Thursday, July 09, 2009
Lingle could cut expenses—starting with the cost of keeping people in prison
by Larry Geller
A recent email circulated by prison reform advocate Kat Brady includes these shocking statistics:
There has been a 1,905% increase in Hawaii’s prison population from 1970-2008:
Year Incarcerated Population* 1970 300 1980 926 1990 2,625 2000 5,127 2008 6014
*Source: Population numbers from the Department of Public Safety’s 2008 Annual Report (www.hawaii.gov/psd)
Kat explains: “Why the dramatic increase? The failed war on drugs.”
Governor Linda Lingle has slavishly followed the GOP party line in advocating for more enforcement and more prison space over proven drug treatment programs. The state and the feds spent hundreds of millions of dollars on expensive helicopter raids on rural marijuana fields. Then they apply prison terms often longer than murderers get. We pay and pay because of these policies.
Policies can (and should) be changed.
We can no longer afford to be such strict Republicans and maintain an expensive war on drugs. Not only that, but marijuana is now expensive, so cheap crystal methamphetamine has become a scourge. We could start by cancelling helicopter raids and save even more by stimulating the economy with widely available treatment programs and reducing our prison population.
To really clean up, we could decriminalize, tax and regulate drugs. And yes, we could grow medical marijuana as a cash crop. Why not. But for a start, why not just bring the prisoners home from the Mainland.