Apparently, our region’s prisons are running out of space:
Starting in 2012, King County plans to no longer house most drunken drivers, prostitutes, small-scale drug users and other misdemeanor offenders, prompting cities south and east of Seattle to start planning to build new jails in their communities.
Officials in Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane counties may follow suit and keep misdemeanor offenders from being booked into their main county jails. Although King County’s two jails in Seattle and Kent still have room for offenders, projections show the jails reaching full capacity in about a decade.
The region’s cities currently contract with the counties to house many of their misdemeanor offenders, but will soon be faced with the expense of building more jail space of their own. Or… perhaps we might want to consider not locking up misdemeanor, nonviolent drug offenders?
Whatever you think about the dangers of illicit drug use, few would argue that the “war on drugs” is working. Drug use is primarily a public health issue, not a criminal one, and studies show that it would be much more effective and less expensive to treat it as such. And apart from the obvious ill effects of smoking, there is little science to suggest that casual marijuana use is any more dangerous to the individual or society than casual drinking.
Cities pay King County $197.23 for each misdemeanor inmate booked into the jail, plus $103.17 per inmate, per day; drug treatment, by comparison, is a relative bargain. Throughout the state, over 70-percent of each county’s general fund is spent on their criminal justice system, and politicians who have made a career of railing against high taxes and wasteful government spending, are also typically the first to demand a “tough on crime,” “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to all sorts of social ills, real and perceived.
But if prison overcrowding is an issue of both supply and demand, it might behoove us as a society to examine both sides of the equation.