Arkansas is about to make a costly mistake. Its citizens seem willing to spend $100 million to build a new prison. For whom are they building that prison? A high percentage of the prisoners will be young black male nonviolent drug offenders. Black males now have a 30 percent chance of going to prison. Is there anyone who thinks the new prison will end drug abuse in Arkansas? Has anyone thought of the consequences of incarcerating so many young drug offenders? $100 million is an unthinkable amount. However, that is the direct cost. Considerably more than $100 million will be spent to keep people in prison for years. The average cost for one year is around $30,000. The taxpayer never stops paying for a prison.
What happens when inmates leave prison? A more important question is what happens to these young people inside the prison? They learn to be criminals. When they come out they have no credit, no job and they cannot vote. At most, they might be able to get a minimum-wage job. With the misery inherent for an adult trying to live on minimum wage or, more likely, unable to get a job what is the possibility they will use the criminal skills learned in prison to survive? When ex-prisoners get to retirement age, they might get a minimum Social Security payment and certainly no retirement plan money. There is no end to their misery.
Our taxes create better criminals. When released and unable to survive under impossible conditions, many end up back in prison. In 2010, almost half the released prisoners were returned to prison. Instead of spending $100 million on a prison, we use money to rehabilitate nonviolent drug offenders. Once rehabilitated, we should help them get jobs with livable wages. For the small number (about 1.3 percent) unable to be rehabilitated, we should provide safe, affordable housing and some means to earn as much of their support as they are able to do. In simple terms, provide hope instead of depressive hopelessness.
Look at Colorado and Washington. They legalized marijuana. The police no longer chase after marijuana crimes. They now have time to investigate murder, rape, robbery and property crimes. Decriminalized drug states make millions from taxation of marijuana. The drug is controlled and regulated by the state. All the illegal activity surrounding marijuana went away with legalization. The citizens of Colorado and Washington benefit from marijuana instead of spending excessive amounts of money fighting a war against the plant that cannot be won.
Rather than build new prisons, Arkansas should follow the lead of Colorado and Washington. The governor should appoint a group of legislators to construct an amendment to legalize marijuana. We have the successful amendments of Colorado and Washington as models. As soon as the amendment is written and approved, it should be brought to the public for a vote. Further, the governor should free every nonviolent drug offender in prison covered by the amendment. Doing this would provide prison space and make building another prison unnecessary.
Arkansas should follow the results of decriminalized marijuana closely so that they can make a wise decision on decriminalizing other drugs. There should be many public discussions about regulation and control of drugs. That is to be expected. Eventually, we could be in the position of regulating and controlling all drug sales. The drug cartels, criminals and gangs will no longer control the production and selling of drugs. Besides eliminating the criminal element, government control of drugs will make them safe for the user. The state will benefit from taxation of drugs.
Ending prohibition of drugs is not a panacea. Drug problems will continue. We should fight drug addiction, just as we have fought tobacco addiction with sane regulations, good education, taxation, age restrictions, limits on usage, and clinics to help the addicted. Decriminalization will put the afflicted into the position of controlling their addiction rather than risking imprisonment to get their next high. Decriminalization cripples the cartels and gangs, reduces street crime, and that makes Arkansas a safer, more enjoyable place to live.
Social Security's future
Most Arkansans I have talked to believe their grandchildren will receive little or no Social Security in the future. This is puzzling because just 14 years ago, Social Security was in its heyday. Our federal government had a budget surplus and so did Social Security. Did George W. Bush spend all that surplus and more?
Arkansans today are probably correct. Social Security may not be available in the future, mainly because most Arkansas politicians today are fundamentally opposed to socialistic government programs, and Social Security is the great white whale of government socialism in America.
As Arkansans have resisted Obamacare, our state could also reject Social Security. Conceivably, if our right-wing legislators could prohibit all Arkansas banks from processing Social Security payments, leaving such processes to the federal bank and outside state banks that allowed government socialism. Of course, this would ruin the Natural State's economy and send hordes of Arkansans clamoring to other states, but this would be a glorious victory against government socialism. This would be just one of the great sacrifices Arkansans would need to make in order to save our grandchildren from socialism.
Remember when George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security? Today's crop of Arkansas politicians think like Bush. They are fundamentally against the principles behind Social Security and may continue to strive to make Social Security un-socialistic and insecure.