Defeating The Prison-Industrial Complex

When the Federalist Society is issuing dire predictions about a policy choice, I perk up. (If the Federalist Society is against something, it’s safe to assume I’ll probably approve of it.) And sure enough, it seems that amid the various disasters of the recently-concluded midterm elections, California voters did something sensible: they overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47.

Prop 47, officially named The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, changes sentencing for certain low-level, nonviolent crimes including simple drug possession and petty theft. It also permits people who are currently incarcerated for such offenses to apply for resentencing.

Unsurprisingly, private prison operators, their political cronies, and the more punitive elements of the law enforcement establishment are predicting the End of Western Civilization as We Know It.

Financial savings are projected to be in the hundreds of millions—and those savings (largely but not entirely from reduced prison populations–hence the hysteria from the private prison folks) would be diverted into mental health and drug treatment programs, K–12 schools, and to compensate crime victims.

Americans may be beginning to come to their senses, at least where crime and punishment are concerned.

Ed Brayton notes that a broad coalition of liberal, conservative and libertarian political leaders has concluded that the tough-on-crime policies of recent decades are both costly and counterproductive.

In that view, widespread drug arrests and severe mandatory sentences are doing more to damage poor communities, especially African-American ones, than to prevent crime, and building ever more prisons that mostly turn out repeat offenders is a bad investment…

Our current, vindictive “law and order” approach to public safety has not only not made us safer, it has cost us a bundle and made us the world’s most aggressive jailers.  America accounts for 5% of the world population yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.

According to the LA Times, the greatest effect of Proposition 47 will be in drug possession cases.  California now becomes the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors.

Little by little, albeit at a painfully slow pace, Americans are addressing the nation’s real addiction– to its failed and disastrous Drug War. Measures to decriminalize marijuana in several states, and now California’s tacit recognition of prohibition’s folly, signal a tardy recognition of the damage done by a counterproductive “war” that has ruined far more lives than marijuana ever could.

A little bit of sanity for a crazy time. I’ll take it.


  1. Get caught with a joint and it’s on your record for life. Try to have a life after that…you can’t. You’re a felon and you can’t vote, you struggle to get a job, you can’t build your credit, you are discriminated against the rest of your life for a 3 buck joint. Instead of the war on drugs, they should have considered building mental hospitals that Reagan closed and added job training for those convicts that get out so that they have some skill when they are let go. It’s a cycle of despair for anyone caught up in that system when they’re young. And this nonsense of making reality shows of prisons doesn’t help either. I know some are able to make it after spending time in prison but the odds are stacked against them even for petty offenses. It’s sad what they do to our citizens.

  2. California does have a good idea regarding lower sentences for some criminals but! OK, back to my mugging at 11:00 in the morning on my own driveway on April 21st this year. The mugger (Mark Jones 47) and his get-away driver (Lindsey Jones 27) were caught one week later after attacking and robbing their 4th old woman while being followed by undercover IMPD officers who missed the actual attack in the small MCL parking lot. Both criminals have criminal drug histories (he has a prison record) but no mention of drug tests once they were arrested. They have been charged with 4 counts of Robbery (which refers to the threat of or inflicting pain to steal our purses) and one count of Fraud for using the last victim’s credit card. Additional charges of Battery have been refused although 90 year old Carrie Lee was elbowed in the face while sitting behind the wheel of her car which broke her glasses, caused facial cuts and knocked one tooth out of her dentures. The nerve damage on my forehead and displacement of one disc in my neck are permanent but these “pains” do not warrant Battery charges. The use of 3 victim’s stolen credit cards (my 2 cards were used 8 times that day) don’t warrant Fraud charges. The deputy prosecutor actually said, “The more charges we file, the more charges we have to prove.” None of the victims or witnesses were notified about the 2nd court continuance now scheduled for February 2015.

    In May the deputy prosecutor mailed a letter to me to the wrong address and noted in the letter the address was incorrect. My mail carrier recognized my name and delivered the letter. After many complaining E-mails to a number of people, including one to the deputy prosecutor’s supervisor, they resulted in a home visit by that supervisor and his supervisor weeks later. His supervisor only observed his grinning (he hoped placating) interview. When asked why he didn’t respond to me, he said had forwarded my E-mail regarding lack of court continuance notification to the deputy prosecutor for “her to handle” without reading it. He had never read the court documents, the attached police report or my medical records from IMPD forensic officer or hospital ER but glanced through my copies. The deputy prosecutor never sent me the release form for medical records from the ER but asked for copies of the report I received – her supervisor agreed this is not legal as certified copies of everything are needed for court. How the hell do criminals ever get to prison here when the prosecutors aren’t reading all documents, filing charges or dealing with victims? I fully expect, IF this case ever gets to court, a plea agreement will be reached for the paulty charges and Mark Jones will be released due to time served. His get-away driver bailed out June 13th. Something needs to be done regarding sentencing; California does have a decent idea regarding currently sentenced criminals but…PLEASE check their criminal histories and the sentencing case investigation, pre-trial and pre-sentence reports before turning them loose. I believe I need an attorney to force the Prosecutor’s Office to file complete and competent charges against these people but cannot afford it and don’t know I am legally allowed to have an attorney when the prosecutor is supposed to be charging the criminals who attacked and robbed the four of us…all elderly women.

    We watched the entire legal system here stall the Bisard killing and maiming for three years. He is now in the process of appealing. How long before the Ricmond Hills many victims see justice – or will they? I have my doubts. I apologize for any and all errors in this comment but I have been upset since seeing this is the anniversary of the Richmond Hills deadly blast.

  3. JoAnn, Sheila,
    Doesn’t the law school have pro bono cases like this that can be taken for students (supervised by a lawyer of course) so that this victim can get to court and get these people the representation they need? Or am I just barking up the wrong tree here?

    I know that the Notre Dame law school did this back in the day but that was waaay back in the 80s and I don’t know if it is offered from the Indiana law school, for folks like JoAnn or not. Is there any legal reason why students could not research this case? Sounds like JoAnn needs some help and I’m sure there are students willing to work this case in order to get some hands-on experience, right?

    Good luck JoAnn.

  4. Your article initially mentions the Federalist Society as the motivation for the article, but we’re left guessing what the Federalist Society said that you agree or disagree with that prompted you to write. I’d be surprised if the Federalist Society as a group is still touting privatized corrections as it did in the early mid-1990s. Scouring the internet, I see where the Federalist Society has recently hosted speakers discussing the failed War on Drugs and the need to treat drug use as a public health problem instead of criminalizing it. I see other seminars referring to problems with the over militarization of police forces. The Federalist Society regularly host seminars against civil forfeiture. The organization also has had seminars on sentencing reform, getting away from the harsh mandatory sentences of the past.. As far as corrections go, most conservatives have long ago abandoned privatized corrections as unworkable. Now you’re just seeing the companies and those who benefit from it, including the politicians who get campaign contributions, pushing it.

    No offense, Sheila, but I think you have an outdated mindset that Republicans and conservatives are still in the “law and order” mode that dominated the right wing in the 1980s and early 1990s. The right wing is much more libertarian on such issues today. You go to a Tea Party meeting and the people there talk a lot about issues like over militarization of the police, the failed war on drugs, violations of constitutional rights on search and seizure, civil forfeiture, etc., virtually everyone taking a position you’d agree with.

  5. It’s very hard for me to worry about victimless crimes. I believe that law is fundamentally about protecting the innocent from the guilty. There are any numbers of ways for criminals to prey, and our 3 branches of federal government and all levels of more local government are involved in protecting our right to live our lives knowing that those who regard others as prey have a significant risk of consequences that hurt them more than crime benefits them. None of humanities institutions work perfectly but in my experience, in this country, that system works adequately.

    I expect that much of the victimless crime law, law enforcement and penalty efforts here are motivated by political showmanship and, of course, as a culture we revere showmanship and celebrity. So we’re suckers for that particular brand of snake oil.

    Not only are victimless crimes much ado about nothing but also they are a huge drain on public resources. How much more productive would those resources be in paying people adequately so that all full time workers were independently from aid wealthy with health insurance. Would a few take advantage of that? Yes. Would more find life rewarding rather intolerable without drugs? I believe that they would.

  6. Most prisoners have learning problems. Many – perhaps most – need special education.
    I hope I live long enough to see prison systems changed to become correctional systems that train prisoners for and find them jobs to report to immediately after release.

  7. When I worked in the Municipal Court Probation Department, our on-staff education snob probation officer managed to get a ruling passed that all probationers were REQUIRED to get their GED before they would be released from probation. I agree whole-heartedly that education is beneficial but I still believe that mandatory requirement for release from probation was a violation of civil rights. No idea if that is still in effect but certainly hope not. Our on-staff snob came around one day to tell each employee that documentation of our education was now required to be in personnel files. She stated she would need all of my college education records; I proudly responded, “I know exactly where my GED is, ran across it the other day.” She got very red in the face and walked away – I’m sure her embarrassment was not my lack of education but her belief I was college educated:) One judge ordered a probationer in his court to read a specific number of books while on probation and report contents to him at court hearings. Another probationer, a regular public intox arrestee, was ordered to bring another drunk (judge’s term) to court with him weekly and explain how being arrested had improved his life. This man later became Presiding Judge of the Municipal Courts. The fools have been with us for decades and will always walk among us. Sadly; many criminals are more intelligent than some judicial authorities.

    ALG; thank you for your words of support.

  8. Indiana spends about $150 Million dollars each year locking up pot smokers, tying up law enforcement resources and leaving the populace unprotected. All of this over a plant arguably safer than alcohol. Why? Because the private prisons in Indiana have signed agreements with ours and other states to require the state to guarantee a 90% prison occupancy rate. How does one do that in a “Free” society? Marijuana users are by and large non-violent and usually make good prisoners. Releglize Marijuana and watch crime go down and watch our society become truly safer.

  9. A wise professor once introduced me to a fantastic book by Peter McWilliams called “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society”. To this day it is one of my favorite and most highly recommended books to friends who are interested in the intersection of fiscal and criminal policy and the inherent flaws in legislating morality.

    I was excited to cast my vote for prop 47 last Tuesday. For the first time in my life I felt like my vote had the real potential to solve something I saw as an incredibly bad and outdated policy. Unfortunately it is only one small step for mankind that points us in a better direction than we have been going. I fear making any substantial progress towards correcting the decades of social and economic damage done by such flawed policies will take generations.

  10. This is great. We should not spend one dollar keeping pot smokers in jail
    Just stupid
    ONLY the Prison complex wins on the old way
    YAY for California
    Prisons are for bad guys

  11. The prison advocates seem to forget that most prisoners are eventually released. We also know that many go in with all kinds of problems which need to be addressed, and if are not dealt with, will continue to seriously impair those people. In the Southern Illinois prison, about 100 people are released every day who have simply been warehoused in an overcrowded facility with almost no training or treatment, unprepared to do anything but live in a jail. A couple of years ago, an authority on Norwegian prisons observed that the U.S., claims to be “Christian”, yet Norway, which is decidedly secular, teats their prisoners more humanely with a view on their release. Which is the healthier place to live?

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