According to our local newspaper Adams County, Ohio issued 27 indictments related to a variety of drug related crimes. the indictments followed an 8 month investigation and reading through the charges most involved heroin, possession and/or trafficking.
Surprising to me, however, was that none of the 27 were arrested or incarcerated. The reason given by the county sheriff was lack of jail space. Adams County’s jail, which was built to house 38 inmates, is currently home to 55. Arresting these 27 would require farming them out to neighboring county jails at a cost of over $1,600 a day. According to the sheriff, “We can’t afford that.”
There’s nothing new about overburdened jails in America. The nation has the largest prison/jail system in the world and the world’s largest population of inmates. The cost to taxpayers is enormous and much of the problem stems from our drug laws, a failed war on drugs and get tough sentencing laws that abound.
What prompted this article was a morning headline about California, and its governor Jerry Brown, having freed 1,400 lifers during the past 3 years. Brown claims the paroles have nothing to do with overcrowding but that state’s prisons have been under fire for decades for such.
What I find interesting in all this is the need for policy review and public discussion. We need to seriously be talking about our drug laws, do we really want people in prison for use or possession of marijuana? Do we really want to continue the expensive and failed war on drugs? Should life in prison really mean life and if not, how long should life be? In the 1950s a life sentence in Ohio usually meant parole after serving 20 years. In today’s Ohio one source claims it requires a minimum of 30 years.
So, what do we do? Do we decriminalize marijuana? Do we do the same for other popular recreational drugs? Do we follow Portugal’s seemingly successful lead and decriminalize many drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin? All the statistics tell us the nation’s opinion about marijuana is rapidly changing, especially in those states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana. We’ve apparently been having that discussion and the public is increasingly voting in favor. But what about other recreational drugs, do we lock those 27 Adams County druggies up and continue footing the bill or do we begin looking for a more affordable, and possibly more successful, alternative? Let the debate begin.