Prisons, Corporate Profits and the Drug War

"Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could." ' William F. Buckley In October, the FBI reported that 755,186 people were arrested in 2003 on marijuana charges. This is a record number of arrests, of which a full 88% involved simple possession without additional sale or manufacturing charges. In contrast, there were only 597,026 arrests for all violent crimes combined. Do you feel safer knowing that the U.S. is vigilant in the war against stoners? The story gets worse ' in June 2003, a Gainesville college student was spending the first of four weekends in jail for making a marijuana delivery. He was placed in a cell with 35 year old Randolph Jackson, who was being held on numerous sexual battery charges. Jackson held a ballpoint pen to the student's neck and raped him. There were no guards around to prevent the assault. The rape was reported by the student's family. Even worse ' Weldon Angelos, a 24 year old father of two with no prior convictions, was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling a pound and a half of marijuana to undercover federal agents. Thank you, mandatory minimums. Worst of all--last September, Jonathan Magbie was sentenced to 10 days in a D.C. jail for possession of marijuana. Magbie was a 27 year old quadriplegic and a first-time offender. He needed round-the-clock care and a ventilator at night. His mother received a phone call on the fifth day of his incarceration informing her that her son had died from a lack of medical care. He had not been a threat to the public ' what was the point of jailing a quadriplegic pot smoker, paralyzed from the neck down, for ten days without adequate medical supervision? His treatment was tantamount to a death sentence. The Magbie tragedy is fast becoming the hot topic in Drug War conversations. The United States --we're Number One. In this case, we have the largest prison population on record in the world. With 2.03 million people in jail, we beat China and Russia both in sheer numbers ( China trails behind with 1.51 million prisoners) as well as the rate ( Russia is second with 606 per 100,000, while we keep 701 American citizens per 100,000 behind bars). Before the Drug War was declared in the 1980s, our prison population was actually declining. Since then, we have been building new jails and even turned over the business to profit-making corporations. In America , throwing nonviolent offenders into jail is good business. While we are locking up nonviolent drug offenders, let's keep them in jail longer for good measure. A study released in May showed that the average sentence for a drug offense is 82.4 months. Sexual offenders average 66.9 months; manslaughter, 26.8 months, and theft, 24.6 months. In addition, nonwhites are targeted for arrest and conviction in highly disproportionate numbers. Blacks arrested for drug use top 38 percent of all offenders, and 59 percent of all those convicted for drug possession are black. However, there is no evidence that blacks use drugs at higher rates than whites ' just that law enforcement tends to target inner city areas and poorer communities. Overall, 68 percent of all prison populations are nonwhite. In federal prisons, only three percent of the inmates are incarcerated for violent crimes. 60 percent are drug offenders. Now that we are a nation run by jail-happy racist rabid anti-drug corporate meanies, all we can do is keep filling up those shiny prisons and then hire out the prisoners to corporations at a low wage in order to do our work. Industries pay prisoners a minimum wage, then deduct their cost of housing, food, taxes and other expenses so that an offender averages $60 per month for working nine hour days. If two thirds of the prisoners are nonwhite, nonviolent and net two dollars a day for their labor, doesn't that sound a lot like slavery? I thought that slavery was abolished in this country over a century ago. But thanks to corporate darling prison builder Wackenhut and the government's Prison Industry Enhancement Program, big business becomes the rich plantation daddy profiting from the work of enslaved field hands. As long as profits are secure, the Drug War continues to provide a steady workforce by keeping prisons full. Around the world, governments are decriminalizing marijuana. Canada is looking at reducing simple possession of smaller quantities to a fine, similar to countries such as Italy , Spain and Belgium . As evidence grows regarding the efficacy of medical marijuana for treatment of a variety of ailments, government agencies such as the DEA will appear more and more ridiculous in their continuation of reefer hysteria ' a concept based on false information and racist pretenses (testimony to Congress in 1937 by Harry Anslinger, the father of the Drug War: 'There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S. and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes.') Decriminalization and a curtailing of jail time for nonviolent offenders would take the profits out of prisons. Jailing pot smokers and sellers (over 37,000 incarcerated today) is a waste of time, money, and most of all, lives. Targeting ethnic groups is illegal and recreates a class system which the civil rights movement has been working to eradicate for decades. Marijuana has been demonized long enough. 775,186 pot arrests in 2003 tells us that the War on Drugs isn't working anyway. Let's quit using pot smokers and nonviolent drug offenders to fill up our prisons.

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Debra McCorkle's picture
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