According to Sam and Jim Commenting on things that irk us off, make us laugh out loud or just seem too weird too believe According to Sam and Jim: We're throwing too many people in the slammer. It costs us too much $

Friday, May 27, 2011

We're throwing too many people in the slammer. It costs us too much $

Sam and I were enjoying a hamburger and a milkshake at Big Tom's in Olympia at lunchtime, when I came across an article in the newspaper about the Supreme Court ordering California to reduce its prison populations. I suddenly remembered the words of Jack Lord in Hawaii Five-O – “Book ‘em Dano.”

Similar words are repeated hundreds of times a day in the United States.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, American prisons and jails held 2,292,133 inmates at the end of 2009.

California alone has 33 prisons (THIRTY THREE!) housing 147,000 inmates (give or take a few), which means there are more than 4,000 inmates in each institution. Of course, with a population pushing 38 million, the whole state of California could be considered a prison of sorts. Maybe they should just erect a razor-wire fence around the state and be done with it (a fence hasn’t worked for Arizona though).
Washington State with a mere 6.7 million people has a dozen prisons and approximately 16,322 bad guys doing time.

If you’ve never been inside a jail, the lockup, the hoosegow, the slammer, whatever, I can personally testify that they are not nice places (nor should they be).  During the 8 years that I was a California police officer, (in one of my other lives) two particular memories of jails not being nice places come to mind.

One time I hauled a drunk driver to the Alameda County Jail in Oakland. When we entered the place it reeked. You have not lived until your olfactory senses been assaulted by the smell of a wino’s diarrhea. OMG!  I have to believe that the trusty, who cleaned the mess up never, ever violated the law again.
Another time I booked someone into the county jail at Santa Rita just a stone’s throw from Pleasanton. While my bad guy was being processed I read a prison logbook that listed all the times inmates had earned extended stays because they violated prison rules.

Being in jail means you are not free to violate rules, you are not free to go to Big Tom’s and buy a burger and a shake, you can’t take your dog for a walk in the park, you cannot pass GO (oh never mind). But as Georgetown professor of law David Cole points out in the January 2010 Faculty Publications, the freedom we think we have to do what we want to in this country may play a large part in our undoing.

Of course, we good citizens also are trying to outlaw all those freedoms that lead to crime.  In recent decades the U.S. has experienced an incredible surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandatory sentencing that came about during the war on drugs. Then there’s your three-strikes-you’re-out rule and the crackdown on domestic violence, sexual predators, illegal aliens . . .  
It is reported to cost between $20,000 and $40,000 per inmate to run a prison these days; at $30,000 that’s a whopping $4.4 billion in California, nearly $500 million in Washington. If we keep locking so many people up we're going to go broker (broker?).
Sam and I say three bags of poop on all this prison stuff. We’re going to go for a walk while we still have our freedom and get a nice latte. 

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