Pubdate: Fri, 28 Feb 2003
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Sharon Fratepietro


"Deep (state) budget crisis dominates as lawmakers convene" reads the 
front-page headline in the Jan. 12 Post and Courier. Then on Jan. 18, a 
report lists major crime arrests for Charleston County, with narcotics 
arrests totaling 3,611 in 2002, nearly four times more than the next 
highest arrest category, which is criminal domestic violence. And on Jan. 
31, another front-page headline: "Jail jam plagues Charleston County."

To our politicians and lawmakers, I say, please connect the dots! The 
illegality of some drugs (of course, not the alcohol and tobacco most of us 
prefer), has contributed enormously to both drug-related crime and our 
state budget crisis. We lock people up in large numbers for non-violent, 
drug-related offenses, at a cost of at least $20,000 per year per each 
inmate. At the same time, we lack money in South Carolina for health care, 
education and other needs government should address.

Charleston County Council must deal with a nine-year-old county detention 
center built to hold 661 prisoners, but now containing 1,444 inmates and 
rising. The county must spend $37 million to build a new jail predicted to 
be full of prisoners the day it opens.

The S.C. Department of Corrections wants to release up to 4,000 nonviolent 
prisoners held for various offenses before their sentences are up, as some 
other states have recently done to resolve their budget crises, but our 
state lawmakers resist this idea. At the same time, the Corrections 
Department's annual budget has been cut about 23 percent, the deepest cut 
in a prison agency in the United States.

When is our government, instead of the drug dealers, going to regulate and 
distribute all narcotics, and hold people accountable for offenses they 
commit under the influence of drugs, just as with alcohol? When are we 
going to offer treatment on demand for all drug addiction, a strategy that 
the Rand Corporation says is seven times more effective than incarceration 
in stopping drug use, dollar for dollar?

When are our politicians going to have the courage to recognize that the 
expense of this futile drug war is robbing law-abiding, tax-paying citizens 
of government services they deserve and need? The answer to these questions 
is clear: Only when we urge our lawmakers to decriminalize all drugs. Only 
when citizens give permission to politicians to address drug use and abuse 
with education and treatment, not imprisonment.

Sharon Fratepietro
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