Pubdate: Tue, 24 Apr 2001
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Author: Rob Vaughan


U.S. District Judge David Ezra's sentencing of Iupeli Migi to a term of
nearly eight years for the possession and sale of crack cocaine in
'A'ala Park (Honolulu Advertiser, March 14) is an excellent example of
this country's insane drug policy.

No, the sale and use of crack are not good things. But is keeping this
man in a federal penitentiary the wisest use of taxpayer money?

Currently, it costs an average of $24,783 a year to keep a prisoner in
the federal system. This means it will cost close to $200,000 to punish
a small-time seller-user of a controlled substance. Add to this the
costs of policing, prosecution and the $58,000 per bed it requires to
build new medium-security federal prisons, and you end up with an
astronomical tab to incarcerate someone with a medical condition (drug

There are very few programs left in prison for substance abusers to help
them deal with their addictions. No doubt Iupeli will be returned to the
streets eight years from now in much the same condition that led to his
troubles with the law in the first place.

As a society, we should ask ourselves why, in a world where it costs
about the same to send someone to jail as it does to send them to Yale,
we insist on spending our money in such a wasteful way?

Rob Vaughan, American Studies Department, University of Hawai'i

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