The War on Humanity

All of my life I have heard people regurgitate the mantra: 'We live in a free country.' I never really thought much about it. I just figured it must be true, because . . . well, everyone else seemed to believe it. Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to the question, 'What is freedom?' I guess it's a matter of what is the determining factor.

I'm sure everyone would have a different barometer to determine what freedom is, but to me there could be no greater gauge than looking at how many people a particular country puts into cages. How could a country that has the highest incarceration rate per capita claim to be the freest country? I find it obscene that anyone would consider the United States, the freest country in the world!

As of 2003, over 6.9 million people were under some form of correctional supervision in the United States . Said another way, as of today, we have about seven million people in this 'free' country either in jail, prison, probation or parole; that's one in 32 adults. As of December 2003, we have 2.1 million people in cages, most of them for non-violent 'crimes,' and the majority of those are drug-related.

For every 100,000 of population, there are 686 people in cages. The United States has more people in cages than any other country on earth. Worldwide, there are about nine million people in prison. Most of the other countries have incarceration rates of 150 per 100,000. By comparison, the United Kingdom has a rate of 139 per 100,000. In the United States , one of every 75 men are in jail. If you go further and break this down by race, about eight of every 75 black men are in prison.

I am not saying that there are not people who should be in prison, but certainly not at the rate the United States has, and certainly not for a 'free' country. Most of these people are in cages for doing nothing more than smoking something that is as natural as tobacco. Most of them have never harmed another person, and are certainly not a threat to anyone. These victimless 'crimes' I like to call 'fake crimes.'

It costs about $30,000 per year to incarcerate someone for a crime, fake or real. It costs over $3 billion a year to incarcerate drug offenders. When you consider that most of these are non-violent drug offenses, this alone is a good argument against the Drug War. From 1985 to 1995, there was an 80% increase in the federal prison population due to drug convictions. Prisoners sentenced for drug offenses make up the highest percentage of federal inmates (more than 55%). The United States non-violent prison population is larger than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska.

If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated one of every 20 Americans can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime. For African-American men, the number is greater than one in four. From 1982 to 2001, the total justice expenditures more than quadrupled from nearly $36 billion to over $167 billion, a 366% increase. The average annual increase for all levels of government between 1982 and 2001 was 8%. Overall, local police spending represented 30% of the nation's total justice expenditure, and state corrections accounted for the second largest amount, 23%.

Putting people in cages has become a big business. The increase in justice expenditures over nearly 20 years reflects the expansion of the nation's justice system. For example, in 1982 the justice system employed approximately 1.27 million people; in 2001, it reached over 2.2 million. Overall, corrections employment more than doubled from nearly 300,000 to over 747,000 during this period. In 1999, the United States spent a record $147 billion for police protection, corrections, and judicial and legal activities. The nation's expenditure for operations of the judicial system increased 309% from almost $36 billion in 1982.

Since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget has increased by 1,954%. Its budget has skyrocketed from $220 million in 1986 to $4.3 billion in 2001. Despite the investment of more than $5 billion dollars for prison construction over the past decade, the prison system is currently operating at 32 percent over rated capacity, up from 22 percent at the end of 1997. From 1984 to 1996, California built 21 new prisons, and only one new university. Another argument could be made that these conditions could jeopardize public safety.

Nineteen percent of state prisoners, and 16% of federal prisoners said they committed their offense to obtain money for drugs. This again is a good argument against the War on Drugs. If drugs were legal, crime would actually go down because people would not need to commit 'real crimes' to support their habit.

Department of Corrections data shows that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for non-violent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent crime. An argument can be made that prison actually transmits violent habits and values, rather than reduce them.

Over the past 25 years, the United States has built the largest prison system in the world by far. But despite a recent downturn in the crime rate, we remain far and away the most violent advanced industrial society on earth. The average federal drug sentence is 75.6 months, while the average violent felony sentence is 63 months. The War on Drugs has let dangerous offenders off to make room for non-violent offenders.

Here are some more interesting statistics. Every year in this country, 8,000 to 14,000 people die from illegal drugs. Now compare that to over 500,000 that die from 'legal' drugs (tobacco, liquor and prescriptions). This is roughly a 50 to 1 ratio. Alcohol alone is involved in seven times more violent crimes than all illegal substances combined, yet our government continues to hugely subsidize alcohol and tobacco, while demonizing those who would exercise a different choice.

The government not only promotes legal drug use, but also would like to stiffen the penalties for illegal drug use. Former 'Drug Czar' William Bennett has advocated public beheadings of convicted drug offenders, and if former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had his way, you could have been given the death penalty for 'trafficking' in two ounces of marijuana. Now, who are the real terrorists?

Every year more money is spent on the Drug War, and every year more people are put into cages because of this war. If we were going to win this war, it would have been won by now. Before drug prohibition, we did not have a drug problem in this country. Just like alcohol prohibition, the government in its infinite wisdom has created a problem where one did not exist.

The government's War on Drugs is nothing more than a war on humanity; we need to stop government, before government kills humanity. I look forward to the day when the people declare a war on government.

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Mike Wasdin's picture
Columns on STR: 46

Mike Wasdin is an Anarcho-Capitalist from Phoenix, Arizona. He also moderates an anti-government website on Yahoo.