Zakaria on the War on Drugs

In the wake of Pat Robertson’s statements about legalizing marijuana, Fareed Zakaria writes on CNN.com about the war on drugs and the mass incarceration problem it has spawned. As always, the numbers are just astonishing to see.

The total number of Americans under correctional supervision (prison, parole, etc.) is 7.1 million, more than the entire state of Massachusetts. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker, “Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America…than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.”

No other country comes even close to our rates of incarceration. We have 760 prisoners per 100,000 people. Most European countries have one seventh that number (per capita, so it’s adjusted for population). Even those on the high end of the global spectrum – Brazil and Poland – have only a quarter the number we do.

If you say this is some kind of enduring aspect of America’s “Wild West” culture, you would be wrong. In 1980, our rates of incarceration were a quarter what they are now. What changed was the war on drugs and the mindless proliferation of laws that created criminal penalties for anything and everything…

In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it’s built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.

It’s bankrupting state and local governments. It’s destroying families. It’s corrupting our entirely system of law enforcement. It’s undermining the Bill of Rights. It’s enforced in a blatantly racist manner. It’s time to end it. Now.

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  • Chiroptera

    It’s bankrupting state and local governments. It’s destroying families. It’s corrupting our entirely system of law enforcement. It’s undermining the Bill of Rights. It’s enforced in a blatantly racist manner.

    These are features, not bugs. Bankrupting local governments means they have less money to spend on socialist welfare programs that might help people. Destroying families means that they have destroyed families they can blame on the gays and the feminists and the liberals. And they never really were comfortable with the Bill of Rights anyway.

  • dingojack

    “”In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it’s built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year”.

    Now if we could figure out how to charge and convict California college students on felonies….

    (my bad, I shouldn’t give the Governator ideas).

    Dingo

  • AsqJames

    Chiroptera says:

    These are features, not bugs. Bankrupting local governments means they have less money to spend on socialist welfare programs that might help people. Destroying families means that they have destroyed families they can blame on the gays and the feminists and the liberals.

    Plus the higher the income disparities the more crime there is, which naturally means we need to build more prisons to channel more tax revenue to the owners of private prisons protect society.

  • slc1

    Re dingo the bingo @ #2

    Apparently, Mr. dingo is unaware of the fact that the Governator is no longer governor of California.

  • dingojack

    SlC – Yes, but selective use of several 15 Mt devices will sort out the problem. :)

    Dingo

    —–

    Yes – I’m teasing you. No, I didn’t know that. I’m assuming they elected someone even more idiotic.

  • coragyps

    The largest employer in my county here in Texas is a prison. A majority of the inmates are there for drug offenses, and yes, the majority of those are black or hispanic.

    The system is broken!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601430147 timdiaz

    The system may be broken, but the reason the system persists is that it makes money. Really a lot of money.

  • Randomfactor

    I’m assuming they elected someone even more idiotic.

    Nope. We brought back Jerry Brown.

  • slc1

    Re Randomfactor @ #8

    Hopefully an older and wiser Jerry Brown.

  • James C.

    The system ain’t broken. It works just fine to line the pockets of a certain few.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thetimchannel timfuller

    It costs the public money, but it makes private industry profit. More shifting of wealth. This shifting of wealth is accelerated by asset forfeiture laws. The scaffolding of the *War on Terror” was built on the terrorizing of American citizens with fantastical claims regarding the true dangers of drug use. Now that entire US industries are based on slave labor (China has less criminals in jail than the US btw) and the Supreme Court has institutionalized political corruption with unlimited corporate donations, it’s absolutely GAME OVER for the average Joe. You could always vote for an energetic youthful new-age presence like Obama to change things in this arena. I am hopeful he will make the same promises he made the last time he ran to call off the federal dogs on our friends in California who have finally chosen sensible policy over servitude to the Prison Industrial Complex. They need a friend like Obama, someone who has experience with the drug, to continue championing their cause. /s

  • Michael Heath

    Fareed Zakaria led his Sunday morning CNN show off with an almost pitch-perfect argument on the human cost of the drug war. His graphs showed the incredible disparity in incarceration rates beteween the U.S. and even numbers #2 and #3, let alone the median.

    “Almost” because Zakaria didn’t inform his audience of Pat Robertson’s false quip that liberals were the sole reason we have drug laws. In Mr. Zakaria’s defense, his audience demographics are probably smart enough for him to not expend time fisking such an absurdly partisan falsehood. The Robertson quip in the relevant segment of Zakaria’s show was the same as the one Ed blogged about recently.

  • LightningRose

    Actually, it’s an older and more senile Jerry Brown. But still way better than any Repuglican Governor in the last 50 years.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    “What changed was the war on drugs and the mindless proliferation of laws that created criminal penalties for anything and everything…”

    It’s totally ridiculous. On top of drug charges are dozens of extra charges.

    So, for instance, a guy caught with a joint here in Georgia is guilty of a misdemeanor … Unless he’s driving back from the shooting range and has his target pistol in the car. That’s another charge of possession of marijuana while committing a crime, which IIRC IS a felony.

    There also are charges that are added to possession crimes like possession within 100 feet of a school or public park or public housing. And on and on …

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    Sorry, that should read possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, not possession of marijuana while committing a crime.

  • gingerbaker

    What percentage of prisoners lose their right to vote after serving their time for a felony?

  • http://rationaldreaming.com tacitus

    We need to be asking those who support these insane policies whether they believe that Americans are ten times more sinful or criminal than Bosnians are, but nine times more than Germans, or seven times more than the French, who also live in an increasingly multicultural and polarized society.

    Ask them what it is about Americans that requires them to be locked up for years at a time in such massive numbers when the vast majority of other nations get along perfectly fine with only a small fraction of that number in prison.

    I’ve asked this a lot of times and never had an answer that wasn’t easily refuted.

  • http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/ peicurmudgeon

    What is disappointing to me is that Canada is moving in the direction of these failed policies. The reasons are essentially twofold. We have a conservative style government that believes in the punishment model of dealing with lawbreakers, and has just brought in more mandatory minimum sentances, despite expert evidence that they don’t work. In fact they radily admitted that they don;t govern based on statistics. The other reason is pressure from the US government to push Canada’s drug laws to be alligned with those of the US.

  • interrobang

    they radily admitted that they don;t govern based on statistics

    And that’s why they hate Statscan so much. They’ve been trying to get rid of our official statistics-compilers because it makes it a whole lot easier for them to get the electorate to swallow their bullshit whole if people can’t find the evidence that contradicts it. Add in their backing of Faux North, and we’re only a half-step away from turning into a quasifascist shithole.

  • gingerbaker

    “An estimated 4.7 million Americans are not eligible to vote as a result of felony

    disenfranchisement laws that apply in 48 states and the District of Columbia.”

    – from http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/fd_barredforlife.pdf

    So, another benefit for the right-wing: more than 4 million likely liberals can not vote.