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August 2009
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Incarceration Nation and Drug War Profiteers

Every war has them, and the longer the war, the more entrenched they become. They are parasites who make their living off the war, off the suffering and the death. The worst of them use their influence to expand, sustain, and prolong the war in order to keep the gravy train running.

They justify their efforts by proclaiming that the war is holy and thus fool themselves into believing that their profits are merely well-earned side-effects of a noble cause — when in fact the war serves no purpose except to act as a fertile breeding ground for their corruption.

The profiteers in the drug war are numerous, from the drug testing companies to the drug task forces to the prison industry.

A remarkable piece at NPR — Folsom Embodies California’s Prison Blues by Laura Sullivan — explores how the prison union exploded the prison population in California.

California wasn’t the only state to toughen laws in the throes of the 1980s crack wars. But Californians took it to a new level.

Voters increased parole sanctions and gave prison time to nonviolent drug offenders. They eliminated indeterminate sentencing, removing any leeway to let inmates out early for good behavior. Then came the “Three Strikes You’re Out” law in 1994. Offenders who had committed even a minor third felony — like shoplifting — got life sentences.

Voters at the time were inundated with television ads, pamphlets and press conferences from Gov. Pete Wilson. “Three strikes is the most important victory yet in the fight to take back our streets,” Wilson told crowds.

But behind these efforts to get voters to approve these laws was one major player: the correctional officers union.

In three decades, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has become one of the most powerful political forces in California. The union has contributed millions of dollars to support “three strikes” and other laws that lengthen sentences and increase parole sanctions. It donated $1 million to Wilson after he backed the three strikes law.

And the result for the union has been dramatic. Since the laws went into effect and the inmate population boomed, the union grew from 2,600 officers to 45,000 officers. Salaries jumped: In 1980, the average officer earned $15,000 a year; today, one in every 10 officers makes more than $100,000 a year. [emphasis added]

This union has incredible political power that they exert to keep their jobs and pay increasing. Those things have actually become the primary goal of the corrections system (not just the union) because of their political subversion.

[Former Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman says the union was able to control the department’s policy decisions, including undermining efforts to divert offenders from prison and reduce the prison population.

This is the same union that campaigned heavily (spending nearly $2 million) to successfully defeat Proposition 5, which would have reduced the use of prison in California, especially for nonviolent drug offenses.

And the profiteering never stops. In today’s L.A. Times

Two weeks after federal judges ordered California to reduce its prison population, an arm of the Schwarzenegger administration is set to vote on increased funding to police anti-drug units, potentially putting even more offenders behind bars.

An advisory board for the California Emergency Management Agency is expected to decide today whether to channel $33 million in federal money to narcotics task forces around the state that have proved particularly adept at apprehending drug criminals.

This time, the profiteers are the California Narcotics Officers’ Association.

John Lovell, a spokesman for the California Narcotics Officers’ Assn., called the Drug Policy Alliance opposition “predictable” but wrong at a time when Mexican drug cartels are boosting methamphetamine production and operating marijuana plantations in state forests, including the one blamed for starting a wildfire Aug. 8 in Santa Barbara County.

He said the spending on anti-drug task force efforts is “not only appropriate, it’s too bad the amount isn’t larger.”

That’s right, the money we have given to the drug war has exploded exponentially over decades, we have nothing to show for it except destruction and debt, and they want more. You can practically feel the parasitic growth. What happens when they run out of host off of which to feed?

The growth is utterly unsustainable.

Via Grits for Breakfast, check out this unbelievable chart accompanying Charles M. Blow’s OpEd in the New York Times: Getting Smart on Crime

prisonexplosion

This is hard to even fathom. And it’s counter-productive.

We now have more inmates per capita than any of the 36 European countries with the largest inmate populations, and our total number of inmates is more than all the inmates in those countries combined.

This comes at a cost. According to a report published last month by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent, nonprofit research group, $1 in every $15 from states’ general funds is now spent on corrections. That doesn’t work in a recession.

Much of the rise in the prison population was because of draconian mandatory sentencing laws that are illogical — sociologically and economically.

On the sociological side, as the criminal justice expert Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona explained to me, data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better.

There’s a serious infection of profiteers in the body politic, and the parasites threaten to overwhelm the host. Fighting that infection isn’t going to be easy, but we have no choice.

The alternative is too horrible to consider.

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10 comments to Incarceration Nation and Drug War Profiteers

  • DdC

    These realities are the obvious, and most missed realities by the mudia. Correct Nixon’s lie, poof it all goes away.
    let the old bird rest in peace.

    The Great Flu

    There are no anarchists

  • paul

    Yes, this drug war profiteering is a large part of the resistance to reform. The prison guards’ union competes with the California teachers’ union to see who can do the most damage to the state, but at least the teachers actually do something useful.

    I remember years ago reading the arguments for and against yet another California prison bond issue, and the NO argument was written by the libertarian party. “We refuse to believe that tens of thousands of evil persons have suddenly moved to California…”

    So did I, and I thought that made so much sense I signed up with the Libertarians that day and never regretted it. “Both” parties in California were for spending big money on prisons. The only thing they differed on was the exact amount, and whose contractors were going to get all that yummy pork.

    It is apparent that the prison guards’ union has become so entrenched it will never be dislodged under normal political circumstances. Let’s hope that the recession weakens their grip, or that the possible upcoming constitutional convention in California wipes the whole slate clean.

  • ezrydn

    It would seem that the “get tough” concept that everyone bought into is finally coming back to bite them. GOOD!

    It’s fairly obvious that the tumer in this cancer is located specificially with the Prison Guard Union. It should be classified as a “terrorist” organization and done away with.

  • kaptinemo

    OT: cannabis kills prostate cancer cells…like it usually does with other cancer cells. And it ‘has no medical uses’? Riiiiiight…

  • Buc

    Ezrydn, I agree that the prison guards union would fall under the category of terrorist organization. Do they not terrorize, intimidate and harass through various means?
    Their goal is clearly not to bring safety to California (although this is the most common excuse for bringing authoritarian measures upon a society in all of history), but rather to make as much profit as they can, just like any other for-profit firm.

    The differences are, however:
    1) they make their profit, unlike any other firm, off of human misery and suffering as well as
    2) they are public sector jobs, so increasing their profit does not actually help the GDP, but rather shrinks it as the state steals more money from the people in order to better serve its own interests.

  • DdC

    This post seems to disappear or not post?

    and more prohibition profiteers

  • DdC, I wrote you about the post, but you may not have gotten my email. It keeps showing up in the spam folder. Looks a lot like an advertisement for Energy Ventures Analysis — all you did was print the complete front page of their website, along with linking to a discussion about healthcare. If there’s some relevance to drug policy reform, please make it clear in your post.

  • Cliff

    “I signed up with the Libertarians that day and never regretted it. “Both” parties in California were for spending big money on prisons. The only thing they differed on was the exact amount, and whose contractors were going to get all that yummy pork.”

    The reason I joined the Libertarian Party in 1989 was the idea of personal sovereignty. The individual is indeed the smallest and most vulnerable of all minorities. The War on Certain Drugs was, and is, the wedge which is used by the radical moralists to subjugate, harrass and otherwise punish (not rehabilitate or help) those who choose to ingest certain molecules.

    I, personally have suffered at the hands of these moralistic prig b*st*rds. It was because of drug testing in the military, my career ended as a “Chapter 9” rather than Honorable Discharge with a Good Conduct Ribbon.

    I have my whole 201 file for anyone who doubts that I was a good soldier and a valuable member of the military. Hell, when I joined in 1979 we were singing Jodies about dope smoking and other drug use. It wasn’t until Ronny Rayguns Drug Testing that I was Chaptered out.

  • paul

    Cliff:

    Very sorry to hear that. The true measure of a man’s competence on the job is Performance–not how much he drinks or how he spends his free time.

    There’s the old story about people complaining to president Lincoln that general Grant was a drunk. To that, Lincoln replied, “Well, find out what he’s drinking and distribute it to my other generals. He’s the only one winning battles!”

    We’ve come a long way, it seems. 🙁

  • Get off your ass and do something about it! Challenge the law! Cx