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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 146,157.

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 gutted.

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 problem.

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

Specific Recommendations:

We must -
* Invest more heavily in educational and prevention programs in primary schools.
* 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 decriminalization.


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 legislature.

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 our citizens.

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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