Friday, February 29, 2008

Shabbat Ideas - February 29, 2008

It is Leap Day and also Shabbat so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for February 29, 2008:
Taking a leap of (basketball) faith: Muslim community stands up for Jewish HS b-ball champs
It is about time (from Mixed Multitudes)
The Daily e-Forverts
So we all are on the same page here…Torture is bad, right?
Obama on the Gays…perhaps now the rightwing will attack for something he actually said.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that 1 in 100 American adults are incarcerated. Ten percent of the men and women who should be active parts of society are in jail. The emotionally charged, statistic-laden headline forces many questions to forefront of a national conversation.

Clearly we are still the #1 country in the industrialized and modern world for per-capital captives, but where does these numbers come from. Pew, an organization that has a lot of great studies coming out in the last few days, explained that these numbers are so different because they use the number of adults in the US as the denominator as apposed to the entire population, as the Justice Department does…I would pad my numbers too if I was the Justice Department. But outside of the methodology differences, it seems that the reading of these numbers also comes down to political padding.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center feels as if “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.” But Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and University of Utah law prof, sites the face that violent crime rates are down by 25% in 20 years and points out that “one out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every 100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense.”

Now, we all know there is bias in the mandatory minimums delivered to drug charges and “simple drug possession convictions make up about 5% of the federal prison population and about 27% of the state prison population, according to the federal government’s own figures.” (Megan McArdle of The Atlantic Monthly via Tuccille’s Blog) While I can’t do the math without the exact figures it is fair to say that a statistically significant portion of the 10% of incarcerated Americans are serving time for non-violent drug charges.

Does shooting up, snorting or smoking constitute a serious criminal offense? Does selling drugs—a crime that should be punished—really necessitate a 15 to life punishment? The answer is no. The drug problem in this country will not be solved with the clank of cage, but with the healing of rehabilitation.

A major aspect of incarceration is rehabilitation, however it is often overlooked by US prisons and rent-a-prisons looking to save a few bucks. Addiction is an illness that must be treated. Could you even imagine the outrage if we put all the people with some sort of STI or STD in jail for possibly endangering the lives of others? Fine them, mandate treatment, but incarceration for engaging in sexual activities is unconstitutional. There is an argument that drug use is the same.

Let me be clear: I am not calling for the legalization of drugs. I am calling for the de-criminalization of drug use. We have laws to protect lives and property. (ok perhaps some values too.) With so many people in jail, perhaps it is time to look at the problem we are creating by solving another.

Shabbat Shalom

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