By Carl J. Cieslikowski
We are in a seemingly insoluble budgetary crisis in California. A
significant part of this crisis results from the prosecution of the "War
on Drugs." One of every six state employees is now working in the
Department of Corrections. California has 185,750 state employees, and
30,800 work for Corrections. In 1990, the total number of full-time
criminal justice personnel in the entire state of California was
California is home to 25 prisons and 40 conservation camps. In the past
12 years we have constructed 18 new prisons with five additional prisons
planned for construction. In our misguided effort of constructing 18 new
prisons, we have taken money from libraries, schools, sports, prevention
and music programs. We simply cannot have it both ways. Taxpayers
should be outraged at the average expenditure of $22,000 a year to house
an inmate, while we wonder why basic children's services are being
A number of factors contributed to the building of the largest prison
system in the United States. Politicians believed they could further
their political careers by being "tough" on crime. So, a tidal wave of
punitive bills, signed by former Governor Deukmejian, burdened
California with the highest incarceration rate in the world! Now, we are
encumbered with huge bureaucracies and solidly entrenched industries
(DEI) who have built their own political machine to maintain their
vested interests at our expense. The proof of the atrocious political
result is best demonstrated in the outrageous growth in prison
population. In 1980 there were 23,726 inmates in prison. By 1992,
prison population skyrocketed to 102,554.
In 1990 there were 32,300 new law violators sent to state prison. Of
this number, 21% were for violent crimes, 34.5% were for property
crimes, 31.9% for drug law violations, and all others were 12.6%.
Offenders who crave expensive drugs indulge in crimes of violence and
property to sustain their habits. It is estimated that 75% of the
state's offenders are serving time for drug or drug related crimes.
There is even a highly structured and immensely profitable drug trade
within prisons. This industry not only perpetuates the existing user's
dependencies, but also introduces new converts to drugs and sabotages
the efforts of individuals who are making an honest attempt at remaining
free from illicit drugs. As long as the profit in illegal drugs remains
obscenely high, free enterprise will prevail and drug dealers will
continue to pollute every corner of our society.
There is hope we can avoid financial destruction through a realistic
Drug Reform Policy which is in contrast to an inflexible strategy that
is dragging our state into bankruptcy. We are feeding the voracious
appetite of both private and public industries who have selfish
interests in increasing the present bloated bureaucracy and status quo,
regardless of the dire consequences to our economy. We simply cannot
depend on private and public industries to provide us with a realistic
assessment of the value of their contribution to solving the drug
The appointment of more judges to fill newly constructed courtrooms is
big business. The building of new prisons is big business. The feeding,
clothing and maintaining of inmates is bug business. The exploding
number of new employees hired by the Department of Corrections is big
business. These factors and more contribute to an already large armada
of private and public agencies whose primary goal include keeping drugs
illegal to preserve profits, ensure job security and promotional
opportunities. Sadly, all this human effort is being wasted on
unproductive expenditures of public funds while our basic social
institutions are being devastated through financial starvation. We have
had ample opportunity to test the present methods of arrest,
prosecution,, incarceration and treatment. These practices have clearly
failed, compromised our liberties, placed our police officers in
dangerous situations, and created financial chaos.
Although politically unpopular to espouse, a viable solution to the
prison nightmare is the revision of our failed drug policies. As a
cornerstone of an effective policy - we must emphasis drug maintenance
for those already addicted because mandatory drug treatment does not
work. We must face reality and reject the hollow arguments of those
individuals whose jobs or profits depend on mandatory "drug
rehabilitation programs." Less than 10% of mandatory treatment works. We
must stress the cost effectiveness and the importance of education,
jobs, prevention, hope, encouragement and the value of achievement.
Contrast that with bearing the custodial expenses of the human tragedy
stemming from the lack of an investment in our people and their future.
We must admit the criminal model for drug offenders was a noble
experiment which has failed, not because our goals are flawed, but
because the policy is flawed. We must adopt a policy emphasising
decriminalization and regulation, yet admit any policy change is fraught
with difficulty. We must recognize our country has a health crisis and
adopt a model which is realistic, cost-effective and humane.
The reality of actual drug use in our country is obscured by an
exclusive emphasis upon "illicit" drugs which deludes us about the
damage done by "legal" drugs. The biggest drug dealers in this country
are not publicly recognized because the profits from the alcohol and
tobacco industries are used for campaign contributions and deceptive
advertising messages which hide their real effect on our population.
During Prohibition, when we tried to legislate alcohol intake behavior,
we instead created organizations which benefit from huge profits. Today,
we have created a similar situation wherein drug organizations have
affected the world our grandchildren will inherit. Now, we should
embark on a strategy against drug prohibition and strengthen education
which proved successful in reducing tobacco use in this country. The
fact is 600,000 Americans die per year from alcohol and tobacco use
compared with 10,000 from heroin and cocaine!
Our economy cannot survive with continued and misplaces priorities of
the present magnitude. However, done intelligently, rational and
compassionate drug policy reform would revitalize American society.
Adoption of a realistic drug policy will cause insurance rates to fall
because property crimes would be reduced. The reduction of property
crimes will result in substantial savings to the insurance industry and
the consumer. A portion of the savings could then be used to fund a
legitimate treatment/maintenance programs with no additional cost to the
taxpayer. Drug dealers would be forced to find other means of employment
because there would be no illegal profit in drugs. Jails would empty and
facilities could be leased to private industry. Drug related killings
would be eliminated and people would feel much safer in their
communities. Justice system hiring would freeze, prison construction
would terminate, and prosecutors could concentrate on crimes of
violence. Money would be available for basic infrastructure programs
such as education, libraries, sports, music programs, and for those
approaches which prevent social atrophy. California built 18 new prisons
and yet, we have not built a college in California for over 27 years!
In order to stop the "War on Drugs" from destroying our society, the
following realities should be considered:
We must -
* Realize legislating morality has been a destructive societal policy
and that drug use and abuse are medical problems.
* Admit we are in denial about the true drug issues and problems.
* Be logical and refrain from hysteria which has been generated by
politicians and hired advertising firms.
* Recognize the reasons the current drug policies have failed.
* Take the profit out of drugs by ending prohibition
* Admit "tougher" sentences have not proved successful
* Resist furthering political careers based on "public safety" rhetoric
* Admit mandatory rehabilitation programs for addicts have failed to
produce effective results
* Recognize any new drug policy will have imperfections. Progress will
require flexibility and the challenge of experimentation.
* Begin prosecuting more serious crimes rather than wasting tax dollars
on drug offenders who are clogging the courts
We must -
* Invest more heavily in educational and prevention programs in primary
* Provide legitimate, voluntary treatment programs and because
mandatory programs do not work, prohibit mandatory court commitments to
any state or federally funded drug rehabilitation programs.
* Expand drug maintenance programs
* Adopt a policy against drug prohibition and establish a solution
based on medical policy.
* Provide inexpensive and safely dispensed drugs
* Adopt a model which will allow experimental methods of administrating
a new drug policy.
* Encourage personal responsibility and levy financial and criminal
penalties upon parents whose minor children commit habitual crimes.
* Provide an independent systems analysis of the cost benefits of drug
Confusion among lawmakers as to what the public really wants and the
influence by prison industry and bureaucracy have resulted in a
disjointed and counterproductive drug policy. The public wants safe
streets and secure homes. However, our present drug policy has not
delivered safety. Instead, the failed policy has resulted in the
infringement of our liberties and the financial enslavement of our
children and their grandchildren. These undesired effects have occurred
because of our inappropriate and continued response to the demand for a
change in reality through use of chemicals. Chemical alteration of
reality will continue as long as human beings exist who have a void in
their life, seek escape from reality or choose to seek relaxation or
mood change. This reality will not be changed by either the courts or
Because of complacency, cynicism, political rhetoric, hysteria and lack
of information, we have been drawn into a disjointed and ineffective
drug policy. At every single level of government, our policymakers and
bureaucrats show more concern for the "vote" and "promotion" than
arriving at a drug policy which solves problems without bankrupting the
state. The state commissioned "Research and Advisory Panel" told former
Governor Deukmejian and Legislature, "Our 'War on Drugs' for the past 50
years has been based on the principle of prohibition and has been
manifestly unsuccessful in that we are now using more and a greater
variety of drugs, legal and illegal. The Research Advisory Panel
suggests to the Legislature that whatever we have been doing in the area
of drug abuse should be immediately modified."
This proposed drug policy change is directed at solving one of our major
problems - assault upon the taxpayers' pockets and our personal
liberties. Our misguided policies have resulted in social neglect by
wasting the funds necessary to prevent this national tragedy. Now is the
time for new leadership as we try a fresh approach to this problem. We
must rediscover common sense values and employ consistent, contemporary
methods to effectively address drug issues. We must be strong as we
challenge the entrenched bureaucracy and ask ourselves the real
question: have the present drug policies been effective? We must make it
clear we do not condone drug use, but we will help those addicted and
strive toward a healthier and more cost-efficient method of dealing with
We must recognize change in public policy is difficult. Meaningful
changes will only occur on a gradual, long-term basis as we strengthen
our values and ensure funds spent on those institutions which prevent
societal tragedies. We must be patient, be prepared for criticism, and
be prepared for rhetoric from every conceivable interest group.
Solutions of substance and not rhetoric, will require decision makers to
be creative, honest and especially courageous. Log-term systemic
changes are the answer. Quick-fix politically popular legislation has
been and will continue to be our problem.
We must be vigilant. Vested interests of both public and private
entities (DEI) who depend on "business as usual" will be relentless in
their quest to maintain their bureaucratic stranglehold on an
unsuspecting public who trust their political leaders to be visionary
while serving their interests. We must change our drug policy or we will
continue to bankrupt our society.
This article was published as a Guest Editorial in "Perspective", the
magazine of the American Probation and Parole Association, Fall 1992.
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