Justice reform is fiscally conservative

There’s a certain feeling on both the Right and the Left about the need to maintain “law and order.” It’s why the push to start the “War on Drugs” wasn’t just a construct of President Ronald Reagan, but also a construct of Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. The swing back towards a more fair system of justice started on the Right with Texas approving major justice reforms in 2007 and Georgia following suit in 2010. Democrats also discussed justice reform in this year’s presidential primary. However, there are still people on both sides of the aisle who believe the “War on Drugs” should keep going.

The latest volley in the fight against justice reform is by those who believe ending jail time for marijuana users would actually make communities less safe. Conservative commentator Mark Davis writes in The Dallas Morning News people who use pot should go to jail, and those who are against pot laws don’t know what they’re talking about.

Funny thing: among the oh, so clever voices calling for softening pot laws, almost none of them have to endure the ill effects of its widespread use in some communities and among some age groups.

What a bitter irony that some people who say they care about inner cities are flippant about facilitating a stoned society that makes those communities more dangerous. Their logical contortion that the laws themselves endanger society is either a hipster fantasy or a tired libertarian index card, neither one supported by residents in areas thick with pot haze or by the police officers who enforce those laws.

The voices lecturing us that we need to be more “sensible” about pot laws need to own the resulting damage they are ignoring among our nation’s children.

Davis claims people living in “areas thick with pot haze” think pot smokers should be punished. He also warns about the dangers of smoking pot, pointing out how Lady Gaga admitted in 2013 to being addicted to marijuana (and a host of other drugs) and had issues getting clean. There’s no doubt smoking anything multiple times a day can cause harm to the human body, but Davis thinks it isn’t smart to “follow the cool kids,” and go easy on marijuana users.

With all respect to Davis (who was a political mentor to me in my late teens and early 20’s), he’s wrong and it’s actually more fiscally conservative to focus on treatment versus time behind bars. The Texas Public Policy Foundation studied the issue last year and found it costs much less to do supervision and rehabilitative services versus incarceration in Texas.

Current state jail offenders cost the state about $42.90 per day. By comparison, supervision and rehabilitative services are much cheaper: community supervision costs $1.38 per person per day; substance-abuse outpatient treatment costs $5.30 per person per day; and the Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration Program costs $6.65 per person per day.56

The study also pointed out those who ended up in state jail were about 63% more likely to be re-arrested and almost 31% more likely to be back behind bars. On the other hand, those who received direct supervision saw only a 15% revocation rate and most of those weren’t for new crimes. It seems like putting people on hard probation works better than just locking them up, doesn’t it?

This is something Jenna Moll from U.S. Justice Action Network told a group of bloggers at FreedomWorks in June. She also suggested it was better to give incentives and sanctions to get offenders to change their behavior because it can help them think better and learn how to act in society. She advocated holding people more accountable for their actions by having them answer to probation officers, family members, etc. versus just tossing them behind bars and forgetting about them. This isn’t letting people out to run willy-nilly across the community, but making sure they show growth while still being able to have a life. It should also be noted Moll claimed it’s much easier to get drugs in prison than it is on the outside. If that’s the case, then it makes less sense to toss people in jail for having a joint.

Davis chalks up the push towards loosening marijuana laws to how adults just want to justify their own past rebellion against their parents.

We don’t want to admit that when we strayed from the teachings of our parents and the law, we were doing something wrong and stupid. Now we run the risk of telling every child that the pot objections we have had forever were just kind of silly…Behaviorally, we get less of what we keep illegal and more of what we allow. Let the pushers of weaker pot laws explain how the de-stigmatization of more intoxicants makes a better city or a better nation.

The defense is this: alcohol and tobacco are legal, and parents can still teach their children not to drink before they’re 21 and not to drink and drive. They can also discuss the dangers of smoking, and press their kids to be responsible. We’ve tried banning alcohol before and it failed miserably. Drugs are still banned, yet one in every four dollars the Justice Department spends goes to prisons. In an age where the national debt is over $19-trillion dollars, how is spending this much money actually fiscally conservative? The fact is it isn’t, and we need to do something about justice reform before the debt completely destroys the country.

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