Why We Need Criminal Justice Reform in 2007

Via the New York City Independent Media Center and the DMI blog:

These are some statistics from the Department of Justice reflecting data through 2005.

What they tell us: America continues to be a prison nation. The drug war doesn't work. Over-incarceration doesn't work. Our elected officials in Congress need to spend time addressing these issues in 2007.

  • the prison population grew 1.9% over the past year
  • the United States has 2,320,359 people incarcerated
  • in 1995, America sentenced 411 people per 100,000 residents; today it is 491
  • there are around 600,000 more people in jail today than 10 years ago
  • since 1995, the total number of male prisoners has grown 34%; female prisoners have risen 57%

  • if you incarcerated every person in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it would equal the number of women incarcerated in the United States
  • 39 states experienced a growth in their prison populations, some over 10%
  • including people on parole and probation, the total correctional population in America grew by almost 2 million between 1995 and 2005 (from 5,342,900 to 7,056,000); since 1990, that number has increased by 2.5 million (or by 57%)
  • there are at least 1.2 million more people on parole or probation than there were 10 years ago
  • in the past 25 years, the rate of adult residents under correctional supervision nearly tripled (from 1,117 per 100,000 to 3,150 per 100,000)
  • there are more people on probation in Texas and California than there are residents of San Francisco
  • state and federal inmates held in private prisons increased 8.8% and 9.2%, respectively
  • federal prisons were operating at 34% above capacity; 23 states reported operating at 100% or more of their higher capacity
  • Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate at 797 per 100,000; the states with the five lowest incarceration rates are overwhelmingly white (Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and North Dakota)
  • 40% of inmates serving a sentence of one year or more are African-American
  • 8.1% of African-American men between the ages of 25 to 29 are in prison (compared to 1.1% of white men in the same age group)
  • in the age groups 30-34 and 35-39, per 100,000 residents, there are 7,726 and 6,630 African-Americans in prison, respectively, in contrast to 1,172 and 1,067 whites
  • Per 100,000 residents, there are 156 African-American women in prison, compared to 45 white women
  • half of all state prisoners are held for non-violent offenses
  • state prisons hold over 337,000 people for drug and public-order offenses
  • 55% of federal prisoners were sentenced for drug offenses, compared to 10% for weapons offenses
  • the number of people sentenced to federal prison for a drug offense increased 65% between 1995 and 2003
  • in 2003, there were 16,688 people in federal prison for a violence offense, compared to 86,972 for drug offenses
  • the percentage of white, African-American, and Hispanic men in prison for violent offenses is almost equal; but the percentage of African-American and Hispanics incarcerated for drugs is 23.7 and 22.9, whereas for whites it is 14.3
  • almost one-third of female prisoners are being held for a drug offense
  • one-third of the people on probation were convicted of a drug offense
  • the successful completion rate for people on probation is lower than it was in 1995
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    Wish List (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by syinco on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 07:41:32 PM EST
    In response to the statistics above, here's my quick wishlist for the coming year.  FWIW.

    • A rational, coherent, and expertise-based approach to sentencing policy. Stop this bizarre media-fueled orgy between the politicians and the populace that only begets fear and votes, while leaving many unnecessarily devastated lives and families in its aftermath.

    • An end to mandatory minimums.  If proportionality and guidelines are your cup of tea, then let's adopt mandatory maximums, allow for judicial discretion, and accept that there will at times be unduly lenient sentences.  Until we abolish plea bargaining and all other discretional avenues, this will always be the case anyway.

    • Further explore alternatives to incarceration or mandatory sentencing - e.g. drug courts, restorative justice practices.

    • Provide for properly funded correctional institutions that can live up to their name (e.g. treatment, education) and provide for a reasonably safe environment for the wards of the state (e.g. less overcrowding, some minimum standard of medical care).

    • Rational discourse on drug policy.  Please.

    • Minimize the rhetoric and practices that dehumanize prisoners/offenders.  These are people's mothers and fathers, sons and daughters; they are (mostly) not boogeymen/women/children, but people who have made terrible mistakes and (in most cases) deserve a full second chance.

    • Bring an end to registries, or at least all of the "these aren't punitive, wink-wink" measures that are enacted to apply to those on the registries.

    • Abolish capital punishment.  For such a debatable and irreversible practice, let's err on the side of caution - truly, not much harm in that.

    • End the needlessly torturous conditions of supermax confinement.

    • Develop a more constructive approach to handling technical violations for those on probation or parole - e.g. re-entry courts a la the drug courts?

    Now I'll really go out on a limb ...

    • Remember and practice, in all cases, that fundamental principle that most of us so wish we all shared - compassion.

    • Start thinking about root causes.  Is crime the disease itself, or is crime the symptom of a diseased society?  At least ask the question, and stop blindly sledge-hammering away at what may only be a symptom.

    Happy Holidays to all. :)

    What will it take to (none / 0) (#5)
    by JSN on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 08:45:17 PM EST
    have a rational discourse on drug policy? Most of what I have read is opinion with reliable facts an endangered species. For example the BJS web page gives 20% for the percentage of state prison inmates convicted on drug charges (primarily manufacturing & trafficking) in 2003 and most folks claim that more than half are in prison for drug possession (in most states drug possession is a misdemeanor which is usually punished with a fine and probation or jail in some cases).

    I agree with you comment on technical violations. In our district we need (but can't fund) an intermediate level of supervision that would keep a lot of our parole/probation violators out of jail or from being sent to prison. We are also underfunded on treatment options. The legislature wants the clients to pay most of the costs of supervision and treatment. We could offer seminars on how to get more blood from a turnip.

    Retribution is very popular and a compassionate conservative is someone who would put a seat cushion on an electric chair.


    What will it take ... (none / 0) (#8)
    by syinco on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 11:25:13 PM EST
    Well that's a tough question.  Wish I had the answer.

    As for the disparity in stats, I don't know, but either way it's a heck of a lot of people.  I did hear some consensus at the recent punishment conference that most stats related to carceral practices in general just don't gain much traction with the public anyway.  One type of stat that was mentioned that did help drive home the point that we can do better - and this is broader than just drugs - was an incarceration cost per localized region (e.g. per city block or set of blocks).  That type of statistic seems to actually spur thought that there may be more effective ways to invest that money, but it also seems to me a very difficult statistic to derive.

    I am curious to see what happens in CA with their looming crisis, though I'm not encouraged initially.  One would hope that it will force a reasoned and broad debate over at least drug sentencing policy, if not broader drug policy as well.

    I'm also encouraged by more localized efforts, such as what I'm just beginning to hear of drug courts - responding with a more supportive and less punitive approach.  I hope we'll see successes there that can be spotlighted and scaled across and up to more jurisdictions.

    But I also recognize that the federal position in particular remains a very difficult hurdle.

    I hear you on the frustrations with your legislature.  That people maintain a position of we don't want crime but we don't want to pay anything to mitigate crime is just exasperating.  Crime seems to me an inevitable consequence of a stratified and capitalistic society.  

    I still have the Sunday NY Times magazine to read, which has an article titled "The Right Has A Jailhouse Conversion" - maybe it'll give me a little hope yet ...


    Drug incarcerations (none / 0) (#10)
    by JSN on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 06:46:01 AM EST
    A lot of the folks in Federal prisons are convicted on a drug conspiracy charge (where it is fairly easy to get a conviction) where in state prisons they are primarily convicted on a drug manufacturing or trafficking charge (where it is more difficult to get a conviction). There about 200,000 in Federal prisons and the percentage of drug offenders is very high. It appears that what people are doing is applying the percentage of Federal drug offenders to all prisons and jails (the number of persons serving sentences in jail is small most jail inmates are waiting for their case to be processed).

    Like the military industrial complex (4.00 / 1) (#7)
    by bx58 on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 10:04:58 PM EST
    there's money to be made, political careers to be boosted.

    I've said it before; you get rid of pot possession laws and half the lawyers in every small town in America will be shopping for a smaller house.

    It's a money-mill that isn't going to stop anytime soon.

    Detain/Release criteria (none / 0) (#1)
    by JSN on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 07:38:21 PM EST
    The decision to detain a person in jail or to release on recognizance, bond or under supervision depends in general on the evaluation of;
    1. risk of flight
    2. threat to public safety
    3. threat to property
    4. prior criminal record
    5. risk of noncompliance (failure to appear, parole/probation violation or other).

    An employed local resident with no prior criminal record with sufficient funds to post bond or with family and friends who will help post band who is not impaired by alcohol abuse, drug abuse or mental illness is much more likely to be released than someone from another county with a prior criminal record who is unemployed with no funds or friends and is impaired by alcohol, drugs or mental illness.

    These selection criteria operate to produce a jail population primarily composed of poor people from other counties and states who are likely to have serious problems with alcohol, drugs and mental illness individually or in combination who are waiting for the criminal justice system to process their cases.

    They are under enormous pressure to plea bargain (an automatic conviction) and if they are convicted of a felony a non resident is more likely to be sentenced to prison than a local resident where  probation is a realistic option.

    A very high percentage of male prison inmates are mentally ill and more than half of the female prison inmates are mentally ill.
    A mentally ill person in prison is not likely to be recommended for parole by the prison staff.

    USA - prison happy (none / 0) (#3)
    by alapip on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 07:51:08 PM EST
    the unrealistic, judgemental, punitive nature of the people in charge in our nation is much worse than shameful.  it is inhumane.

    a heavy emphasis on all aspects of citizenship and cooperation should be drummed into all school children from kindergarten on.  more community programs for inner city and other problem areas need to be established, studied, evolved as necessary.  real prison reform must be instituted. legalize and control the drugs that can be, and concentrate on rehabilitation.  with the right programs, i believe we could empty our prisons of eighty percent of their population in 25 years.

    look at other free countries and compare them to our own.  we are a shame to our constitution.  if we cannot be honest with ourselves, we will never be free of pervasive poverty nor the mayhem we now live with.  

    Gee, would it have anything to do with ..... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Sailor on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 08:05:53 PM EST
    A waste (none / 0) (#6)
    by darby1936 on Tue Dec 26, 2006 at 09:53:53 PM EST
    As big a waste of money as the military industrial complex.

    The system needs more Time (none / 0) (#9)
    by plumberboy on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:26:26 AM EST
    The first thing I would do is legalize drugs,and spend more time on indiviual cases the thing is they mill people through the legal system so fast it's unreal there is no day in court hardly anymore and before you know it you have guys who pinched a womans breast serving the same time as a forty year old man who had oral sex with a 13 year old.The system is messed up it would seem a little time and common sense could go a long way in the legal system.The thing is like a lot of other people indicated there needs to be more reform programs and help people to be productive and go on to success in their lives.

    Need to be (none / 0) (#11)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 08:48:10 AM EST
    The drug laws need to be rationalized, but that's not going to happen. Like only Nixon could have gone to China, only someone besides NORML will be able to lead the charge.

    And the constant justification of use that it is not harmful only starts a debate that can't be won by users. The real truth is that ALL drug use is harmful, the real question is how much should society be involved in the regulation of the sale and use of harmful substances, and which substances are harmful, and to what extent.

    How we get to that debate I haven't the faintest idea, but would like to see it happen.

    In the meantime, don't use the excuse that the laws are wrong and you have "rights" and expect to stay out jail. It doesn't work that way. You know it and I know it.

    Just remember that the easiest and most effective way to help reduce the illegal drug violators in prison is simple. Don't sell'em. Don't possess them. Don't use'em. Don't hang around people who do.

    On the legal side, visit a cancer ward or a CPOD ward in your local hospital and you won't even worry about heart disease when you start to buy a pack of Camels.

    When you start to have that third drink think about spending the night in jail or a few years in prison for vehicular homicide, assuming you survive the wreck. Any means of alternate transportation is better and cheaper than DUI.

    And before you decide that I am a wild eyed right winger, note that I started this with, "The drug laws need to be rationalized."


    The real truth? (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 10:48:50 AM EST
    ALL drug use is harmful

    Got proof?

    How many of those cancer and COPD patients were sickened by environmental contaminants?

    Many of our laws are completely arbitrary.  If we were really concerned about harm we would have stricter environmental and agricultural laws and start locking up the people who are responsible for harming so many.


    re: stricter environmental and agricultural laws (none / 0) (#14)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 11:01:05 AM EST
    How many of those cancer and COPD patients were sickened by environmental contaminants?

    "ALL drug use is harmful." gee, maybe... (none / 0) (#16)
    by Bill Arnett on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 12:26:25 PM EST
    ...that's why I'm so sick so much of the time. All I need to do is stop taking the meds that keep me alive and mostly functioning and I'll be fine.

    Why didn't I think of that?

    Mornin, aw, edger, Sailor, everybody.


    Good day, Bill (none / 0) (#17)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 12:37:58 PM EST
    Morning Bill. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 12:43:02 PM EST
    Don't mind ppj. (none / 0) (#19)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 12:44:40 PM EST
    He's only Half Baked.

    As in a marijuana brownie? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Bill Arnett on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 01:35:59 PM EST
    In ppj's case wouldn't it have to be a (none / 0) (#23)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 01:55:55 PM EST
    marijuana whitey?

    Too, too wicked, shame on you! ROTFLMAO! (none / 0) (#24)
    by Bill Arnett on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:15:01 PM EST
    Well, I was just being considerate (none / 0) (#40)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:29:31 PM EST
    If he was fully baked he'd have to be prejudiced against himself. Too conflicting. Too hard on his head.

    I don't think they are going to put (none / 0) (#25)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:29:59 PM EST
    you in jail for taking your meds Bill.

    BTW - We know that you knew I was commenting on legal medical drugs.


    Whatever (none / 0) (#28)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:34:16 PM EST
    you say.

    Not realistic.... (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 11:00:47 AM EST
    Don't sell'em. Don't possess them. Don't use'em

    Get real...mankind has been altering their conciousness through drug use since forever.  May as well say "don't dream" or even "don't eat".  It's about as realistic.


    but, but , but... (none / 0) (#15)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 11:19:51 AM EST
    "The drug laws need to be rationalized."

    IOW: Don't sell'em. Don't possess them. Don't use'em

    Easier than thinking....


    And easier... (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 01:23:07 PM EST
    than living free.

    There are worse fates than ending up in a cell...like voluntarily surrendering your free will and letting the govt. tell you who your are, out of fear of a cell.


    Hat Tip to Squeaky for this one (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 01:29:28 PM EST
    From billmon:
    Emerson: What are you doing in there, Henry?

    Thoreau: No, Waldo, the question is: What are you doing out there?

    Classic..... (none / 0) (#32)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:42:51 PM EST
    I've always loved that retort.

    Thoreau was right.


    kdog - That's horrible advice (1.00 / 1) (#27)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:33:28 PM EST
    and I hope you know it.

    Tell it (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:41:00 PM EST
    to Nelson Mandela.

    Tell Henry David (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:42:20 PM EST
    Thoreau...he stuck by his guns and took the cell.

    I think he is a great role model.  If Thoreau knew we were locking people up over a plant he would rise from the dead and take residence in a cell...again.  

    Freedom isn't free.


    Here's another... (none / 0) (#46)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:05:22 PM EST
    Freedom isn't free.

    Found another (none / 0) (#37)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:17:52 PM EST
    point to miss, did you Jim? Pesky little things require such concentration, don't they?

    Edger avoids debate (1.00 / 1) (#29)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:37:42 PM EST
    which is nothing new.

    Or didn't you understand the topic of the thread and the thoughts expressed in the complete paragraph?

    Just remember that the easiest and most effective way to help reduce the illegal drug violators in prison is simple. Don't sell'em. Don't possess them. Don't use'em. Don't hang around people who do.

    Do you disagree with that?


    Yes (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:44:04 PM EST
    Subsitute alchohol for drugs.  Now try it again.

    Booze isn't illegal. (none / 0) (#48)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:46:09 PM EST
    Booze isn't illegal.

    Selling it to underage people is.

    Now, what is your point?

    aw, try to grasp this. I am for rationalization.
    Our laws are obviously screwed up. But my advice to everyone, especially children, is just don't. It is a lose, lose situation and I am saddened that those commenting on this thread will not acknowledge that.

    Especially someone in the medical profession.

    BTW - I also am against tobacco. It is one of the worst health offenders.

    But they don't put you in jail over it.


    Helloooooo (none / 0) (#51)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:20:03 PM EST
    I also am against tobacco. It is one of the worst health offenders.

    But they don't put you in jail over it.

    I'm no longer in the medical field, (none / 0) (#52)
    by aw on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:25:00 PM EST
    but I think you'd be surprised how many use weed, or view it benignly, knowing that it doesn't cause anywhere near the damage that alcohol does.

    aw - First do no harm. (none / 0) (#62)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 08:57:04 PM EST
    You know, the defense of pot smoking not being as bad as alcohol may be true. I don't know. I don't care.

    What you want to not understand is my position that if you want to stay out of jail, don't use, possess or sell dope aka illegal substances, just as I noted don't DUI.

    The issue is the illegal activities, not whether it is bad for you. As I noted to kdog, I'm all for rationalization and changing laws.

    Until then you shouldn't break the law, and children especially shoud be discouraged.

    I think the medical expression, if you remember, is "First do no harm."


    Oh jeeze. (none / 0) (#38)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:21:26 PM EST
    There was another point here. And I thought you'd get lucky and only miss one point today...

    Just remember that the easiest and most effective way to help reduce the illegal drug violators in prison is simple...

    Quit criminalizing them. Change the laws.

    Even you can figure this one out, Jim.


    Change the laws.. (none / 0) (#49)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:48:18 PM EST
    edger - Works for me as I have stated.

    In the meantime.... don't use'em, possess them, sell'em or hang around people that do.

    BTW - How can you keep missing "rationalized." I'm starting to think you are not debating in good faith.


    "rationalized." ??? heh. (none / 0) (#68)
    by Edger on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 05:54:17 AM EST
    I've just never seen anyone spell "justification" by starting with "rat..." before jim. You have hidden talents. :-)

    kdog you're right.. (none / 0) (#26)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:31:05 PM EST
    I was just giving some advice on how to stay out of jail.

    I hear you Jim.... (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:52:01 PM EST
    but that is a problem...people are more concerned with staying out of jail than changing these terrible laws and fighting tyranny.

    If every reefer smoker, seller, and grower turned themselves in to the authorities on the same day the machine grinds to a halt.  But it is easier to try and stay under the radar, out of convenience.  Of this, I am guilty as sin. When I'm enjoying the plant with friends at the beach and the cops roll by, we clip it instead of fighting the tyranny.  It's easier, but nothing changes. And our grand-kids will be forced to do the same thing, and face the same tyranny, because of our cowardice today.


    C'mon kdog (none / 0) (#39)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:23:53 PM EST
    Jim's onto something here.

    how to stay out of jail

    Click heels, salute (full arm), obey. Don't ask any hard questions, just obey...


    A galaxy far, far away (none / 0) (#41)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:47:55 PM EST
    But there is still good in him Obi Wan, I can feel it.

    Hahaha. Hilarious. (none / 0) (#42)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:52:59 PM EST
    May the force be with him, or may enlightenment be forced into him, or something like that....

    You know? Heh. ;-)


    Put some beer in his acid. (none / 0) (#43)
    by Edger on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:53:57 PM EST
    Patiently.... (none / 0) (#45)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:01:07 PM EST
    waiting for the climax scene where our resident Darth Vader throws the emperor down a power converter duct and saves the Republic.

    et al - I find it instructive that I (none / 0) (#34)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 02:47:55 PM EST
    comment that the drug laws need to be rationalized and that the way to reduce prison population is not get arrested for drug selling, use, possesion....

    Yet all I see are attacks on comments taken out of context.. and not one. NOT ONE suggestion on how the laws should be changed.

    And if you think the door is just going to be thrown open on usuage, sales and possesion... well surely you don't.

    No, all I get is philsophy. Wonderful stuff, but I bet those in prison would like to see something more conrete and useful towards a "get out of jail" ticket.

    OK..... (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:13:36 PM EST
    My solution...immediate amnesty for all non-violent drug offenders included in a congressional bill ending drug prohibition.  Effective immediately.

    Reefer can be regulated and distributed the same as alcohol and tobacco....hard drugs like cocaine, opium, heroin can be dispensed through pharmacies.  Lower the drinking age to 18 and make that the uniform age of adulthood and the minimum age to purchase all drugs.  

    May seem radical to some...but better than what we are doing now if you remember that I can get you some coke by 5 o'clock tonight, no problem.  


    Works for me (none / 0) (#50)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:55:08 PM EST
    and I have so commented in the past, except I would give away coke and heroin to anyone who wants to register for the free stuff. I would flat out zap criminal sellers of coke, heroin, meth, date rape and ectasy.

    Step 2.... (5.00 / 1) (#53)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:33:53 PM EST
    ending the gravy train for the interests enjoying the status quo.

    D's and R's alike are on the gravy train.

    The last person who talked some sense about it that I recall was Elders, and Clinton canned her.

    See my Rand quote the other day?  The govt. needs criminals.


    kdog - I missed Rand quote.. (none / 0) (#57)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:52:44 PM EST
    And yes. The legal profession would be impacted. Both the police and the defenders.

    Reminds me of the Brother Dave Gardner quote:

    "What will all the preachers do when the devil is saved?"


    I like that one.... (none / 0) (#59)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 06:32:27 PM EST
    How could I forget my beloved defenders....prohibition is good for business there too.  Yet so many of them speak out against...and thats why I love 'em:)

    executioner (none / 0) (#54)
    by squeaky on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:36:29 PM EST
    I would flat out zap criminal sellers of coke, heroin, meth, date rape and ectasy.

    looking for some electrifying job opps?

    Usually you prefer hanging people without a trial. Do you save zapping without a trial for those criminals you consider more reprehensible?

    Is that 30 or more zaps with your stun gun until they die while you gleefully watch them writhe in pain?


    Better than usual. (none / 0) (#56)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:50:18 PM EST
    Hmmm. Excellent question.

    In the context of criminals selling drugs to new users, especially children after we have established the no cost program to current addicted users...

    No. I wouldn't zap'em. 30 years with out paole would be my desire.


    backing off? (5.00 / 1) (#58)
    by squeaky on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 06:32:07 PM EST
    I would flat out zap criminal sellers of coke, heroin, meth, date rape and ectasy.

    Change your mind? Maybe you can di$appear your above quote as well.


    Another good question (none / 0) (#63)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 09:04:05 PM EST
    Is that 30 or more zaps with your stun gun until they die while you gleefully watch them writhe in pain?

    My, you are getting better asking good questions..

    No. I was just using zap'em as a slang type expression for getting after'em as in the dictionary:

    used to indicate a sudden or instantaneous occurrence



    Slightly different question (none / 0) (#44)
    by syinco on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 03:56:57 PM EST
    I don't think it's hard to come up with ideas (none perfect, all probably debatable) that represent what the laws should become, or to come up with ideas for how such laws should come into effect.  

    What I find difficult is the question of how the laws can effectively be changed - in the face of an irrational federal government position, decades of misinformation consumed automatically by huge segments of the population, and high-level politicians that have long been loath to even broach the issue.

    All I've seen for hope so far is localized, somewhat successful ballot initiatives that may gradually gain broader support and the possibility that parts of the system may finally be recognized as reaching a breaking point due to the status quo approach.  

    Wish I had more to suggest.


    BTW - (none / 0) (#47)
    by syinco on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 04:27:18 PM EST
    I didn't mean to imply that what the laws should become is not worthy of debate; I'd just like to feel some more hope that it's not a moot exercise.  

    I do believe that kdog's position is a much better starting point than what we have today.


    Good point (none / 0) (#55)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 05:46:04 PM EST
    I think the main problem is that there has been too many claims that drugs cause no harm. Even if it was correct, and I don't believe it is, that isn't a position that can be defended.

    The point should be, legalization can reduce harm and reduce crime, especially property crimes for money to purchase the drugs. That's why I'd give'em away and push education.

    Perhaps if that was the argument you'd have a better chance.


    Good point (4.00 / 0) (#64)
    by Doctor G on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 09:06:31 PM EST
    Agreed, but saying all drugs are harmful is a stretch.  Rather, everything has effects, and those effects are sometimes harmful.  And I wouldn't give drugs away, except as part of national health insurance.

    The biggest resistance to any relaxation of the laws that I run into is that parents are afraid for their children.  I usually point out that when I was in high school it was difficult and expensive to get any alchohol, but I could buy a 1,000 microgram hit of LSD for one dollar in the church bathroom.  So far that argument has convinced noone.


    It may be a stretch, (1.00 / 0) (#66)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 09:19:37 PM EST
    but I think all drugs that change your view of reality are harmful. The harm, in most cases, is based on amount used versus time..

    Get smashed on an overdose of Jack Daniel and your body will almost immediately tell you...."bad dumb boy."

    Getting high on tobacco takes years and years before the effects become apparent.. and yes, everyone is effected to some extent..

    I don't have experience with coke, but having the inside of your nose burn away seems to be a bummer that doesn't show up with just the first high..

    It almost appears that it is the most addictive drugs... tobacco, coke, heroin and meth that take the longest to do the damage.


    Yeah, it's a stretch. (5.00 / 0) (#67)
    by Doctor G on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 12:13:31 AM EST
    In none of the cases you describe is the harm caused by psychoactivity.  And there are plenty of non-psychoactive drugs that are harmful.

    As for more addictive drugs being slower to harm, I'd say cocaine and methedrine harm more quickly than most drugs, not less.


    I'll add ... (1.00 / 0) (#60)
    by syinco on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 06:35:39 PM EST
    Valid points, IMO.  

    Even though I favor the social benefits you suggest as the basis for decision, I'll add to your list the economics as another compelling benefit of legalization (though certain special interests would selfishly object on just that basis).  

    Also - minor clarification - the credibility/defensibility issue is indeed the main problem with the argument to which you object, but that is just one of several significant problems we face in attempting to effect change, not necessarily the main one.  But it is one that we, at least individually, can more readily redress.


    Stress Freedom.... (none / 0) (#69)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 08:23:21 AM EST
    I think the best way to convince people that drug prohibition is wrong is the freedom aspect.

    Don't we all want the freedom to eat, drink, smoke, and imbibe whatever we want? Do we really need the government to be our nanny when it comes to what we put in our bodies?


    Fear (none / 0) (#70)
    by syinco on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 08:39:49 AM EST
    Great point.  

    Though, as Doctor G suggests, that's going to invoke the fear factor - that your freedoms are going to be a threat to others, especially children.  And we see regularly how powerful fear is, especially when it comes to children.  

    If we can figure out how to mitigate fear, and all of it's irrationalities, we'll be in a better position.  But it's very tough to try and reason against an irrational position.  More education, accurate information, and less propaganda should help, at least in the long run.

    That's not to say that there can't be some legitimate concern arising out of this, but that can at least be meaningfully debated.


    Exactly right.... (none / 0) (#71)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 08:46:34 AM EST
    If we can figure out how to mitigate fear, and all of it's irrationalities

    That's the 10,000 dollar question right there...well said.


    Fear (none / 0) (#72)
    by syinco on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 09:13:32 AM EST
    The most effective way is probably to show/demonstrate/explain why a person's fears are just that.  Identify the source of the fears and debunk it.  Demonstrate the absurdity of a fearful position.  Show clearly the absence of logic or reason.  Acknowledge the areas of legitimate concern (that's critical).  

    But fear can still maintain a tenacious hold ...

    And all of this requires a willing audience, something that fear often prevents outright.  

    You would think that hundreds of thousands of people locked up in jail/prison would be sufficient to at least warrant that audience.


    And... (none / 0) (#73)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 09:19:11 AM EST
    as has been mentioned in this thread, the cold hard fact that prohibition makes it easier for children to obtain drugs seems to fall on deaf ears.

    It baffles me...if fear for our children is the reason behind prohibition, prohibition has failed at achieving that goal.


    kdog (none / 0) (#74)
    by Edger on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 09:27:10 AM EST
    if fear for our children is the reason behind prohibition, prohibition has failed at achieving that goal

    Why baffled? I suspect the question contains it's own answer... no?


    careful (none / 0) (#75)
    by syinco on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 09:44:27 AM EST
    I'd be careful there - we don't actually know that some or all forms of legalization won't make it easier to obtain, though we suspect that to be the case, or at least that it might only become marginally more accessible.  

    But we can point to the already widespread availability of drugs and the relative difficulty of obtaining alcohol as suggestions that some form of legalization will not greatly increase accessibility.

    We can ask just what those who fear increased accessibility are thinking - that Bobby's just going to walk on down to the 7-11 and buy himself a carton of j's?  I don't think so (not in my not-yet-thought out regulatory scheme anyway).

    If we can work to show that at best marijuana might be marginally more accessible, and better yet, likely no more accessible than it is today, then we can start asking whether it's worth locking up all of these people for all these years.  

    Of course, for the public to properly weigh those things against each other, they must remember that "these people" are just that - in many significant respects just like you or I or Joe Public - and not fall into the trap of thinking of them solely as "criminals".  That latter thinking undermines the question.


    In some respects this is an (none / 0) (#61)
    by JSN on Wed Dec 27, 2006 at 08:28:19 PM EST
    overlap of medical system, liability (civil court) and the criminal justice system (criminal court trumps civil court). The overlap is most obvious with alcohol (which is legal). If a person is impaired by alcohol to the point that they are a threat to their own safety the police can either take them to an emergency room or to jail. My conclusion is that the policies used in such cases by police are most likely to be determined by liability considerations than by medical or criminal justice considerations. The most expedient solution (from the point of view of the police officer) is to transfer liability to the jail if the jail will accept the arrestee.

    In the case of illegal drugs it is obvious the criminal justice system will have final jurisdiction and if the drug overdose is serious enough they will take the arrestee to the emergency room first and then to jail. We had a case of a person who was arrested and jailed because they had been given the wrong prescription and was a threat to their own safety. In that case the charges were later dismissed. If the police had been properly trained they would have taken that person to the emergency room.

    In my view in establishing a rational drug policy we need to include medical and liability considerations rather than treating it as a pure criminal justice issue.

    medical vs. legal (none / 0) (#76)
    by Doctor G on Thu Dec 28, 2006 at 02:35:18 PM EST

    More generally, one of the big dangers of illegal drugs is that they can land you in jail, rather than treatment.  So your drug addiction goes untreated, prison life does it's damage, and as a felon your life is even harder when you get out.

    Also, for many popular drugs -- such as caffeine, cannabis, and opiates -- addiction need not a big deal medically, so long as a clean, regular supply can be obtained.  So for a semi-rational parent the fear of legal consequences should be greater than the fear of medical consequences.

    But how to convince them?