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January 28, 2007 - Daily Southtown (IL)

County Cuts Could Mean Less Drug-War Money - And That's Not Such A Bad Thing

By James Gierach

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine objects to new Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and his budget-cutting that will mean lost patronage jobs, fewer drug-war services and a balanced budget without a tax increase.

Objection overruled.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and suburban police chiefs also are up in arms over the $67 million in cuts to the Cook County sheriff's office that will diminish drug enforcement and necessarily eliminate some long-term drug investigations.

Hey, no problem. The drug war doesn't work anyway --take tomorrow's drug bust by the drug ton, or yesterday's. Or take the Afghanistan situation: Even with 150,000 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army could not stop the bumper 2006 opium crop of 6,700 metric tons. And we prosecute heroin here by the gram. These examples tell the folly of "staying the course" and hoping to win the drug war. It's a bad policy that endlessly costs and gets us nowhere.

"Oh, but what about our drug courts, our drug-diversion program, our drug-treatment? What about drug testing, drug drops and drug counseling? What about our undercover drug cops, our confiscation programs, our prosecutors, our public defenders, our drug education programs and our sheriff's police? Oh, my D.A.R.E." the addicted public officials and employees cry.

The drug war is a cash cow for drug dealers and a patronage pig for public officials. Fly over the Cook County Jail and take a bird's eye look at the drug-war prison sprawl.

New jail after new jail -- a patronage dream. Eight out of every 10 inmates who enter the Cook County Jail are there for a "drug crime." Better to build pyramids or cathedrals.

But not all jail inmates are your friendly, law-abiding (but for drugs), drug-using neighbors, friends and relatives. No, drug prohibition causes serious crime, too. After a four-year decline, the Chicago police blame gangs and gang squabbles over drug turf as the reason murders are up.

In the early 1990s when I was campaigning for an end to unbridled prison construction and the legalization of drugs, so drugs could be controlled and regulated by government, and crime abated, I confidently assured my audiences that the drug war would eventually end. I guaranteed it.

I confided that the drug war was sure to end because, eventually, government could not longer pay the bills for the problems that prohibition cost (prisons, courts, probation, clerks, sheriffs, public defenders, etc., and medical costs associated with new intravenous drug-users contracting AIDS and endless prohibition bullet holes).

In a private meeting with then-Cook County Board President Dick Phelan and his financial confidant, John Filan, I made these same observations. At one point during my rant, Mr. Filan underscored my point, "He's talking about 80 percent of our budget."

Fourteen years later, now with more unaffordable drug-war bills coming home to roost, the $500 million deficit in the Cook County budget hurts. But Cook County has been a leading drug-war belligerent, and the sins of the father (and many others) must now be paid by the son.

Stroger deserves a standing ovation for his proposed balanced-budget cuts, because fiscal responsibility always merits applause. Although Stroger may not have intended to disconnect Cook County from its fix of drug-war patronage, contracts, construction and services -- his budget-cutting may force Cook County into unwanted rehab. The intervention is for the county's own good.

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