How Many Local Resources Go into Drug Enforcement?

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drugsI was going through the list of hearings scheduled for today in the Yolo County Superior Court.  On a daily basis we have our interns watching these cases and it just struck me how many of them are no more serious than this one: “F poss controlled subs; M poss narc paraphern.”  Or this: “F transp/sell cntl sub; M use cntrlld substance.” Another one, “F transp/sell cntl sub; F poss controlled.”  Another: “F poss controlled subs E commit on bail/or E commit on bail/or M poss narc parapher.”  Another: “F poss controlled subs.”

In all today, there are at least 30 to 40 hearings that have charges no more serious than for possession of a controlled substance.  Some of them have enhancements for prior prison.  Some of them have enhancements because they are violations of probation.  But at the end of the day, the genesis of these cases are drug possession.

Last week, we reported on a Yolo County Courtroom that, for three days, had to deal with a person who possessed 0.0118 grams of meth.  Now, all of the conservatives came out of the woodwork to argue that they got what they deserved, that drugs lead to other crimes.  Maybe they do.  But none of these 30 to 40 cases involved other crimes.

The individual who was convicted last week, like most drug offenders, will not go to prison, at least not yet.  Instead she will likely get a suspended sentence, and may go through Drug Court. She is also eligible for Proposition 36, which was a step forward in that it allowed first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration.  That is a good thing.

However, with the state in budget crisis, the funding for Proposition 36 programs remain in doubt.

But here is the benefit of Proposition 36 and programs like it…

cost-per-drug

This chart is actually old, the cost of incarceration is closer to double that now.  But it illustrates the point on costs.

However, the truth is that costs of our drug policies are really closer to immeasurable.  I have been reading a book by Michelle Alexander entitled, “The New Jim Crow.”

The problem that someone like Maria Pastor now faces is that she is a convicted felon.  That means that, even though she may not see the inside of a prison as the result of her crime, she faces very serious long-term consequences.  First, she cannot vote.  That is a fundamental right in our democracy, and that is taken away from her for at least a proscribed period of time.  In some states it would be permanent, she could never vote again.  Big deal, you say?  People have died for the right to vote, quite literally, and yet her right is taken away by possessing a small quantity of drugs.

The bigger problem from the standpoint of our society is that it will be very difficult as a convicted felon to get a job.  It will be difficult to rent an apartment.  It will be impossible to get public housing.  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan.

Ms. Alexander chronicles in her book that a huge percentage of convicted felons, even those who will not see prison time, end up homeless because they are unable to get work or get accommodations.

What does that mean?  Well, if you have an individual that is no longer able to get a job or find a place to live, he/she will likely return to substance abuse, and will likely return to crime.  We are talking about millions of people, if not tens of millions of people, each year.  As one can imagine, this becomes a self-feeding cycle.

As Michelle Alexander argues in her book, most of these people affected are racial minorities.  She cites well-known statistics that show that, while the proportion of whites to blacks is similar to that of whites to minorities using drugs, the arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates between the races are not comparable at all.

One of the most egregious policies that had a strong racial component was the disparity in sentencing between the sentences for powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. Crack cocaine is used disproportionately by blacks -something like 80 percent of those convicted are black – leading to complaints of discrimination. 

President Obama said during his 2008 president campaign that the sentencing disparity has “disproportionately filled our prisons with young black and Latino drug users.”

In 1986, federal laws that gave crack cocaine offenders the same jail sentence as someone who possessed 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine.  Last week, President Obama addressed what both Democrats and Republicans have agreed is an injustice in drug sentencing.  It does not completely level the field.

The new law narrows the ratio to 18-to-one.  Not perfect, but better than previously.  It also eliminates the mandatory five -year jail sentence for first-time offenders charged with possessing five grams of crack cocaine.  Instead it would require a possession of 28 grams to trigger that sentence.

Said Laura Murphy of the ACLU, “Congress has just struck down a mandatory minimum for the first time in history and has sent the correct message that we cannot continue to use a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing. The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act by both chambers of Congress is an important first step toward finally eliminating the sentencing disparity. However, the bill does leave in place a sizable sentencing disparity that we will continue to work to eliminate.”

According to the ACLU, “More than two decades ago, based on assumptions about crack which are now known to be false, heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses were adopted. Sentences for crack are currently equivalent to the sentences for 100 times the amount of powder cocaine, and the impact falls disproportionately on African-Americans. In recent years, a consensus has formed across the political and ideological spectrum on the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity issue with both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama urging reform.”

“Though this legislation is long overdue, it still leaves Americans with a sizable sentencing gap for the same drug. We must ensure that our laws are based on facts and not prejudice,” said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The CBO projects a modest savings of $42 million over five years from these changes, not a huge savings in the scheme of things.

However, from the caseload alone in the state court system, it would seem that changes to the scope of drug laws and shifting these cases out of the legal system would save a tremendous amount of time, resources, and, yes, money for states like California that are reeling from billions in budget deficits.

We have to make our budget priorities in new times.  Just as we have to look at how much we pay our public employees, we also have to look at how we treat non-violent drug offenders.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “How Many Local Resources Go into Drug Enforcement?”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Now all of the conservatives came out of the woodwork to argue that they got what they deserved, that drugs lead to other crimes. Maybe they do. But none of these 30 to 40 cases involved other crimes.”

    You don’t know that…

  2. biddlin

    David, the US currently has 1% of its population in jails or prison. It’s in a close tie with China if one accepts activist Harry Wu’s assessment of their prison population. With about 4% of the world’s population, we hold almost 25% of the worlds prisoners. Since all studies show violent crimes decreasing over the last three decades, one must assume that the huge increase in this population is due to policy changes, such as “three strikes” and mandatory minimum sentencing. If you want to make a huge dent in government spending, I can’t think of a larger or lower hanging target. Much could be done administratively, but educating the voters will also be necessary after decades of fear mongering by “Law and Order” candidates and the the propaganda machine of TV news.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    biddlin: “With about 4% of the world’s population, we hold almost 25% of the worlds prisoners. Since all studies show violent crimes decreasing over the last three decades, one must assume that the huge increase in this population is due to policy changes, such as “three strikes” and mandatory minimum sentencing.”

    Perhaps putting criminals in prison, three strikes and mandatory minimum sentencing have resulted in lower crime rates? Even if that is true, however, the reality is we cannot afford to continue confining so many offenders – our prison system is just plain costing too much.

  4. biddlin

    ERM-Since 2000, the number of Americans behind bars increased by 15%, while during the same period the US population increased by only 6.4%. The United States’ incarceration rate is, according to official reports, 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000. According to a report released in December of 2008 from the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in state and federal prisons are over 600,000. According to the US Department of Justice, 30-40% of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator Marijuana arrests accounted for 47.4% of the drug abuse arrests. 89% of these arrests were for possession. For young Americans arrests for marijuana offenses can have very dire consequences. In the United States drug convictions bar students from receiving any Federal Student Loans. The economic implications of this are obvious.

  5. Roger Rabbit

    [quote] On a per capita basis, California has double the prison population we had 25 years ago. [/quote]

    lol, this sounds like a campaign slogan for DA Reisig. Who cares how much it cost, it is not his money, raise taxes, pass the cost on, in politics, stats like this gets people scared or makes them feel safe, either way it relates to fooling the people and getting votes.

  6. E Roberts Musser

    biddlin: “ERM-Since 2000, the number of Americans behind bars increased by 15%, while during the same period the US population increased by only 6.4%.”

    And the crime rate has gone down… which gets to Roger Rabbit’s point!

  7. biddlin

    Yeah, your right Elaine, all those pot smokers must have been committing all of the crimes. Let’s make sure that they never have a chance to get a decent job or buy a house. That will insure a drop in crime.

  8. wesley506

    In a 2005 policy brief, An examination of the impact of 3-Strike laws 10 years after their enactment, Justice Policy Institute reported that analysis of ten years of FBI Uniform Crime Report data found that Three Strikes states fared no better than states that did not adopt strikes laws. The largest non-strike state, New York, experienced a 53.9% decrease in violent crime from 1993-2002. The largest strike state, California, experienced a 44.9% decrease in violent crime during the same years. Getting tough on crime had very little to do with reducing crime.

    On January 22 1973 Roe v. Wade became the greatest crime reduction judicial decision in the history of this country. Crime rates began dropping off beginning in the early 1990s which is about the time when the unwanted aborted future citizens would have begun to reach the age when they would typically start engaging in serious criminal activity. A unwanted child born to a single poor teenage mother, is less likely to be raised in a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.

    The link between crime and abortion merely says that when the government gives a women the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in the position to raise the baby well. If she can’t she often chooses abortion.

  9. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”An unwanted child [b](as well as a wanted child)[/b] born to a single poor teenage mother, is less likely to be raised in a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.”[/i]

    Fixed.

  10. craised

    “Death to Drug Dealers” works very well in Singapore and other advancing nations in Asia. In the United States we are far too permissive and are in danger of becoming ‘declining country’. Death is also very cost effective as practiced in Singapore, cases do not drag on needlessly as they do in the USA. Also, no repeat offenders.

  11. David M. Greenwald

    Craised: We can indeed eliminate crime, but at what cost. Do you really want to live in Singapore? As they say, if you do, go move there. LOL.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: “And the crime rate has gone down… which gets to Roger Rabbit’s point!” If you look at the crime rate, it’s gone down steadily since 1980. The crime rate had been FALLING and was substantially off the peak when we enacted tougher sentences. So we’ve basically spent a ton of money and as most of the empirical data show, it’s not clear that we have gotten a bang for the buck. States that do not have the harsh mandatory sentences have fared just as well if not better than those who do not.

    One reason, take three strikes for instance. Most people commit crimes within a certain age range, they may start in adolescence and most stop at a certain point, they have either matured, wised up, or just gotten too old to be a threat. Those who remain tend to be the exception and suffer from mental afflictions. Most people get their third strike towards the end of their crime careers, which means we are locking people up for years when they are statistically speaking least likely to be a threat to commit more crimes and at a time when they are most expensive to incarcerate.

  13. E Roberts Musser

    to dgm: You missed my point, as inarticulate as it was. Since mandatory sentencing and other such tough on crime legislation has passed, crime has gone down. There may or may not be a causal link, but the DAs will argue there is a causal link. But the long and short of it is we as a state/nation just cannot afford to house the number of criminals we are incarcerating. And I wonder just how many of those in prison are mentally ill people who were left wandering the streets when the gov’t decided to close the mental institutions to cut costs. Have we just transferred the mentally ill to our prison system? It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers. However, country’s like China execute anyone who causes trouble, which IN NOT THE ANSWER either. Speaking of which, that system doesn’t seem to be working for them either, in the wake of a rash of serial murders of school children by crazed killers…

  14. David M. Greenwald

    Okay, I guess I did miss your point. I agree with some of what you say and certainly the issue of treating mental illness needs to be address, I think the issue of ridiculously long sentences needs to be address, for as much as we spend to house a single inmate for a year, we could transition them to give them jobs skills and help them escape from the endless cycle. That was what the reentry facility was supposed to work towards, but it was ill-conceived and needed to be added on to an existing facility, not build a new in a community that did not have a prison already.

  15. Primoris

    David Greenwald writes: [quote]Some of them have enhancements because they are violations of probation[/quote]

    An alleged violation of probation is an “enhancement? I didn’t know that!

  16. Primoris

    Biddlin [quote] According to the US Department of Justice, 30-40% of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator Marijuana arrests accounted for 47.4% of the drug abuse arrests. 89% of these arrests were for possession.[/quote]

    Apparently you are intentionally misquoting the “Unlocking America” Report or parroting another person? No such data is found in the report. See page 25 of the report Table 11 (cf footnote 72). What tou fail to cite is that only 10% of the 30% pertain to “drug possession” it does NOT delineate to marijuana arrests.

    But that is par for the course with the pro weed dudes.

    What’s the big deal arrests — prison incarceration, it’s all the same, right?
    Let me provide an glaring example: from nowpublic.com Marijuana Arrests Feed Insatiable U.S. Prison System

    “In 2007 the Department of Justice reported that there were 1,841,182 drug arrests in the United States; the report also stated that there were more drug abuse arrests than any other category of offenses. Marijuana arrests accounted for 47.4% of the drug abuse arrests. This allows us to estimate that about 872,720 persons were arrested for marijuana offenses. Eighty-nine percent of these arrests were for possession. The 2007 arrest data is even worse than 2006 when 829,627 people were arrested for marijuana (a Project Censored’s top 25 story in 2008). In 2005 there were 786,545 marijuana arrests, meaning that the number of arrests increased by 86K in just two years. Clearly, marijuana is an intense focus of police interest and activity; far more, apparently, than the less important crimes occurring at the same time on Wall Street.

    http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/marijuana-arrests-feed-insatiable-u-s-prison-system

    NOTHINGis written to denote exactly how many of all the purported marijuana “arrests” were citations and involved no jail at all. Hmmmm

  17. Miwok

    dmg – do criminal behaviors just quit at a certain age or range? It is just a phase? I believe the incarceration makes them think they may have to quit getting arrested. I don’t believe they ever stop thinking about it.

    Is your argument we stop sentencing them? I agree they have little in the way of skills and personality when first arrested, even as juveniles. We would need to build communities for them to practice living with each other honestly and crime free before setting them loose on the community. But prison life has shown that most are still stealing, killing, doing drugs and making weapons every day. Even with locked doors there are still addicts and drunks. Tell me how that is possible?

  18. David M. Greenwald

    Yes I think at some point people get tired of that life style and maybe even grow up. Different people at different times.

    “Is your argument we stop sentencing them?” No, I think people who break the law need to go to prison, but it should be still proportionate to the severity of the crime. I’ve seen people in the last few months go away for a long time for fairly minor acts. For instance, the guy who stole cheese, did not get life for it, but he’s in prison now for seven years. We can’t afford that.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    For minor crimes, yes they should. We don’t have the resources to do otherwise. I really do not understand you fiscal conservatives who think it’s a good use of money to spend tens of thousands per year on people who are really not public safety threats to anyone other than themselves.

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