Greene County, MO – The epidemic of mass incarceration is coming back to bite authorities in one American city. Because the Greene County jail is completely full, Springfield (pop. 165,000) is unable to arrest more than 12,000 people accused of crimes such as traffic infractions and misdemeanor assaults.
Missouri’s third-largest city has lost almost half a million dollars in less than a year from unpaid fines and fees. These lost extortion fees are likely the biggest concern to city officials.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said offenders are thumbing their noses at police.Springfield’s citizens are taking advantage of the problem. One judge said that 82 people were supposed to appear in court under a docket of cases, but only eight bothered to show up.
“They’re tearing tickets up in front of people,” Williams said. “Officers are frustrated because they can’t arrest anyone, judges are frustrated that they can’t see people, prosecutors are frustrated. It has just kind of spun out of control.”
There has been no significant difference in crime rate beyond normal fluctuation, and the city acknowledges that it can’t tell if the lack of arrests has any effect.
The situation is causing quite the kerfuffle between Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott and city officials. Last April, Arnott said he would not take any more municipal prisoners, even though the city says there was an agreement that the jail, which opened in 2001, would take them.
However, Arnott is taking federal inmates despite the full capacity. The county gets paid $61 per day for each federal inmate, while the city does not pay anything to the county for housing inmates.
It seems that the nature of the American for-profit prison-industrial complex is at the heart of this dispute. The sheriff is fine with taking prisoners when he makes a profit, but turns them away if there is no money involved. It’s not really about right and wrong, but about feeding the profits of the jail system.
The city of Springfield and Sheriff Arnott have filed lawsuits against each other. It has gotten so bad that Springfield Mayor Bob Stevens on Tuesday blamed the sheriff for an incident where a man with outstanding warrants hit a police officer and dragged him 150 yards.
While it is entertaining to see law enforcement authorities casting fallacies at each other, the issue in Springfield is a symptom of the malady of mass incarceration. Law enforcement is hungry to lock up people for victimless crimes such as traffic violations and “offenses” under the War on Drugs.
This demand for prisoners feeds a system where profits are reaped off the backs of mostly poor- to middle-class citizens, extorting money at every turn, from going to jail to getting out on bail to being monitored on probation. It creates an incentive for cops to intrude on the lives of more and more people, so they can justify an ever-expanding quest for more equipment and training to carry out more oppression.
Instead of fighting each other to make way for more prisoners, Springfield and every other city should consider that making people into criminals for victimless crimes is not the answer.
A simple and instant solution to end the over crowding of prisons is this — End the War on Drugs.
Even cops know ending the War on Drugs will not only fix the prison overpopulation problem, but it would dramatically reduce crime.
One of the leading groups of law enforcers working to end the drug war is LEAP, or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP lists some particularly startling facts on their website:
- There is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in the U.S. Of the more than 1.6 million drug arrests in 2009, 82 percent were for possession alone. (1)
- The U.S. government estimates that more than 118 million Americans above the age of 12 (47 percent of the population) admit to using illegal drugs. (2)
- One out of every 100 American adults is behind bars in jail or prison, (3) and the U.S. houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners (4) despite having less than five percent of the world’s total population. (5)
- In four years, more than 35,000 people have been killed in violence related to Mexico’s war against the cartels that control the illegal drug market. (6)
- The Department of Justice says that the illegal drug market in the U.S. is dominated by 900,000 criminally active gang members affiliated with 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities, (7) and that Mexican drug cartels now directly control illegal drug markets in at least 230 American cities. (8)
Below is quite possibly one of the most damning 15 minutes presented against the drug war. Please share this article to raise awareness to the horrid reality that is the War on Drugs.