Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Does the U.S. Imprison So Many? It Has to Stop!

According to an article in Parade magazine back in March, one out of every 31 adults in the U.S. is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. That is astronomical. That number, by the quote, appears not to include those who have been released and are no longer are on any type of supervision. I wonder what those numbers would be.

Further, according to the article, the U.S. has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate at 756 inmates per 100,000 residents which is nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. THAT number is just those who are currently in jail or prison.

So, what’s up with that? Are Americans really so bad that we have to lock so many up to be safe? To be free? How free is that?

The article also stated that 47.5% of all drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. More importantly, nearly 60% - OVER HALF – of people in prisons serving time for drug offenses had no history of violence or significant sales of drugs. In fact, four out of five drug arrests in the U.S. were for possession, while only one out of five were for sales. Clearly we are not slowing the traffickers down by busting the addicted (who many times are the mentally ill trying to self treat.)

What is the answer? Having practiced in Harris County & read about the goings on here, I would bet (I have no numbers) that this county has a greater percentage of the possession arrests per capita. I know that I have read statistics that we have the highest revocation rate in the State of Texas. That is no surprise to me.

At one time, according to a former chief of police, he had encouraged officers to essentially “handle” residue cases but politics, being what they were, resulted not only in that suggestion being ignored, but the chief was indicted (on another matter).

Current DA Lykos has generally proposed a pre-trial diversion method of handling DWIs. Again, I do not know the numbers but I do not think this effort will make any significant difference in the jail & prison populations. (I am not against the idea; I just question what cases might receive such an offer – one that should be dismissed?)

How about having officers issue summons on residue & marijuana cases like they do in other cities & states? How about reviewing the case for a 60 or 90 day reset with a dismissal to be the prize if the party can pass a couple of unscheduled urine tests? How about a contribution to Crimestoppers as a condition, in lieu of posting a bond? (Bondsmen won’t like that suggestion, I am sure.)

We need to get the numbers down. Our citizens are not worse than other countries – no way. Yet, in this home of the “free” – we are locking them up by the numbers. What gives? (I can answer that – your tax dollars give & give & give - to support those incarcerated AND to support those who can't get jobs because of their criminal records.)


  1. Good post. The criminal justice system has become a cottage industry for so many. It has become a self-sustaining and self-expanding entity. While defense lawyers benefit, it is the defense bar (with certain notable exceptions, such as Dallas DA Watkins, and, like her or not, DA Lykos), who have raised their voices in an attempt to bring the roller-coaster under some modicum of control.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I hope you are correct about DA Lykos' intent. It does seem that she is trying - and she chose a rough topic to begin with chosing DWI! But, it definitely is a start. (And, I think Dallas DA Watkins is a true believer & seems to me he is bending over backward to right some wrongs as best he can.)

  3. Ok I agree on some points and disagree on others. The first thing wee need to do is get real treatment for the mentally ill. Put them in the hospitals and treat them long term. We are all ready doing it in the prison but they belong locked up in a state mental hospital until they can safely go back into society.

    OK, now onto possession cases. Here it gets tricky. A little weed in the pocket? Write the citation, in the car? Driving and smoking? I am not sure I would want a dope high driver beside me, just like I don't want a "2 beer" driver beside me.

    What I see today is people do not take responsiblity for their own actions. I am not for bigger government and I don't think the government needs to run our lives.

    I think you have to change the culture of it is ok to smoke weed and get high and go to jail and prison. Bring religion back into schools and the government. Make people accountable for themselves. only then will the prison pop. decrease.

  4. I agree with the treatment of mentally ill - but not jailing them. I have seen so much jail space wasted on "trespassing" cases. I understand business owners don't want dirty people begging at their businesses but it really is a waste of space, especially in Harris County where we are repeatedly cited by the feds for our substandard jails (and people die in the jail for lack of treatment at a higher rate than most if not all other jails in the U.S.)

    I agree with the smoking while driving. Houston has DREs (drug recognition experts) because many times they find that there is no smell of alcohol but the person is clearly impaired. (Methamphetamine is widely used here, as well as cocaine. Ecstasy has declined, I believe.)

    If intoxicated, whether by alcohol or weed (or whatever), then it is arrest for DWI. If one possesses a small amount of weed but passes a DRE's exam, then write a ticket (or dump the dope.) Maybe even it is a ticketable offense the first time, and then the punishment goes up.

    I agree with the general attitude of people - they don't take responsiblility & they don't want anyone messing with their bratty kids. Our kids are FAR more spoiled than we were. I'm guilty, and I am paying the price for it now that they are older.

    Other evidence of the decline of society, in my opinion, is that people cuss everywhere. I'm guilty of it in my peer group but I would not stand in a mall & say the F word loudly. I would not disrespect an elderly person or a child with cussing. I do get on my kids about that - they don't listen. And, it used to be radio stations bleeped stuff out. EVERYTHING - t.v., radio, BILLBOARD ADs & the front of papers for goodness sake, hang it all out. (I walked past a paper machine that had some Spanish paper with the front cover being the beautiful body of a woman - with a thong on! Right there for all to see.) There is just no protecting your children from things now & I think that is wrong.

    I do believe in the freedom of speech, but I believe also in respect. When my kids were younger, if some youngster cussed (long before I really started being so bad), I would approach them & reprimand them. I remember my ex being scared because I did that. I had mothers telling me to mind my own business - and I said what my children hear in public IS my business.

    Anyway, so we agree about society but I think that we must find a way to imprison fewer of our own. The first start may be to legalize marijuana - just like we have alcohol, but to penalize for being under the influence in public or while driving - just like alcohol.

    Thanks for commenting, Ghostrider. Sorry so long to respond. I'm in trial (as you can see by my last blogspots) & I think it'll be somewhat like the blogspot series - only the judge will likely be much better! (The prosecutor is a spineless snake.)


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