Reaching Critical Mass

By Donovan, POWD

It is grim synchronicity that as the American prison population exceeds 2 million human beings, the federal system finds itself in the position of having to essentially construct about 11 prisons per month ad nauseam. Every time a federal prison is built, another 350-plus employees are forever invested in the Federal Employee Retirement System: like gum on the sole of your shoe, in other words, you can't get rid of them. The states are in the same precarious fiscal position, with California spending nearly 9% of it total budget on its D.O.C. alone! The State of Colorado has recently, flatly announced that it will not build anymore prisons and plans to put non-violent offenders into what it terms as "alternate programs," with drug offenders explicitly included. There is the belated realization across the country that we have stupidly replaced school buildings with prison construction.

Be that as it may, and because many of these states swallowed the federal government's spastic demand for prisoners serving a full 85% of his or her time behind bars (unrealistically harsh sentences at that), there is an urgent need to repeal those hair-shirt measures and either grant some form of pardon or amnesty, or at the least, to reinstate parole.

The idea of a Presidential Pardon for non-violent drug offenders is not unrealistic and was recently suggested in an editorial comment in the Washington Post. It has been discussed in other forums as well, but while it seems apparent that such a move would be wise in every way, especially given that drug sentences have now been criticized as too punitive even by their own creators, Mr. Clinton has pardoned fewer people than either George Bush or Ronald Reagan. We do not see Mr. Clinton as being more than he has shown us, and his legacy will otherwise be defined. This kind of alturism may well be beyond him.

Parole is another matter entirely. It has a long history of mechanical workability and effectiveness, and a parole commission still exists. We do not necessarily feel that a new form of parole must have to precisely track the "old law" model, which did have shortcomings, and we in fact believe any new form should be far less constrictive in light of the essential failure of the drug war.

The November Coalition first wants amnesty or pardon for non-violent drug offenders and, secondly, some form of parole in place of chaotic mess that currently exists, and will enthusiastically create and promote the best proposals we can put together.

It is conceivable, for instance, that should the Democrats regain control in the House of Representatives in the next election, Mr. John Conyers would become the head of the House Judiciary Committee. He is keenly aware of the failings of the current criminal justice system. It might be helpful to show his legislative aides some viable alternatives to the status quo.

The November Coalition requests your input on how an effective new parole system could be structured and implemented, we urge the motivated among you to give it some thought and effort, and mail us your blueprints. It is not enough, afterall, that we define the problem without also offering a solution. So, get to work and let's see what we can come up with.