Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harsh sentencing crowds jails, doesn't make us safer

By Paschal Baute

Kentucky, with its harsh sentencing code, puts in jail and prison more than three times the average number of incarcerations in the seven surrounding states. Since 1975, the number of incarcerations in Kentucky increased by 6 1/2 times while the population increased by a mere 25 percent

State expenditures for prisons exploded from $7 million 30 years ago to more than $300 million today, an increase of more than 4,000 percent.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher has said our county budgets are "hemorrhaging" due to an increasing jail population. But his Blue Ribbon Commission on Sentencing died with the hiring scandal indictments.

According to the state auditor, 72 percent of our full-service county jails are overcrowded. Those jails also warehouse state and federal prisoners because the added revenue helps support county budgets.

This escalation of tax expense and jail warehousing space does not reduce crime; it is not designed to. In fact, the growth is out of control. Eighty percent of all offenders are drug- and alcohol-related, but practically no rehabilitation programs are available.

We have created a revolving cell door, with two prisoners out of three returning within three years -- returning once more to mere warehousing.

African-Americans make up 15 percent of drug users, but account for 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges, 59 percent of those convicted and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

Or consider this: America has 260,000 people in state prisons on non-violent drug charges; 183,200 (more than 70 percent) are black or Latino, according to a 2006 American Civil Liberties Union report.

Black men are seven times more likely to be incarcerated, with average jail sentences about 10 months longer than those of white men. Twelve percent of black men in their 20s are in our correctional system; that is about one-eighth of this age group, according to the latest figures from the National Urban League.

Since mandatory minimum sentencing first began for drug offenders, the Federal Bureau of Prisons' budget has increased by more than 2,100 percent: from $220 million in 1986 to about $4.4 billion in 2004. Because of mandatory minimum sentences, the number of drug offenders in federal prison grew from 25 percent of the total inmate population in 1981 to 60 percent in 2001. It is even larger now.

What is the outcome of Kentucky's tough-on-crime policies? So much warehousing is required that little money for rehabilitation is available. Therefore, serving time means an education in drug connections and dealing -- learning new ways to beat the system.

In the meantime, families are more broken, addictions are deeper and job skills more obsolete or lost entirely.

Our criminal justice system is not working. Our policies are criminalizing social problems of addiction and non-support. Our jails do not have room for the number of people being sent to them. Their staffs are often so overwhelmed that there is no room for needed programs even when offered.

We have created and are supporting stealth schools for drug dealing and addiction.

What is a remedy?

First of all, citizens need to wake up to what we are getting for our taxes. We are not getting the added safety and security that tough-on-crime advocates tout.

We propose creating a permanent independent oversight commission on sentencing, corrections and rehabilitation. Key players, such as Supreme Court judges, the attorney general, corrections director or their representatives would be included. But the commission must include a non-partisan citizens review panel for sustaining public advocacy and interest. We ask that the commission be chaired by distinguished legal scholars.

We challenge each candidate for governor and attorney general to announce his own proposals to address these critical issues. Many other changes are possible.

Paschal Baute of Lexington is a pastoral psychologist and chairman of Kentuckians Expecting Effective Justice.

© 2007 Kentucky.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kentucky.com

Sunday, June 03, 2007

June 3, 2007

Republicans aren't the only reason we have the inexplicable phenomenon of the George Bush presidency.

By Ed Martin

George Bush is the worst and most hated President in US history. I could write pages of purple adjectives from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, venality and villiany describing George Bush. You know them all. You've heard them all. The complete list of derogatory adjectives is wholly inadequate to describe George Bush.

We know that the Republicans, with the few exceptions who are afraid that Bush's exposure as a complete doofus will hurt their chances for re-election, still support Bush and are partly responsible for Bush being president. The other part of that responsibility is people you know and their ennui, boredom and lack of interest.

They come home from work, plop down on the couch, punch up the TV, punch up Domino's Delivers, switch off the brain, go into a catatonic stupor and stare at a glass and plastic box for the next four hours. The most important knowledge they possess is how to punch a few f-ing buttons.

Definition of catatonic schizophrenia from the DSM IV: unaware of surroundings, motoric immobility, catalepsy, stupor, mutism, rigid posture, resistant to be moved. Note that that is also the exact description of someone watching TV. You are what you do.

The only time these people come out of their lethargic stupor and show some signs of animation is while watching another inexplicable phenomenon called football. This is an event where two groups of very large men are willing to commit assault and battery on each other over a disagreement based on a delusion. The delusion is that it's vitally important which side of a line on the ground a footbell should be placed. There are a couple of remedies for this delusion. Give each man a football and let him place it on either side of a line on the ground until he sees that there is no effect. Or, take the football and throw it in the trash can, eliminating the reason for the disagreement.

The people who are so fascinated by this utterly pointless exercise in delusion go to vote with no idea who they're going to vote for until the look at the ballot. They then vote for the one who most closely matches the juvenile characteristics they've come to admire as shown on TV, which is aimed at the juvenile market. In the last two presidential elections, this has been George Bush. You remember when you were a kid playing let's pretend: OK, guys, I'm the cop and you're the robbers, or, I'm the cowboy and you're the Indians. Now, listen to Bush: I'm the President, I'm the decider, I'm the commander guy. See what I mean? A grown man still playing let's pretend.

The fact that you'e reading this is evidence that you're not among those people. They've never heard of OpEdNews. But, you know some of them. Go right now and double-slap them to get their attention and show them what they've done. Explain to them how they have unwittingly (not knowing, unaware, ignorant, oblivious, unconscious) helped bring about the malignancy on our country that is George Bush. Inform them that by merely paying attention, they can correct the great wrong that has been done and help us remove George Bush from the presidency.

Authors Bio: Ed Martin is an unindicted curmudgeon. He is not a Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, deist, atheist, or a member of any -ism.