The United States imprisons more people that any other country in the world. Almost a half of federal inmates are drug offenders. Our so-called “war on drugs” is for every intent and purpose an out and out assault on poor addicts who need medical/psychological help. It is in fact a “war” that enriches dealers, and police departments, and the builders of jails. This is one of the dirty little secrets of this whole business. How many law enforcement officers and departments want to see this war end when in fact it is a cash cow for them? How much of the drugs on the street corners of our inner cities actually come from the evidence rooms of local precincts? How many of the murders paraded before us on the news every day are committed as a result of the culture created by the nonsensical approach we have assumed toward some of the substances criminalized in the prosecution of this war?
We should be working as a society to empower the “broke” and the “broken hearted”. The tide of hopelessness that has swept many into a quagmire of brokenness can be held at bay by building facilities geared toward equipping the economically depressed with life-sustaining skills. Nationwide, three-quarters of our prison population are high school dropouts. We must not overlook this fact. Education, not incarceration, should be our focus. More modern schools, not more modern jails, should be our priority. Let us explore the possibilities of giving “garlands” not “ashes” to those who are disadvantaged among us. Can we make them partners in the building up of more peaceful cities, and thus cultivate “mantles of praise instead of a spirit of fainting”? I believe we can. I believe we must try.
The time is now when we must insist that our government provide the resources for the rehabilitation of the redeemable among those who break the law, rather than hand them over to be exploited by those who see them only as a means to make money. The idea we have been sold that warehousing these prisoners for profit in what is essentially a prison industrial complex is a lie. To somehow advance the untruth that this makes our communities better turns the truth on its head. The prison culture in this country is designed to create "repeat business". The goal of the jailers is to keep their facilities fully occupied. This is the deal they make with their political partners, the ones who run their mouths off about being "tough on crime" in order to get elected. This is how the builders of jails make profits for their stockholders. How can we work to bring out the worst in the disadvantaged among us, as our prison culture does, and expect that this will not come back to haunt us?
The viability of our communities is a direct function of the viability of our collective humanity, not some crass notion of brute force exercised by those who pretend they want to be “tough on crime”. Enough of the lazy-think of an opportunistic and lewdly gratuitous culture. Our top law enforcement officials acknowledge both the failure of our prison system as it is, and the fact that drug addiction is in fact a public health crisis in this country. It is a travesty of Justice that we continue to address a public health crisis by imprisoning its victims. It is time to wake up from the nightmare of the greed-induced delusions that drive our collective insecurities. In an economic culture that is intent on culling a profit out of every human circumstance, prisons are designed to be necessarily self-perpetuating. The idea is to keep themselves optimally occupied in order to maximize profits for those who now invest in them. Yes, prisons have become business opportunities. The time has come to put an end to this "business".