We’ve reported in the past about the enormous number of people incarcerated in the United States. In fact, the U.S. has by far the highest percentage of prison and jail inmates in the world. You may have heard lots of purported reasons for this fact. Some say we’re just catching more criminals than other countries. Others blame it on immigration. Whatever you’ve heard, we’re here to tell you that there is a simple – and we believe indisputable – reason for the high number of arrests and staggering incarceration levels in our country. We’re arresting more and more people, for longer periods of time, on non-violent drug charges. Here’s how we reached our conclusion.
On any given afternoon, more than 135,000 people sit in local jails as the result of being arrested for drug possession. Far from being hardened criminals, they were simply arrested for allegedly being in possession of an illegal substance. We say “allegedly” because these folks haven’t been convicted of anything – they’ve just be charged with an offense. Since many of these folks can’t afford bail, they often wallow in jail for days, weeks and even months simply as the result of their financial situation.
Ok, you might say, even if there are lots of people in jail awaiting trial on drug possession charges, there are still many who have been convicted and are serving time because they are guilty. That’s true, of course, but it really doesn’t address the issue. Whether you’re talking about those awaiting trial, or those who have been convicted and sentenced, you’ve still got a large percentage who are serving time for simple possession. And the strange stats don’t stop there. As of 2015, among inmates in federal prisons serving time on drug charges, over 12% are there for marijuana-related offenses. Several years, earlier, a study found that marijuana arrests accounted for more than half of all arrests for drug crimes in the United States. “So what?” you might ask. “These people violated a law. Let’s lock ‘em up!” Our response is that the incredible incarceration costs have a huge impact on our lives. Here’s how.
Maricopa County Incarceration Costs
Law enforcement costs money. And to hear politicians talk, you’d think that much of the funding goes toward investigating and arresting those who are suspected of committing crimes. But the truth is that the vast majority of the money is spent on the prison industry. Indeed, in Maricopa County, the annual budget for the Sheriff’s Department is $350,000,000. Almost three-quarters is for detention. And the increases in the detention budgets far outstrip the increases in spending for education.
What can we say? The war on drugs has been a dismal failure, yet the arrests for minor drug crimes continue. And now the U.S. Attorney General says he’ll chart a course back to long sentences for drug crimes. Who benefits? The prison industry. Who suffers? The citizens. In the words of William Bendix (“Life of Riley”), “What a revoltin’ development this is!”
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004