Follow the Money

money - follow the money

money – follow the money

Eight years as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc. in Minneapolis confirmed this perspective by Fareed Zakaria.

Money spent on Prisons is rising 6 times the rate spent on higher education  By Fareed Zakaria,  March 25, 2012.

“Televangelist Pat Robertson recently made a gaffe. A gaffe, as journalist Michael Kinsley defined it, occurs when a political figure accidentally tells the truth.

“Robertson’s truth is that America’s drug war has failed and that the country should legalize legalize marijuana. This view goes against the  deepest political, moral and religious positions Robertson has held for decades, so imagine the blinding evidence that he has had to confront-and  that has been mounting for years-on this topic.

“Robertson drew attention to one of the great scandals of American life.
“Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a
fundamental fact of our country today,” writes the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik.
“Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in
America-more than 6 million-than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin
at its height.”

“Is this hyperbole? Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per
100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed
countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany
has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britian – with a rate among
the-highest – has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for
their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners
per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As Robertson pointed out on his TV
show, The 700 Club, “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population
but we make up 25% of the [world’s] jailed prisoners.”

“There is a temptation to look at this staggering difference in numbers and
chalk it up to one more aspect of American exceptionalism. America is
different, so the view goes, and it has always had a Wild West culture and a
tough legal system. But the facts don’t support the conventional wisdom.
This wide gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is relatively
recent. In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000
adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in
the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.

“That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from
15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold
increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on
drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on
drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4
of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

“Over the past four decades, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion
fighting the war on drugs. The results? In 2011 a global commission on drug
policy issued a report signed by George Shultz, Secretary of State under
Ronald Reagan; the – archconservative Peruvian writer-politician Mario Vargas
Llosa; former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker; and former Presidents of Brazil and
Mexico Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo. It begins, “The global
war on drugs has failed … Vast expenditures on criminalization and
repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of
illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or
consumption.” Its main recommendation is to “encourage experimentation by
governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power
of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”

“Bipartisan forces have created the trend that we see. Conservatives and
liberals love to sound tough on crime, and both sides agreed in the 1990s to
a wide range of new federal infractions, many of them carrying mandatory
sentences for time in state or federal prison. And as always in American
politics, there is the money trail. Many state prisons are now run by
private companies that have powerful lobbyists in state capitals. These
firms can create jobs in places where steady work is rare; in many states,
they have also helped create a conveyor belt of cash for prisons from
treasuries to outlying counties.

“Partly as a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six
times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. In
2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. $5.7 billion on the UC
system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built one college
campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a
prisoner costs it $45,006 a year.

“The results are gruesome at every level. We are creating a vast prisoner
under-class in this country at huge expense, increasingly unable to function
in normal society, all in the name of a war we have already lost. If Pat
Robertson can admit he was wrong, surely it is not too much to ask the same
of America’s political leaders.”

– appeared on-line,

6 thoughts on “Follow the Money

  1. What spectacular statistics. Thank you for posting that. I am amazed that he admitted that about the war on drugs. It is really remarkable. Also very interesting about the prisons. I know people who just say we are finally locking up the prisoners that have been wandering around causing problems all this time. And that we need to keep fighting because if drugs are made legal everyone is just going to go and get high. It is such a shame that people are so unsympathetic to others, and that corporations, like prisons, are allowed to make money off of a very sad portion of society, without fixing the problem. Jails are actually becoming part of the problem. You are right: I never thought of it before but we are creating a jail underclass. Very interesting concept. And those numbers do not lie.


    • What has been happening is tragic, and the greater responsibility for the drug traffic lies not with the dealer on the street but with white-collar wheelers-and-dealers in high rise corner offices. The guys on the street act like kings, but they’re pawns; the kings and king-makers live in other neighborhoods, in the safe gated communities. The pushers and the pimps drive Cadillacs and Chrysler 300s with the darkened windows rolled down just enough that people in the neighborhod know they’re there. The kings and king-makers drive Audis and Mercedes with undarkened windows with the windows rolled up and no music blaring. They draw no attention to themselves. Those are the prison-builders and prison-management company folks who look respectable, give to charity, belong to the Rotary and the country club. You’d never know. But the difference between the one world and the other is class and race. One holds the keys to the prison cell. The other lives inside.


  2. Briefly, ’cause don’t get me started, I believe a huge factor beyond the love of punishing and finding reasons to punish, is the privatization of prisons; — prisons themselves — there are beds to fill; food service monopolies — let’s keep prisoners in, ’cause the food service gets paid more, and the cheaper the food, the more the profit; phone service — a monopoly, like food service. The prisoners themselves know this. Non-violent folks whose lives are ever challenged, nay destroyed, by the “felon” label, believe they are kept close to full sentence without parole, expecting they will give up on life, do more crime, fill more beds, and make more profit for the monopolies. I tend to believe they are right. Bitter? Yes. The data show the curve on imprisonment going up when privatization began. Like an Inn. When one invests in beds, one must fill them. Do I sound bitter? This is a bitter blot on our society. Sorry. Not so brief after all.


    • I think there are times when outrage is the only appropriate response. You’ve said it well. Bitter? Antry? Dismayed? Yes. Your work as an advocate for Restoraive Practices and for prison reform are lights that shine. Thanks for sharing. Everything you have said is supported by hard data and by experience with those currently imprisoned and those who face a stiff wind upon release. They don’t catch a break, and someone else is collecting.


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