Page 14


RANCHO POTOMAC The Drug War Fills the Prisons BY RICHARD RYAN Washington, D.C. FEDERAL SENTENCING guidelines passed by Congress as part of its perennial law-and-order binge are now in effect. The new guidelines eliminate paroles and plea bargains in federal cases, and since they promise a cataclysm in the U.S. prison system, it is now worth reconsidering these monsters \(which I we’ll know what the end will look like when it arrives. What follows is a statistical breakdown based on Bureau of Prisons numbers of the federal inmate population in Texas. The first figure is the number of prisoners in the institution; the second represents the number the facility was designed to hold; the third, a measure of overcrowding, is the percentage by which the prison’s population exceeds its capacity: Bastrop 726;” 472; 54 percent Big Spring 676; 482; 40 percent Fort Worth 845; 660; 28 percent La Tuna 1,005; 465; 116 percent La Tuna Satellite Camp 304; 168; 88 percent Seagoville 775; 359; 116 percent Texarkana 886; 402; 120 percent Texarkana Satellite Camp 250; 144; 74 percent From where the sun now stands, we have roughly 50,000 Americans in federal prisons. In 1992, according to estimates of the Federal Sentencing Commission, that figure could grow as high as 80,000, when you take into consideration the combined effects of the new drug laws passed by Congress in 1986, the longer sentences imposed on repeat offenders, and the new mandatory sentencing guidelines federal judges are obliged to follow. No one will deny the drama of a 60 percent prison increase, but the true explosion is expected at the turn of the century. Assuming the number of offenders sentenced to federal prisons, which has soared under Reagan, continues to grow at its current rate, we can expect the population in U.S. Richard Ryan is the Observer ‘s Washington correspondent. government institutions to clock in at 150,000 in the year 2002. Without the new narcotics laws, the repeat offender statutes, and the mandatory sentencing guidelines, . the commission estimatesthe prison population could be as low as 95,000 still a considerable increase above the current levels, but nothing like the 200 percent increase that the kick-ass regulations are going to bring down upon us. Most of that increase will be attributable to the drug laws as the moralists of Washington, reeking of gin and tobacco, continue to insist that Americans have no right to control their own nervous systems. Indeed, at the center of our penal philosophy is a certain drug-induced paranoia. Somewhere in the past it was determined that the state held an absolute right to monitor, every individual’s biochemistry. This physiological fascism has survived to the present day, in the face of the scandalous suffering inflicted by our pharmaceutical taboos and in the face of the absurd and ineffectual nature of our laws. Never mind that by outlawing cocaine we have sluiced a river of money into the hands of some of the worst people in the world; ignore the Justice Department’s de facto support of Latin American death squads and dictatorships. Far better to make assassins rich than admit our superstitions are empty. Which explains why the authoritarians in Congress pursue the “War on Drugs” \(an hell-with-reality enthusiasm that they once brought to the conflict in Indochina.. A. January press release from Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s office nicely captures the narcowarriors’ cost/benefit mentality: “Arrests by DEA [the Drug Enforcement Administration] are up by 39 percent in Texas. . . . Cocaine seizures have more than doubled . . . during April to September 1987… . . Seizures of marijuana along the southwest border increased 341 percent. . . . Heroin seizures were up 66 percent.” The release ends in classic militarist newspeak: “These numbers by no means indicate we have won the war against drugs in Texas, but they do demonstrate that we have succeeded in committing the federal government to the battle. We must keep the heat on.” Perhaps General Westmoreland can be summoned out of retirement for one last allor-nothing extravaganza. While we look for the general’s number, drug-traffickers should have plenty of time to restructure supply routes and up their profit, margins, if they haven’t done so already. As in any war, those who suffer most are the poor and the outcast, the citizens born into alienation, who accepted crime and drug use as a normal response to a society which offered no spiritual or civic models, which held out nothing more encouraging than the hope of a two-room flat in a slum or barrio. The federal prison system has become the darkest manifestation of our war on drugs, and while the mandatory sentencing guidelines don’t significantly increase the total numbers of Americans entering the system, by eliminating paroles and plea bargains they will serve to keep prisoners incarcerated for much longer stretches of time. Through the magic of exponential geometry, the increase in prison populations will grow more rapidly as the years pass, as petty offenders and victimless criminals who might have been released quickly stack up in our jails. It is worth noting that none of the Texas federal facilities is a maximum security prison; the individuals who will have to find room in the state’s overcrowded penal ghettos are not the depraved or violent those will be sent to more secure prisons but outcasts that the new laws will drive farther into the wilderness. N JANUARY 5TH, The Wall Street Journal ran an excellent front-page story in which a number of prominent physicists denounced the superconducting supercollider [SCC]. The supercollider, the ne plus ultra of particle physics, is a 53-mile-long proton accelerator which has lobbyists slavering and taxpayers howling. The concrete industry, one of the project’s strongest advocates, has taken to calling the SCC “the big pour.” Those decrying the idea in the pages of the Journal include Nobel laureate Philip Anderson and James Krumhansl, the President-elect of the American Physical Society. It has now emerged that in order to get research funding for SCC, its backers in the science community deliberately squelched the construction of a smaller collider on Long Island. Scientists outside 4 JANUARY 29, 1988