Friday, April 8, 2011

Prison sentences may not cure addiction but they do support the local economy. Prison sentences may not cure addiction but they do support the local economy.

Continuing a conversation about negotiating an end to the drug war…who has a stake in its never-ending failures. Who benefits from the current dysfunctional policies? Yesterday I wrote about banks who launder millions of dollars generated by drug trafficking. Today we look at others with something to lose.
A study by The National Institute on Money in State Politics demonstrates banks are not the only surprise beneficiaries of dysfunctional drug policies. Consider the corporations building America’s prisons. From mandatory sentencing laws to “three strikes and you’re out” to increasing the types of crimes requiring prison time, this industry has not been bashful throwing around campaign contributions.

Much has been made of the direct involvement of Corrections Corporation of America in supporting the controversial Arizona immigration law (known among critics as the “Breathing While Brown Act”). Their role is particularly interesting in light of the large numbers of illegal immigrants attributed to Mexican drug violence. Half of the 230,000 Mexicans displaced by drug related violence south of our border have ended up north of the border. The strategy of arresting them and putting them into costly prison cells is an idea with which union members agree with management. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has joined the corporate lobbyists in supporting candidates who agree to support proposals ranging from mandatory drug sentencing and the hiring of more corrections officers despite the budget catastrophe in their state.

Entire industries such as drug testing have grown up around promises of a continued war on drugs.  A lot of people have a lot of money at stake. Eric Schlosser’s book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. The premise of the book is that our economy is propped up by illicit drugs, pornography and cheap labor. Fortunes are made in surprising ways by people who have figured out how to profit from this 40 year war. If a peace treaty is to be negotiated, their stake will have to be acknowledged. They probably want neither.

Recently an NPR program on Morning Edition discussed the economic calamity faced by a New York village because that state’s budget woes may cause its prison to close eliminating dozens of jobs. Wyoming has taken the same “Chamber of Commerce” approach to prison building. Neither the women’s correctional facility in Lusk nor the men’s prisons in Rawlins and Torrington were built in communities that could provide ancillary rehabilitation services for inmates or even sufficient housing for employees. They are simply economic development projects for the local community.

Prison sentences may not cure addiction but they do support the local economy. As a result, they contribute little to winning the war on drugs.

Then there are the foreign policy problems such a treaty would engender. If you think we are spending a lot on “nation building” in Afghanistan, it is nothing compared to what drug users and sellers are investing.  According to James Dobbins, President Bush's envoy for Afghanistan, "Drugs are the principle source of reconstruction money, far outweighing combined international assistance."

In the fall of 2001, the UN warned a defeat of the Taliban, who had succeeded in significantly reducing heroin trafficking, would result in a surge in opium production.  Their crystal ball was point on. Since September 11, 2001, American taxpayers have spent more than 177 billion dollars making Afghanistan safe for democracy. We haven’t achieved that goal but we have made it a safe haven for heroin traders and users. Afghanistan unabashedly supplies 90% of the world’s heroin generating 200 billion dollars in revenue. We have made this possible by continued military operations there and an appetite for the drug back home.

In 1968 I was a disc jockey who occasionally reported the news. Presidential candidate Nixon was in Cheyenne and held a press conference. The story capturing my imagination in those days was peace talks on the Viet Nam war, stalled because the parties couldn’t agree on the shape of the table. The shape of the table symbolized the credibility of the various interests that had to be heard. I asked Nixon about that. He responded saying something about how much more important it was to end the war than to talk about the shape of the table at which those talks could be held.

But you can bet, before America can talk about how to end the war on drugs there will be a long, closed door conversation about who gets to sit at that table, regardless of its shape.

No comments:

Post a Comment