person who has or uses marijuana should ever be put in jail. Furthermore, it should be obvious by now that the laws having to do with marijuana don’t work (if they did there wouldn’t be so many users, would there). Our other drug laws aren’t much better. This is simply because drug usage and addiction is fundamentally a medical problem that has been made into a political problem. If drugs were made legal (but still by prescription) much of the prison problem would disappear almost immediately, just as was the case with prohibition. In fact, our current hysterical approach to drugs results, in some cases, in situations in which people who actually need the drugs can’t get them (doctors are nowadays sometimes afraid to prescribe drugs they know their patents need because they fear losing their licenses – big brother is constantly monitoring them). This is a situation that is out of control because of so many years of completely ill-informed legislation. Unfortunately, don’t look for it to change soon, even though other countries have demonstrated that drug legalization works and beyond any doubt reduces crime. There are sensible and responsible people in the world, they just don’t happen to be resident in our Congress. There is no doubt this is a serious problem in the U.S. that is causing untold misery for many individuals and families, to say nothing of costing taxpayers a great deal of money. One might think it would be something we ought to deal with, our “war on drugs” is every bit as much a failure as our “war” in Iraq, but we don’t seem to be capable of doing anything about either problem. It’s the American way! Oh, yeah, I forgot, steroids in baseball is a really big and important problem that requires immediate attention by our otherwise lethargic Congresspersons. What with constantly raising money to keep getting re-elected I guess this is the only problem they have time to consider. Do you think Clemens and Bond will go to jail? Probably not unless they smoked some weed. Just another chapter in our culture of the absurd.

“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”
Bernard Berenson

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