The “War on Drugs”, three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentencing created a massive prison population explosion. Not with dangerous and violent criminals, but with mainly low level non-violent drug offenders.
Public prison populations rose 700% and private prison populations rose 1600% in the past 20-25 years of the “War on Drugs” as a direct result of these policies.
As state and federal facilities became grossly overcrowded, private prisons began receiving lucrative contracts from the states to house as many prisoners as possible called “warehousing”.
These policies were supposed to stop the flow of illegal drugs coming into the United States and curb drug use among its citizens. It didn’t.
Under these laws, a microscopic quantity of illegal drugs could trigger a 10 year sentence or more which in effect, guarantees a private prison revenue for the next 10 years! This strategy offers little if anything to solve the problem of illegal drug use or availability.
Although non profits and other organizations offer drug treatment services, employment services and other avenues to help this population get back on their feet, they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people that need their help as they can only reach so many people.
So the majority of this population goes without employment, separated from kids and family, under educated (many do not have a high school diploma) most have substance abuse issues and/or mental problems that require regular treatment.
With very few alternatives to climb out of these circumstances, most will return to prison within 3 years.
ALEC TURNS 40 BUT WHO'S BEHIND IT?
“Model legislation” for “get tough on crime” laws were written by a conservative membership organization called ALEC. Formed in 1973, ALEC’s membership consists of legislators and private sector corporations.
They write “model bills” that serve conservative interest and lobby hard for those bills to become law.
Lobbyists pressured lawmakers for the passage of three strikes laws, mandatory sentencing and tougher drug law legislation that in the name of public safety, ensured a steady flow of inmates into private facilities. Alec also wrote the model bills for stand your ground and the current voter ID laws among many others.
There are entire communities devastated in this country because of these policies. Millions of people trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and recidivism. There are cases where 2 or even 3 generations are in prison at the same time. Father & son, mother & daughter or grandfather, father, son.
This cycle is repeated over and over and the numbers keep growing. Conservative estimates place 50 -60 million people trapped in this revolving door of poverty and recidivism. So why are so many minority low level non violent drug offenders being incarcerated?
Why do we spend billions in a system that does not deter people from using illegal drugs, does not offer much help for treatment and alternatives and then traps people in a class of poverty and recidivism? This system clearly is not working and has not worked for the past 40 years? So why has such a bad system lasted for so long?
Because of the tremendous increase in the number of individuals incarcerated for low-level, non-violent drug infractions, the public defenders’ office in most states handle case loads 3-5 times the recommended amount for efficiency and effectiveness.
In some cases a defendant may see his public defender 15 minutes before they go before the judge. Since they are paid the same whether the case goes to trial or not, “pleading out” has become the norm instead of proof of guilt or innocence.
It takes much less time and the public defender can make more money “shuffling cases” through the system.
So in essence, tough on crime legislation such as 3 strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentencing and the “War on Drugs” succeeded in dramatically overcrowding the prison system with low level non violent drug offenders. These policies did not stop or deter drug use or availability.
This strategy also provided the private prison industry a steady stream of “customers” as the number of private prisons started to rise about the same time and shortly after passage of this legislation. During the 1990s’, the state of Texas built 1 university and 77 prisons. With a recidivism rate as high as 50% in some areas and very little chance of employment or a pathway out of poverty, the private prisons continue to profit over and over on many of the same people.40-50 million people are trapped in this vicious cycle of poverty and recidivism.