Pubdate: Tue, 15 Feb 2000
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact:  P.O. Box 1909, Seattle, WA 98111-1909
Author:  Michael Marion
Note: This was the top letter with a large headline and illustration of a
dollar sign with bars and prisoners.


To the editor:

Today marks one of the most significant events in American history.
According to experts in the field, the U.S. prison and jail population
reaches 2 million. More than half of those are non-violent offenders.

The blame goes to fearful citizens who support such wrongheaded and
shortsighted policies such as zero tolerance and three strikes. The
blame goes to politicians of both major parties who pander to
citizens' fears. It also goes to much of the media, which does an
excellent job of creating and perpetuating unfounded fear.

We are outraged by government waste, yet, according to State Rep. Hans
Dunshee, prisons are one of the fastest-growing expenses of
government, costing about $100,000 to build a single prison cell and
about $24,000 per year for each prisoner. If we continue our course,
we will spend $288 million more by the year 2007, building an
estimated 3,000 new prison beds.

I am all for locking up dangerous criminals. However, in this state,
non-violent offenders make up approximately 50 percent of our prison
population, reflecting national trends. The majority of these people
should be working, making a living and paying taxes; not living off my
dime. Those who require it could be put on various kinds of community
supervision, a much less expensive and more constructive solution. We
also need to quit creating crimes out of things that are not crimes.

But all is not lost. Alternatives to this shameful situation are being
explored. One is HB 4426, approved by the House Committee on Criminal
Justice and Corrections, which would direct the Sentencing Guidelines
Commission to examine current sentencing policies. Legislators need to
get this bill to the governor for signature, soon.

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