Readers Respond

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jail's full, but does it really need to be?

To The Editor,

Fats asked me the other day if I am against building a new jail, what with the old one filled to capacity and all. I had to think about that one. On one side, we, as a society need to be able to keep people locked up that are a true threat to society. But on the other side, that means that "society" must have logical and coherent guidelines to ensure that the ones we think are a threat are really a threat, to society and all. That begs the question as to just when, and how, and why some things are though of as threatening...

So I told him that yes, I am against the building of a new jail, since they (I define "they" as the amorphous group of people that are in charge of making these decisions in the first place, whoever they may be - the Board of Supervisors listening to supposed "experts" who opine that a new jail in necessary, probably merely based upon the stated capacity of the resent jail and the success with which various law enforcement bodies have been recently in interdicting smelly substances coming out from under apartment doors based upon some inexpert tenant's failure to use his or her own "expert" knowledge that burning some substance might cause odors to waft out from under apartment doors in the first place.

There is an alternative to merely building a new jail in the first place, which you may finally surmise, is the subject of today's diatribe.

You see locking up greater and greater numbers of people in confined quarters in a so-called "jail" in the first place is something that is usually associated with lower forms of society -the ancient Greeks would have called ups "barbarians" based upon some of the criteria that we have relegated to certain jail-able offenses. Closer to our own shores, like right next door, in the "Land of Lincoln", for instance, a man named Lincoln was was of the opinion that when we prohibit the ordinary, we make criminals of the common man. I believe, at that time, he was railing against some growing intolerance for alcohol consumption in many quarters, and in his own wisdom, was forecasting the tremendous damage that the era called "prohibition" did to the sense of society in our nation - the notion was that people stopped taking seriously other laws, since they saw abuse, violence, privilege and police brutality take over where civility had been the norm.

The good old U.S. of A. started what was declared by Nixon in 1970 as the "war against drugs". Now we incarcerated the largest segment of any population in history in jails just like the one in Storm Lake that is at capacity, precisely because we incarcerate people for possession of "illegal drugs" which are any drugs, legal or not that land in the hands of people that don't have prescriptions for same.

These people, for whatever reason that they handle such drugs, are incarcerated

based upon somebody's decision that we should prohibit possession (etc.) of things that once were considered commonplace - I'm talking about marijuana, hemp, ganja, weed, ditch, you name it...

Well, the big problem which is the subject of today's diatribe is the incarceration burden that this one substance might be adding to our own, Storm Lake's own BV county jail. You see, from this writer's own research into the subject there is nothing wrong with even "chronic" or "serious" usage of this substance (historically know in the pharmacopoeia as "Cannabis", other than that some people that have now died a long time ago thought otherwise-and-ram-rodded through the first prohibition laws against what "society" thought were "drugs" being brought into our nation by Mexican immigrants...

Forget the fact that every large, supposedly unbiased national study to consider the matter-since the New York "LaGuardia" study (in the 30's no less) have all suggested that this stuff should not be criminalized-First the Shafer study (totally disregarded by Mixion-the same one that coined and minted the "Drug War") and followed in 1999 with the Institute of Medicine Study-and that Marijuana/Cannabis (whatever) does have valid medicinal usages and should be further studied to help patients debilitated with pain and other inflammatory disease (etc.)

We are eroding the public's confidence in the legal system and causing a further erosion of respect for otherwise "worthy crimes". And we are packing our jailhouse to capacity and forcing apparently reasonable leaders to consider the necessity of building a bigger jail.

I think this is a travesty. Before we enlarge an already bloated prison population-we should - like more enlightened societies - consider alternatives to incarceration, like Chicago used to call the Cook County States Attorney's drug School Diversion Program - produced by the prosecution attorney's office, no less, and signed to divert criminal cases so that a school program keeps kids from having a criminal record- and reducing jail incarceration nicely and reducing "recidivism" (repeat offenders) substantially.

I've spoke numerous times with representatives of that programs they would be happy to help ANY COUNTY set up a similar program (and if they won't leave the Land of Lincoln to help us here out tin the corn-field I volunteer to get the vital information and help you people set one up here myself). If for no other reason, so that we can use the county budget more creatively than merely buying more prison beds for non-violent possessors of that herb. I am merely an outside agitator and albeit you people seem to need to have a fresh voice pipe up once in a while to avoid just going about your lives, incarcerating more and more people and building more and more jails - without ever wondering if there is a better way to build a mouse-trap... So Fats - I am against building a new jail right now especially if building a new jail means that people in charge will then tell me thee is no money for a drug school diversion program - we spent it all on a new jail and we had to hire new jailers instead-capish?

- Paul Peterson, Storm Lake