A criminal justice reform bill that Gov. Mitch Daniels hoped would save more than $1 billion by reducing the number of people held in prison is headed to the Senate floor.
But the bill, approved 8-2 by a Senate committee Monday, has changed so much because of pressure from prosecutors that it's no longer clear whether it will save any money in the long term. [Indianapolis Star]
It should come as a surprise to no one that prosecutors -- who've worked tirelessly to create this problem -- would vigorously oppose any effort to fix it. Their livelihood revolves around the concept that it's good to have lots of people locked up, and that we're lucky to have these bankruptcy-inducing incarceration costs because if we didn't, it would mean all those bad people were still on the streets forcing us to buy drugs from them.
Still, it's generally getting easier for our political culture to agree in principle with the notion that we're keeping far too many people behind bars at far too great a cost. That much is obvious, but the path that brought us here has also resulted in a massive criminal justice infrastructure that's become self-aware and lobbies aggressively on its own behalf. Accordingly, we've now entered a bizarre debate in which almost everyone feigns agreement about what must be done, but they just aren't actually doing it.
Obama's federal drug control budget maintains a Bush-era disparity devoting nearly twice as many resources to punishment as it does for treatment and prevention, despite his saying less than three weeks ago that, “We have to think more about drugs as a public health problem," which requires "shifting resources." [LEAP]
It's a stark hypocrisy, made possible in part by the fact that Obama's rhetoric of reform inevitably rings louder in the press than the reality of boring budgetary figures. For all the progress that's been made towards popularizing the idea that our jails aren't the best place for many who currently reside there, it's impossible to carve out cost-savings without shrinking the output of the factory that our criminal justice system has become. This requires admitting that certain practices are harmful, or at least unnecessary, and ultimately eliminating jobs right and left within a powerful industry that will threaten the public with rape and murder if they don’t get their way.
For better or worse, real progress towards resolving this enormous mess will take place not because politicians and prison profiteers voluntarily admit the error of their ways. It will happen when there literally exists no other option. When the inevitability of ever-increasing, plainly unsustainable incarceration costs becomes simply unbearable, the alternative approaches to which we've paid considerable lip service over the years will finally be given a chance to deliver on their promise. That's what has to happen, and when it does, even the most self-interested scumbags in this debate will eventually be found claiming disingenuously that they supported reform all along.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 15, 2011
Hearing on Indiana Marijuana Study Bill Today
CONTACT: Morgan Fox, communications manager………………………(202) 905-2031 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — The first hearing on S.B. 192 took place today to discuss the need to study the marijuana laws in Indiana and find alternatives to arrest and incarceration. S.B. 192 would create a mandate requiring lawmakers to investigate other options to the marijuana laws that put non-violent Hoosiers behind bars and tie up scarce resources that the public would rather see spent on infrastructure. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Dist. 4).
“It has become painfully obvious that our current marijuana laws are not effective,” Sen. Tallian said. “We spend a sizable amount of money every year going after marijuana users and locking them up for a non-violent crime, while more important programs that desperately need funds go wanting. I think we need to take a very close look at the laws we have, determine what is working and what isn’t, and explore every possible alternative. This bill will make sure that we, as lawmakers, commit to this course.”
Over a dozen people testified at the hearings, including policy experts, former law enforcement officers, and medical marijuana patients that suffer from the threat of arrest under the present system. One speaker, C.J. Parker, said, “I am a Gulf War Era Veteran and former police officer who suffers from over 20 diagnosed illnesses, including PTSD, and have been 100% unemployable since 2004 due to the combined effects of my illnesses. I have had no success with the over 30 pharmaceutical medications that have been prescribed to me over the last 9 years, but have found great relief from treating my illnesses with marijuana. It is time my elected leaders take a look at how to allow people like me to live without the fear of arrest.”
A local leader in the marijuana reform community, Joh Padgett, said, “I have been a cannabis [marijuana] therapy patient for many years treating diabetic neuropathy, and pain associated with chronic venous stasis, edema, and a blood clotting disorder that has reduced circulation in my legs by 80%. I co-founded ReLegalize Indiana with our Chairman, Bill Levin, in January 2010 to give a voice to patients in Indiana like me who can benefit greatly from medical cannabis. Proper medical research is something we do well in Indiana and it is time we allowed our world-class researchers and our most vulnerable citizens to study and access a therapy allowed in 15 states and the District of Columbia.”
With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.
ACLU Witnesses Brutal Beating of Los Angeles County Jail Inmate Detained on a Non-Violent Marijuana Charge (Press Release)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 8, 2011
CONTACT: ACLU  Will Matthews, ACLU National at (212) 549-2582 or 2666; firstname.lastname@example.org  Sandra Hernandez, ACLU of Southern California at (213) 977-5252; email@example.com
ACLU Witnesses Brutal Beating Of Los Angeles County Jail Inmate By Sheriff’s Deputies
Attack Underscores Need For Systemic Reform And Decrease In Jail’s Population
LOS ANGELES - February 8 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) today condemned a recent brutal beating by two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of a detainee at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the county jail system.
The violent attack January 24 on James Parker, detained on a non-violent marijuana charge, was witnessed by ACLU/SC’s Esther Lim, who is assigned to monitor all county jails.
“We believe Mr. Parker’s beating is not an isolated incident,” said Hector Villagra, incoming Executive Director of the ACLU/SC. “Rather, it highlights the rampant violence that continues to plague the county’s jails, and demands court intervention to protect detainees from brutal attacks and retaliation. That the ACLU/SC monitor witnessed a brutal attack in plain sight is alarming and can only lead us to conclude detainees are subject to even greater cruelty when no one is looking.”
The beating was made public Monday in a sworn statement submitted in federal court by Lim, who watched through a glass window as deputies repeatedly punched, kneed and tasered Parker while he was lying motionless on the floor.
“Mr. Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching bag,” Lim says in her statement. “I thought he was knocked out, or perhaps even dead.”
Lim hit the glass divider hoping to get the deputies’ attention and stop the attack, but the officers continued to punch and taser Parker.
“Mr. Parker was not fighting with the deputies,” Lim says in her statement, adding he “was not trying to kick, hit or otherwise fight with the deputies.”
Yet deputies continued to order him to “stop resisting” and “stop fighting,” while simultaneously punching and kneeing his limp body repeatedly and tasering him multiple times.
The deputies then wrote in a jail log that Parker had been fighting and resisting, in complete contradiction to what the ACLU witnessed.
“This kind of brutal beating is unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “We are also very concerned that shortly after the beating the sheriff’s department issued a log report contradicting what witnesses, including our monitor, saw. The report claims Parker was resisting and fighting with deputies. That is blatantly false.”
Parker now faces charges for allegedly assaulting the very deputies who beat him.
Lim’s statement, along with that of another witness to the beating, was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to bolster a motion the ACLU filed in November seeking a federal court order prohibiting jail deputies from retaliating against prisoners through violence or threats.
The ACLU first sued Los Angeles County and its sheriff on behalf of all detainees in the county’s jail system in 1975, charging the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Many remedial orders have been issued over the years in the case, Rutherford v. Block. But the systemic problems plaguing the system have recently become so acute the ACLU in December asked U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson to order a new trial in the case based on “an escalating crisis of deputy violence, abuse and inmate suicides” at Men’s Central Jail, another of the system’s facilities. The ACLU contends the problems plaguing the jail system can only be fixed by finding alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment and community-based programs for the low-level, non-violent offenders and detainees with serious mental illnesses that comprise the vast majority of the system’s population, and seeks to prove the jail’s population can be safely, rapidly and radically reduced with existing resources and at great savings to county taxpayers.
A report released by the ACLU in September painted a stark picture of unacceptable levels of violence in the jails, including reports of deputies beating handcuffed detainees, injuring some so badly that they ended up in intensive care. The report also showed retaliation against inmates to be an acute problem. Several prisoners have been severely punished for meeting with representatives of the ACLU, which is the court-appointed monitor of conditions inside L.A.'s county jails.
“The reign of terror we’re uncovering in the Los Angeles County jails is unmatched by any of the hyper-violent prisons and jails across the country we have investigated,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The brutality there is so blatant and routine that the deputies carried out a vicious beating in full view of a court-appointed monitor. The court needs to take immediate action to ensure the protection of prisoners.”
A copy of the ACLU’s sworn statement, as well as that of the beating’s other witness, is available online at: