Idaho's Weekly Journal of Local & National Commentary Week 2815


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by Free Market Duck

U.S. Prison Population Soars, Toothbrush Industrial Complex Prospers

   “C’mon and do the jailhouse rock with me, let’s rock.”  Elvis Presley.  Jailhouse Rock, 1957.  Prison population:  213,000 (1960).  U.S. population:  181 million.

   In 1980, twenty years later, 330,000 inmates in America were singing the same tune.  U.S. population:  227 million.

   Twenty years after that, in 2002, the number of jailhouse rockers hit a whopping two million inmates.  U.S. population:  285 million.

   What’s going on here, Robin Hood?  That’s an incarceration rate of increase -- in physics we call it acceleration -- of 1,156 percent per year, or an increase of 44,675 inmates per year over the last 40 years.

   But that’s not all.  Get this, Scar Face.  An additional 4 million jailhouse rockers are on parole-bation.  At this rate, the entire population of the United States is slated to be locked up by the year 2065.

   The U.S. imprisons 6 to 10 times as many individuals per capita than most other civilized countries in the world.  Sentences are 2 to 3 times longer.  Why?  Do we have a different definition of criminal than the rest of the world?  Hold on to your wallets, taxpayers.  I smell big money nearby.

   The cost of building and operating all prisons in the U.S. rose from $7 billion per year in 1980 to more than $40 billion per year in 2002.  The average cost to house a nonviolent inmate ranges from $20,000 per year to about $40,000 per year.  In recent stats from the Bureau of Justice, every state in America shows a dramatic increase in incarceration rates and costs.  From Hawaii to Maine, North Dakota to Florida, the national pastime seems to be:  lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

   According to the stats, even Boise, Idaho hit the prison pop charts at #5 in the nation.  Boise, Idaho?  A 1,550 percent prison population increase for the Pernicious Pilferers of the Purple Sage?  Yep.  Hold on to your purses ladies, I smell big money nearby.

   Who’s paying for all this?  No surprise.  You are.  The taxpayer.  $40 billion per year and rising.

   Who’s going to prison and why?  The huge increase in incarceration rates can be attributed to several main reasons.  First, victimless crimes, nonviolent crimes, drug prohibition.  Second, transfer of discretionary power from judges to Let’s-Make-A-Deal prosecuting attorneys.  Third, the Judge Judy Syndrome as evidenced by our current TV culture.  Fourth, the real culprit:  the Toothbrush Industrial Complex.

   First, the U.S. is currently living in the prohibition era of the 1920s.  The current war is against recreational drugs, not alcohol.  Nonviolent, victimless crimes constitute up to 50% of the offenders who are now in prison.  What was their crime?  The equivalent of drinking, possessing, or selling a bottle of beer.

   Which brings us to the second reason:  if convicted, the sentence can be mandatory 15 years to life.  No discretion by the judge.  His hands are tied by the current laws.

   In fact, if we applied the current drug laws to alcohol, practically the entire U.S. population would have to be locked up for popping open a Budweiser during the Super Bowl every year.

   The increasing prison population boom shows that big time drug warlords and violent criminals are not being locked up, the crime rate in America has not gone down, the amount of drugs in the U.S. has not decreased, and America’s war on drugs is a failure.

   Third, current U.S. culture is caught up in the Judge Judy Syndrome.  Americans are mesmerized by TV crime, TV forensic investigations, TV cop shows, court TV, the CIA, The Supreme Court, and all the legal maneuvers in the West Wing of the White House.  Law and order.  While the American public plays Court TV, they seem to be oblivious to their own individual rights slowly slipping away.

   How many more statistics do we need?  Why do we continue pretending?  Why do we continue spending billions of dollars per year building more and more prisons, locking up people for essentially possessing a bottle of beer?

   The answer is simple:  because the main reason for the current prison population boom has nothing to do with crime.  The main reason is to perpetuate the Toothbrush Industrial Complex.  That’s right.  $40 billion.  The Toothbrush Industrial Complex.

   Toothbrushes are big business for prisons.  So is toothpaste.  We’re talking billions of dollars here.  Don’t forget security shaving kits.  How about beds, mattresses, blankets, food, clothing, building materials, and all affiliated industry including building contractors, architects, doctors, shrinks, prison guards, dogs, doggie bon-bons, prison buses, ball and chains, guns and bullets.  And don’t forget the teachers to “correct” the inmates’ behavior by running them through a maze of ridiculous Prison Lollipop Programs, oftentimes over and over, denying parole to nonviolent offenders in order to receive maximum dollars per headcount and provide bureaucratic justification for building more and more prisons.  Wow.  Billions of dollars for administration and building.  Sounds a lot like the public school system.

   In fact, it looks like the Toothbrush Industrial Complex is replacing America’s Public Education System, America’s Jobs Programs, America’s Welfare Program, and Harvard Law School as inmates peruse their Prison Law Libraries to write legal briefs rivaling those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

   What do the booming prison population figures really show?  The taxpayers are losing their individual rights.  Those rights have been replaced by what the 19th Century French philosopher Alexis de Toqueville warned the fledgling American republic:  the “tyranny of the majority.”

   Taxpayers beware.  The philosophy used to incarcerate your neighbor will be the same philosophy used to incarcerate YOU.  That is the real danger that the stats for the prison population explosion reveals.  When the law becomes ridiculous, you may be next.

   How does it happen?  You vote no on your neighbor’s victimless choice of smokes.  He votes no on your victimless choice of books.  You vote no on your neighbor’s victimless choice of movies.  She votes no on your victimless choice of alcohol.

   And so it goes until everybody votes away all their individual rights in a Democratic Majority Pilfer while the real crooks take over the country on political platforms promising to protect you from the criminals you created and have now become.

   If America’s Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was alive today, he would note two facts:  one, the Toothbrush Industrial Complex is Big Bucks, and two, the U.S. Bill of Rights has been flushed halfway down an overpriced prison toilet.

   Welcome to Alcatraz, USA.

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