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Wicker Tom - 26 dicembre 1989
Czar Vs. Intellectuals
by Tom Wicker

ABSTRACT: The consequences of the "Drug War" on the criminal justice system in USA.

(The New York Times, Tuesday, December 26, 1989)

In denouncing those who favor "legalization" of drugs, William Bennett also ripped into "intellectuals", particularly "liberal intellectuals," for criticizing his law-enforcement approach to the so-called "war on drugs".

The opposition of these intellectuals, the Bush Administration's blustery drug czar wrote in the Washington Times, was "partly rooted in a general hostility to law enforcement and criminal justice."

What nonsense. No one is against law enforcement except criminals, and even Mr. Bennett does not yet accuse "intellectuals" of being criminals. In fact, few are doing more to cripple the criminal justice system than the drug czar himself, with a program focused narrowly on imprisoning drug users, producers, sellers, possessors - "kingpins" and street addicts alike.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to Mr. Fulwood chief of police in Washington, where Mr. Bennett promises a special effort: "Bennett's approach is absolutely wrong...Don't send me more [police] ... Make sure that we've got a treatment bed for every person that needs a treatment bed."

Chief Fulwood added in an interview with the Washington Post: "Let's start educating our kids at pre-kindergarten with a massive educational program about substance abuse."

Mr. Bennett is fixed instead on imprisoning people, an approach Chief Fulwood said was "missing the boat." He knows his police arrested 42,000 people in Washington in 1988 with little effect on the crime rate or the drug problem.

Or consider North Carolina, where in 1987 the General Assembly - to avoid Federal court sanctions - imposed a "cap" of 17,460 inmates in state prisons. When the cap is exceeded for 15 consecutive days inmates must be released to reduce the prison population.

The cap coincided with the nation-wide rise in drug-related imprisonment. One result, as reported by the Charlotte Observer on Dec.11 :Through November, the North Carolina parole commission had released nearly 17,000 inmates as compared with only 7,983 in 1983. In 1988, moreover, 18.3 percent of those released violated parole, against only 9.9 percent in 1986.

Drug offenders are a major part of the problem - but are getting off lighter. Drug felons had served 43 percent of their sentences before parole in 1985; this year, drug felons are being released after serving an average of only 31 percent of their sentences.


Build more prisons? North Carolina allotted $ 150 million for that purpose earlier this year; but The Observer reported that that will provide only the constitutionally required additional space for the current prison population.

Nor is this the only one state's problem. By the estimate of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the war on drugs will "overwhelm" the states' prison systems within five years, driving an average annual 13 percent growth rate in prison populations, resulting in an estimated additional 460,000 inmates - for a total of 1.13 million - by 1994. At an average annual operating cost of $ 25.000 per inmate per year, and a construction cost of $ 50,000 per cell, the states will need $ 35 billion for prisons in the next half-decade.

President Bush and Mr. Bennett have called on the states to put up $ 5 billion to $ 10 billion for building new prisons. They badly underestimated the real cost their war will impose on the states - and made no offer to provide any of the money.

As in North Carolina, the war on drugs not only increases prison populations; it also runs up the rate of parole violations. From 1970 to 1986, drug sales and possession caused about 10 percent of state prison admissions. In most states, the N.C.C.D. found, arrests in such cases now represents 20 to 35 percent of prison sentences,; in Florida, for example, imprisonment for drug crimes rose from 15 percent of the total in 1985 to 35 percent at the end of 1988.

From 1977 to 1987, moreover, Department of Justice data indicate a 38.4 percent increase in the number of parole violators returned to prison. About one of every three people now admitted to a state prison,. the N.C.C.D. estimates, is a parole violator.

Mr. Bennett is not responsible for these past increases. But well it might be asked who really threatens effective criminal justice in America - unnamed intellectuals who question the efficacy of imprisoning so many drug offenders, or a so-called drug czar whose short-sighted war will further overcrowd and overwhelm state prisons?

Argomenti correlati:
Bennet William
The New York Times
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