INCARCERATION ADDICTION

In 1875, US Constitutional expert Lysander Spooner wrote:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime—that is, the design to injure the person or property of another—is wanting.

For my own research (seriously), I’m watching an obviously intentional polemic yet extremely informative documentary called The Union: The Business Behind Getting High.

This is not a new conclusion, but I’ve never put it this way:

America, for all its greatness and free speech, is addicted to incarceration.

By definition, addiction to incarceration must erode freedom. What would make a supposedly democratic country incarcerate at rates profoundly beyond what is necessary (necessary meaning real crime, and crimes that happen due to vices, but not simply vices)? I can only guess two things: profit and/or population control (and given the population incarcerated, possibly racism).

A remarkable part of this addiction is fueled by incarcerating people for reasons related to marijuana, which supposedly has caused approximately zero documented deaths in the United States (see Donald Tashkin, UCLA, Lester Grinspoon, MD). I am sure it is a number higher than that if every death was fully and utterly explored, somehow. But either way (and I admit I don’t know how these stats are put together), something like 430,000 people a year in the US die from tobacco smoking related diseases—sisters, brothers, mothers, uncles, fathers, children, people. Evidently, this is more than deaths by heroin, AIDS, crack, cocaine, fire, alcohol, car accidents and murder combined. And, according to the film, tobacco actually receives government subsidies (free market, free market, free market…).

Really consider that. Now dry your tears (by the way, they say alcohol causes 85,000 deaths a year).

And then I have a question. Can anyone comprehend what this means, sociologically, spiritually, in terms of the American character or any other way? Feel free to make a comment.

According to Jack A. Cole, a former undercover narcotics agent and director of LEAP, paraphrasing:

In Japan, the incarceration rate is 38 people per 100,000 people.

In the the United States, the incarceration rate is 726 people per 100,000.

For the record, that’s 19.1 times greater.

And so I ask, how can that even be? It almost brings tears to my eyes. How bad can people be, comparatively? If not how bad, how unfree can a country be? A country great in so many ways. It breaks my heart.

In a 20 year period the incarceration rate in America has quadrupled. One of the best investments going in America is the construction of prisons. There are massive profits to be made by incarcerating more and more people.

What does this mean? How can this be?

How could the Canadian government, with any belief in honour, dignity, freedom, sovereignty, even libertarian ideals, or anything else a so-called conservative government should believe in, how could they let Marc Emery be extradited?

Shameful.

If you watch this film, you will weep over the relentless attack on freedom through a threat (and promise) of incarceration, and you will weep for your wasted tax dollars in the multi-billions, and you will weep for the taxes in the billions that we could not only not be paying, but the billions we could get from regulated marijuana.

Sometimes I wonder if so much of this population control is preparation for the social disarray that could unfold with the so-called end of oil—but do politicians and their corporate supporters think that far ahead on anything?

Meanwhile people as disparate in their views as Noam Chomsky, William F Buckley, Carl Sagan, Howard Zinn, Milton Friedman and George P. Schultz believe that illegal drugs should be legalized and regulated in some form.

At the same time, at least in general, the police, drug dealers (seriously), Big Pharma and private prison systems agree with each other, and are dead-set against legalization with regulation, decriminalization or anything else related.

Strange bedfellows.

Lord have mercy. It’s beyond my comprehension. Feel free to fill in the blanks. Or follow the money, and the control. You know, it was dope smokers who protested the invasion of Vietnam. And Nixon went to War on Drugs. Hmm.

Here’s to love and freedom,

Pete

Disclaimer: I not only don’t smoke marijuana, I have never smoked marijuana (and if I did, I wouldn’t inhale, not even in the Oval office). Oops, I think I just mixed metaphors.

One more time:

In 1875, that ol’ US Constitutional expert Lysander Spooner wrote:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime—that is, the design to injure the person or property of another—is wanting.

Share

5 Responses to “INCARCERATION ADDICTION”

  1. Krishna says:

    I believe the explanation to this “phenomenon,” if you want to call it that, is found in the inherent nature of addiction. An addiction could be that which one relies upon for both mental and physical satisfaction, and if bereft of said addiction then one loses both mental and physical satisfaction. That is on an individual level. Now if you expand it to the national level. An addiction could be that which a nation relies upon for social and economic well-being. It follows then that, although the prison system in the US does cost an exorbitant amount of tax-dollars, it could also be a source of revenue for the states and the government as a whole. Not quite sure though, merely speculation.

    In terms of social well-being I believe you might have hit it on the head Mr. McCormack, population control is a possible reason. However, I have an alternative explanation, I believe the US government basks in the glory of showing the criminals out there the punishments that it could dish out for social miscreants. It’s as if they are saying “just look what happens if you step outside the line!”

    On a final note, I think you might find this following article from the New Yorker rather interesting, I know I did. Thank you very much for your blog Mr. McCormack, I thoroughly enjoy reading it.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande

  2. Sue says:

    Hi Pete,

    Great post. I think it might be a slightly larger issue than just being addicted to incarceration, especially when one considers that much of the prison “industry” in the U.S. has become privatized and is therefore all about profits. You can’t make a profit if you don’t keep those prisons filled, which means you need more criminals. The simplest way to do that? Revise the penalties attached to existing laws and/or create lots of new laws for which even the minimum penalty is automatic jail time.

    What’s really scandalous is when judges become corrupt and happily accept money in exchange for shipping kids (who were probably basically good kids having a very bad day or had made a bone-headed decision on one occasion) off to a privately owned and operated juvenile detention centre. I’m referring to the scandal that occurred in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and came to light earlier this year. Here are the links to a couple of articles on the story. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/23/pennsylvania.corrupt.judges/ and
    http://www.slate.com/id/2211162/

    One would think that, at the very least, judges get paid enough in order to prevent them from being tempted into corruption, but apparently a greedy addiction to having ever more money (tax free at that, I’m sure) hasn’t stopped some of the very people who are supposed to be a role models and upholding the laws from making a few extra $$ on the side. And we wonder why there isn’t quite the same level of respect for the justice system… I would say in this case that some individuals’ “vices” (an addiction to money and or power) have caused a great deal of harm to others.

    This same addiction to greed and power on the part of some high rolling individuals in the financial sector has also caused indescribable harm to the entire economy. What is worse, these individuals got little more than a slap on the wrist for their actions and a whole lot of reinforcement, a la huge bailouts (which then filtered down as very attractive “packages”) to these individuals and their super-oversized corporations. Maybe the question we need to be asking ourselves as developed nations is why we’ve allowed ourselves to become so enamoured with and handed over so much power to corporations. (I’ll see if I have any useful answers once I’ve read David Korten’s book “When Corporations Rule the World.”)

    I’d better sign off as my response is becoming almost as long as the original post–not that it hasn’t happened before. ;-)

    Blessings and hugs,
    Sue

  3. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    I believe Krishna is on to something. America (and other governments) is addicted to money, and the court system is one source. If you add up what local, state, and federal government spends, and subtract what each brings in via taxes, it usually just don’t add up. Something has to offset the difference.

    We will never see tobacco or alcohol made illegal. Of the approximately $8.00 a pack of cigarettes cost around here, $2.70 is state tax, about $4.00 is federal tax, the rest local tax, surcharges, and purchase price/profit to the seller.

    Slightly different percentages and you have the alcohol story. Then there’s the private outpatient rehab programs to which the court can sentence someone. The person must remain in the program until the folks who run it say he/she has completed the program successfully. In NY, a first DWI offense often results in a license suspension until a 6-week program is completed; however, on average, a person isn’t cleared to drive again by the program facilitators for 10-12 months, all the while having to attend “counseling,” which they have to pay for. All perfectly legal.

    Underage drinking and smoking charges help fill local coffers via court costs, fees, and fines collected, as do DWI and drug charges. Those same costs, fees, and fines apply to traffic tickets and local ordinances.

    Most municipalities have laws the sole purpose of which are to collect fines. Example: the next town has a law whereby there is no parking on any township street from mid October to mid (I believe) April from 3 to 4 AM for snow removal, even if there is no snow. My son runs afoul of this one when he falls asleep at his fiancée’s. He’s come out at 2:55 AM to find an officer standing in front of his car waiting for 3 AM. So much money to be made.

    If we decriminalize certain vices (and this is one time we must choose our vices very carefully), then we should tax the heck out of them. Then we can dispense with these silly laws, and possibly local taxes altogether. But this should be balanced by society’s acceptance that one is still responsible, legally and otherwise, for his actions—and collateral damage caused—while partaking of a vice of choice. There should also be increased education about—shall we call it—vice-consumption safety (i.e., not driving under the influence), and a social safety net of sorts for those who overindulge. Now we’re even creating jobs. The trick will be convincing folks to enter these occupations.

    I also completely agree with Sue; there is money to be made by keeping prisons full. Helps explain why there is little real rehabilitation within the system. So if we decriminalize these vices, then we can use some of the emptied prisons as rehab centers (have to nix the double perimeter fence and razor wire though). Again, shifting the business focus in a new direction—never easily achieved. Oh, wait, that brings us back to the NY system.

    I know some of this sounds sarcastic, but the current system is as silly as some of what I’ve proposed. I really do believe in decriminalizing true vice. Adults should be allowed to think for themselves, for better or worse. However, until we find a way for the government to get their cut of the profits (a.k.a., taxes) without upsetting the overzealous right and those who believe it their responsibility to be in other’s business, the current situation will prevail because this addiction is (as Krishna said so well) “that which a nation relies upon for social and economic well-being.”

    Is there a 12-step program for that?

    Love to you and those you love,
    Karen

  4. My dear friends—and a warm hello to Krishna, whom I don’t believe is the same Krishna as in the Bhagavad Gita, but if you are, help us with clarity on the battlefield of life!

    I must say I so appreciate the time taken and the intelligence of these comments. Expansions on the idea of ‘addicted to incarceration’ was almost the inherent point of the phrase, and indeed, the addiction is there because of the addiction to money and power, at least to a large degree.

    And Karen, this is so true:

    However, until we find a way for the government to get their cut of the profits (a.k.a., taxes) without upsetting the overzealous right and those who believe it their responsibility to be in others’ business, the current situation will prevail because this addiction is (as Krishna said so well) “that which a nation relies upon for social and economic well-being.”

    Is there a 12-step program for that?

    “that which a nation relies upon for social and economic well-being.” Indeed, this is even a defense of colonialism (or at least where the defense comes from—and our cheap oil, cheap coffee, subsidized agribusiness etc etc).

    And even the Right is such a difficult term. A true conservative would never stand for standing armies in other lands, endless subsidies that decapitate the rights of small farmers, businesses etc, and certainly wouldn’t have stood for the bailout. That, it seems to me, ended up being a Bush/Obama combined effort of a Keynesian stimulus package, resulting in a massive hijacking of the average folk, and a test at how willing we are to be bamboozled. Why? Because the bamboozle, though real in a macro sense, is so abstract and intangible, and seemingly implausible, in the moment. A trillion what?

    In short, both the Dems and the Republicans (and all humans, I suppose, in varying degrees) are addicted to the State (when it serves us), their pensions, their pork barreling, their kickbacks, and the green hands of lobbyists, etc.

    Sue, you’re really onto something with the justice system—the self-serving ways of judges and the justice system can be downright frightening, let alone immoral, and the set up seems to allow for it to continue. My dad would have something to say here about the constant erosion of real trial by jury, and how vital that is to democracy and freedom. And he would make it clear that trial by jury is different than trial with jury (in other words a bias jury or a jury too influenced or overruled by the judge).

    And Krishna, your comment is instructive:

    I believe the US government basks in the glory of showing the criminals out there the punishments that it could dish out for social miscreants. It’s as if they are saying “just look what happens if you step outside the line!”

    By definition, that threat is a form of low-grade terrorism, for according to the military definition, even the threat of terrorism (the threat of unjust incarceration) is terrorism.

    What will the ideology, the movement—that group of sisters and brothers who finally cross these ignorant differences to see we’re in this together, most of us—be called? The movement that believes that the two most important things in the world are the individual, and the community, and finding the best way to maximize both, as a unified force of good? Maybe that’s a different planet.

    But then again, maybe not. Decreasing oil, a truly deeper awareness of diminishing resources, means of globalized communication, and so on, can also unleash great inspiration and forces for good. Who can say just what effect the amalgamation of forces at, say, the Copenhagen Summit, can have on the future, even hundreds of years away? Never stop believing in beauty, in love, in inspiration, in deeper thinking, in thoughtful comments.

    Pete xo

    Again, I am grateful and informed by your comments.

  5. [...] The following story reminds us, if we lack diligence and smart consumer choices (god help us), that the Banks will not be reformed, let alone changed. They will utterly collapse (if they do) before they are reformed. Actually, then they’d just be rebuilt. Speculative booms (busts notwithstanding), just like the War on Drugs (hypocrisy and unstoppable incarceration notwithstanding), have proved too profitable. Best friends like Noam Chomsky, William F Buckley, Carl Sagan and Milton Friedman utterly agree on this point. [...]

Leave a Reply