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SHOCKER: Prison Food Makers Don’t Want Arizona to Legalize Pot

in Drugs, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

SHOCKER: Prison Food Makers Don’t Want Arizona to Legalize Pot

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Rent-seeking, better known as the practice many companies embrace while trying to obtain benefits through the political machine, is, more often than not, the reason why our liberties are clipped, one by one, in the name of the greater good.

The war on drugs is the perfect example of this.

WeedEver since the idea of the drug war was first considered a valuable policy, politicians have used it as a way to bring their own enemies to heel. Much like major companies — whose profits suffer greatly whenever new competitors enter the market — these politicians often exploit their titles while claiming to hold an entirely different position in public.

With the war against marijuana, we have seen countless industries such as the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries step up their efforts to ensure the plant remains criminalized. As some begin to embrace the trend — even adding marijuana to their portfolio — others remain stubborn, fighting against the change and pushing Washington insiders to keep weed as a Schedule I substance.

Still, there’s one particular industry fighting marijuana legalization that, up until recently, had not made it to the news.

While the law enforcement and prison sectors have always been anti-drug legalization — with the exceptions of groups such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) — yet another prison-related company has been investing in keeping weed illegal in at least one state: The prison food industry.

According to official Arizona state reports, Services Group of America has donated $80,000 last month to a campaign committee that hopes to defeat the legal cannabis measure on this year’s November ballot.

SGA’s subsidiary, Food Services of America, is tasked with preparing meals for correction facilities. And, in the past, it has been accused of offering meals that fail to meet basic nutritional standards set by the government. They do not seem too keen on allowing prison demands for their food reach a new low.

Local news reports also add that other groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce in Arizona have also donated heavily to the anti-marijuana effort, addressing a $498,000 check to the campaign.

Before both groups offered their financial support, opioid maker Insys Therapeutics had gone further, donating $500,000 to the anti-pot campaign.

Other groups listed as major anti-weed donors include the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association, and SAM Action, which is often described as the campaign arm of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Despite the heavy-handed efforts coming from these companies to defeat the marijuana legalization efforts, polls show voters are supporting the effort to legalize pot in the Grand Canyon state.

Will rent seekers win this time?

Former Felons Could Benefit from Free Markets Too

in Business and Economy, Criminal Justice, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

Former Inmates Could Benefit from Free Markets Too

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

For too many former convicts, life after prison is hard. Oftentimes, quite impossible. That’s why most of those who are given a second chance end up going back to jail.

But to this 35-year-old, his second chance came in the form of a local restaurant manager who was not scared of government’s formal tagging of felons.

Applebee'sAfter his release in 2011, Marcellus Benbow was struggling to find a job. He told reporters that, at the time, he was doing odd jobs, hoping to avoid going back to a life of crime while looking for a full-time opportunity. As he struggled to find a steady occupation in order to gain custody of his two oldest daughters, he also found no sympathy from potential employers.

That all changed when he answered an ad on Craigslist.

As soon as he met with the general manager at Apple-Metro, the New York franchisee of Applebee’s, both men hit off. That was it. Benbow had finally scored full-time employment with the company as a broiler cook.

“Applebee’s saved my life,” he said.

Now, Benbow is an assistant kitchen manager at Applebee’s Fordham Road location in the Bronx. He could soon be getting a promotion, taking the role of kitchen manager. He was lucky that his current employer was not afraid of his past, but many in his position aren’t as lucky.

In America, felons are required to disclose whether they have spent time in jail. But even if they don’t disclose this information, background checks help potential employers learn more. In many cases, non-violent felons are seen as a threat by employers who prefer to hire someone else, spurring a wave of discrimination suits against business owners.

The result is quite concerning.

The estimated unemployment rates among ex-prisoners are between 25 and 40 percent, despite the federal incentives some get by hiring felons. But laws that have helped to create so many non-violent criminals are still in effect. Instead of urging Congress to review some of these laws, namely the drug war and other pieces of legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, many advocates for equal employment opportunities blame companies alone for their refusal to hire felons.

Recently, the often feared tycoons known as the Koch brothers announced they would stop asking potential employees about their criminal record. According to Koch Industries’ general counsel, Mark Holden, and Charles Koch, the decision came about after leadership noticed that overcriminalization had been affecting “us all but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens.”

At the time of the announcement, both men penned an op-ed that asked the question: “If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life?”

Instead of forcing employers to change, advocates could see a real change in the country’s employment environment by just pushing Washington to focus on real criminal justice reform.

The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

in Capital Punishment, Criminal Justice, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Victimless Crime by Alice Salles Comments are off

The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

A terribly tragic incident involving a man from Texas is receiving little attention from the media.

According to Yahoo! News, Patrick Joseph Brown, a 46-year-old man accused of stealing a guitar, was booked on a misdemeanor theft charge on April 3. Forty-eight hours after failing to post bail, Brown was found beaten to a pulp in the cell he shared with several other men, including three men who had been charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily harm. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

PrisonWhile authorities in Harris County aren’t aware of what prompted the violent act, Brown was placed in a cell with violent suspects due to his failure to come up with $3,000. Brown’s teenage son is devastated.

To proponents of a comprehensive criminal justice reform, the financial burden tied to minor or drug-related crimes has become a reason of concern.

The drug war, for instance, has had a real impact on the poor across the United States. But the financial burden tied to other non-violent crimes has also been affecting low-income communities across the board.

Harriet Cleveland, a 49-year-old mother of three in Alabama, was arrested after not being able to pay a series of traffic tickets. She had accumulated a number of citations because she had been driving without a license for some time. She also had no insurance.

While Cleveland says she knew what she was doing “was wrong,” she had no choice. She had just found a job after some time, a part-time gig that paid her $7.25 per hour, and her son had to be taken to school. She felt that the tickets could wait. Unfortunately, the police didn’t agree.

After she was arrested, the judge sentenced her to two years of probation with Judicial Correction Services, a private probation company. Cleveland had to pay JCS $200 a month, the judge ordered. While Cleveland was able to make her payments throughout the first year, gathering whatever she could find to put the money together, she eventually fell behind on payments. After losing her part-time job, Cleveland had to turn in all of her income-tax rebate to JCS instead of fixing the holes in her bedroom walls. By summer of 2012, “the total court costs and fines had soared from hundreds of dollars incurred by the initial tickets to $4,713, including more than a thousand dollars in private-probation fees.”

In the past three decades, the size of America’s incarcerated population quadrupled. The overcriminalization of America has been, along with the drug war, partially to blame for this phenomena.

With federal agencies and state governments attaching jail time to otherwise non-criminal behavior, even private companies that rely on the criminal justice system like Judicial Correction Services saw an opportunity to fill in the gaps by offering the state the services public law enforcement agencies are supposed to offer but are unable to. Instead of looking at the laws for an answer to this problem—identifying what kind of laws should be scraped, and what kind of behavior should be spared jail time—many justice activists believe that the solution is to put an end to what they call “policing for profit.”

But whether non-violent arrestees are trapped in a cycle of debt and incarceration because of mounting court debt or because of other probation company fees, we must look deeper into this matter by identifying ways of only arresting those who have committed crimes worthy of jail time.

Jail is not the best place for a mother of three who’s struggling to make ends meet but nor is it a safe place for a non-violent arrestee taken into custody for allegedly stealing a guitar. If criminal justice reformers are serious about their goals, tackling the overcriminalization problem in the United States is the only solution.

Libertarian Candidates Pledge: End the Failed and Immoral War on Drugs

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 18 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Scores of Libertarian Party candidates for federal office have pledged to downsize the bloated federal government — in these big and specific ways:

  • Eliminate the federal income tax
  • Abolish the NSA
  • Cut military spending by 60%
  • End the War on Drugs

End the War on DrugsWe’re exploring each of these pledges in detail, one per issue, because the Libertarian Party has done a great job of showing that these bold proposals are not only possible, but practical and enormously beneficial. (You can read about all four positions here.)

Here’s the final one: End the failed War on Drugs.

The candidates pledge: “If elected, I will sponsor legislation to end the War on Drugs, release all victimless drug ‘criminals’ from prison, abolish the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and cut taxes accordingly.”

Here is the Libertarian Party’s case for ending the failed War on Drugs:

  • The War on Drugs has proven far more deadly and destructive than drugs themselves. 
  • Just as alcohol prohibition prompted organized crime, consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks, and an epidemic of alcohol overdose deaths, drug prohibition has prompted the formation of deadly street gangs, use of stronger drugs, and an increase in drug overdose deaths.
  • Because of the Drug War, the United States incarcerates more people than any country on earth. More than 500,000 Americans are now serving time in jail or prison for drug “offenses.” They are peaceful citizens, separated from their children and families, who could be living productive lives. Instead, their incarceration has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion since 1971.
  • More than 658,000 people are arrested every year for mere possession of marijuana, diverting attention from where it should be: on violent criminals.
  • Marijuana prohibition denies those suffering from cancer, AIDS, migraines, glaucoma, and other serious diseases their right to an effective treatment that both reduces suffering and saves lives.

When we end the War on Drugs:

  • Crime will go down dramatically, making our streets and homes safer.
  • Law enforcement will focus more on finding and prosecuting murderers, rapists, and thieves.
  • People now in prison who never harmed another human being will be free to go home to their families. Their children will grow up with their mom or dad at home.
  • Each taxpayer will get back hundreds of dollars — every year — that they now spend on today’s failed prohibition. Money they can save, spend, or give away to others in need.
  • People suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases will have dignified and safe access to medical marijuana, giving them their best chance for a long and healthy life.
  • Finally, ending the War on Drugs sends the right message to kids:

Be personally responsible.
Be just, be reasonable, and honor individual rights.
Admit mistakes and get rid of bad laws that don’t work.
End unnecessary human suffering.