Long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders are the single greatest multiplying factor behind the monumental increase of US prison populations in the last 20 years. The book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics, the only scientific analysis of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) budget, proves a 30-year, steady increase in incarceration and its spiraling costs due to thoughtless and punitive drug war laws.
The US Sentencing Commission can't monitor and review over 90% of the hidden policing-process anchored in drug-targeted communities by snitching and informant systems. Police and prosecutors, who have traditionally worked hand in hand, nowadays have the power to charge and power to sentence, defying 'checks and balances' principles honored from our nation's foundation.
The power to punish -- power that can't be scrutinized -- leads defense attorneys to counsel defendants to plead guilty; the government wins about 97% of drug cases brought to trial. The role judges play at sentencing has been limited by legislators responding to a 'moral panic' driven by fear-mongering media and politicians, fueled by wealthy conservatives intent on more policing and imprisonment of lower class people.
These methods of sentencing are under new scrutiny in higher courts, but the prison industrial complexes continue growing because the drug war rages on.
They commute by automobile from suburban sprawls where they live, shop and socialize. Increased road construction, traffic congestion and air pollution may become a new problem, or worsen existing air quality issues.
A new prison in your region also changes the way that people think about your town. Tourists aren't generally attracted to a correctional complex.
Prisons are closed, guarded, sad places. People who co-mingle and endure this controlled, depressing social environment are made physically, emotionally, and mentally worse by the experience.
Local authorities should know and monitor the health of released prisoners, but it's a seldom-practiced, though routine, procedure. Adding to wider contagion possibilities, guards return home after their eight-hour shift inside prison.
If you are a person who agrees it's impossible to separate environmental sustainability from public health, we think you will oppose prison expansion.
Although only 8% of Washington State's population are African Americans, nearly 20% of our prison population is black. Nationwide, racial disparities are even more shameful. Federal prisons are 70% African American, but only represent 13% of the population.
As prisons expand in impoverished rural areas, they fill with the poor from urban cities -- historical and new regions of persistent poverty are further diminished.
Changes in criminal laws almost always have an advocacy group pushing for them -- harsh laws and prison expansion being no different. Businesses, unions and professional associations that benefit financially from correction's industries also must keep lobbying to enact new, tough laws that will generate more public money for new or expanding prisons.
Public defenders have few advocates for the demanding task of defending people against abuses of law. Overall, public defense languishes for lack of funding because -- while there is money to be made in building, maintaining and servicing prisons -- there's not much profit to be made by paying someone to defend someone who can't defend him/herself.
The average criminal case receives about four hours of attention by a public defense professional. Our culture places little honor and value on defending lower class white and people of color and more reward to those who support the proliferation of bad law and prisons.
People whose jobs depend on punitive laws and prison expansion also become advocates for more policing, raising shrill voices against community oversight of prisons and policing, and work as endorsers of prison expansion on all levels of government. In modern history, only in recent years have reform trends been noted and monitored within the ranks of enforcement and lawmakers.
Political power shifts and democratic values are at risk when concentrations of people who cannot vote bring undeserved, extra power to political leaders who live in districts where prisons are sited.
Every dollar transferred to a 'prison town' is money that won't be spent in the incarcerated person's hometown.
When court dockets are consumed with punishing crime, civil cases go unheard. Our culture's progress has long been dependant on the courts. Historically we have used litigation to determine how civil our society should be. Opportunities for progressive change via the courts languish when justice and cherished legal principles are set aside.
High turnover rate, poorly trained guards, and medical emergencies drive up operational costs. Profit made by a private prison goes to a private corporation, not the state. Any push to increase profit means cutting corners, skimping on food, medicine and other basic needs.
Some states have reported that incidents of abuse in private prisons are about 28 percent higher than in state prisons. Prison riots, escapes, and assaults on staff are results of this grotesque addiction to profit making. Riot-suppression or manhunts are done by public law enforcement agencies, costing taxpayers even more, and causing some states to cancel private prison contracts and demand reimbursement for public funds used.
From desks and chairs, to aircraft parts, ammunition and helmets, a federal prison operating near you is likely involved with war production.
Whether state or federal, prison production plants do not compete for sales with private industry in the outside community. Exploitation of imprisoned labor may be legal under the 13th Amendment, but increasing use of US prisoner labor for war production, or private profit demands a closer review in light of historical policies of nations doing the same, notably Nazi Germany in the 1930s-40s.
Military veterans convert military experience to domestic policing and paramilitary policing tactics are common and growing throughout US enforcement agencies.
These imprisoned need compassionate mental health care in a hospital setting, or community outpatient support. We must stop criminalizing mental illness.
Another large category of imprisoned people is non-violent drug offenders. To get a given amount of illegal drug consumption reduction, treatment costs 25 cents to every dollar of law enforcement cost. We can afford to expand treatment, not prisons.
Many lawbreakers turn to crime because they're not educated, lack job skills, and have no employment experience. An alternative sentence could include meaningful community service that teaches marketable job skills. Education costs far less than paying for another stay in prison.
People returning home from prison need one: Access to citizenship, family, jobs, housing and food, not the present barriers that doom them to repeat their failures of the past should be restored to people after prison.