Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bureau of Prisons Budget Grows Despite Budget Crisis

Unemployment tops 8%, the defense budget is shrinking, and government agencies across the country are reducing their employment, but the BOP and the Justice Department apparently inhabit a parallel universe where none of this matters. The 2013 Federal Budget provides for a 4.5 % increase over last year, which includes funding to activate two prisons, one in Aliceville, AL, and one in Berlin, NH. Total funding for the BOP will top $8.6 billion for this year.

Additionally, the BOP is planning to build two new prisons, one in Yazoo City, MS, and one in Hazelton, WV, which will provide additional employment for an increasing staff population. Funding is also provided for new contract beds in non-BOP facilities.

A total of $13 million was set aside to attempt to fully fund the Residential Drug Treatment Plan, RDAP, "to support...Second Chance Act objectives" and reduce sentences for eligible prisoners for the full twelve months that Congress intended.

Despite this increased funding, complaints continue to rise about BOP overcrowding facilities by double and triple bunking, a clear violation of their own rules and policies, explained by their categorization of this practice as "temporary". Temporary in this case is whatever the BOP says it is.

Clearly, it is time for Congress to more closely examine the whole system of prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration to find alternatives to the rapidly expanding federal prison population. The U.S. continues to lock people up at a rate far exceeding that of other countries which the U.S. government has labeled repressive, including Iran, China, and Russia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Major Political Parties' Drug Policies Still the Same: Archaic

Despite a veritable avalanche of articles, books, and studies that show that the "War on Drugs" has been a failure, neither political party has addressed the issue in a presidential election year. To controversy-averse politicians, this is nothing new; witness the reluctance until recently of Republicans or Democrats to discuss Medicaid or Medicare, despite numerous studies showing that unless both systems are changed they will bankrupt the federal government.

The passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, that criminalized opium, has launched a hundred years' war that has only enriched drug criminals, distracted law enforcement from more serious, violent crime, and created outstanding investment opportunities for politically-connected investors in private prisons and prison suppliers.

A more humane policy, more consistent with conservative political principles that espouse limited government, would emphasize treatment over incarceration, and provide tax breaks and jobs for those willing to do the hard work of drug and alcohol treatment with the threat of more serious punishment for those that fail to take advantage of the more helpful and humane policies.

The other solution would be to make block grants to the states themselves to encourage them to come up with their own programs on a local level, using the vast network of charitable organizations such as the United Way and the Salvation Army, who are already doing outstanding work in the area, and limit federal intervention to major international traffickers, and limiting federal prosecutors powers to "pick-up" (take over) state drug prosecutions already in progress. Such developments would go a long way to helping communities gain control of their own crime problems at what would be a significantly more economical solution than currently exists.