As of October 1999, we have in the U.S.A. almost 2 million incarcerated people. Of these, 1.1 million are in state prisons, 700,000 in local jails and 150,000 in federal prisons. We now have the dubious distinction of having more people in our prisons than any other country. This has been done, so they say, for the purpose of deterring and punishing crime. In the last twenty years a thousand new prisons and jails have been constructed in the United States. And still we have overcrowding because the intake from the judicial system continues to increase at a rate of from 60,000 to 85,000 a year.

Of the 1.2 million prison inmates, only about 390,000 are violent offenders. That's a lot, but why so many nonviolent inmates? Crimes that other countries routinely deal with by sentences that result in drug treatment, fines or community service are, in the U.S., treated almost invariably with prison sentences. Stiff sentences to boot. In addition, some of these crimes are arguably not crimes against society at all. For example, drug abuse. This terrible condition is a destructive compulsion or habit comparable to alcoholism and gambling in its consequences, but the consequences in the U.S. are much more dangerous because it is illegal, in contrast to alcohol and gambling which are for the most part legal.

Although gambling is ruining lives and supporting criminal elements among us, it has enjoyed a recent upsurge in the world of legitimate business and state governments. Money! Highly lucrative in profits and taxes. The first step was allowing Native-American Reservations to open attractive casinos/resorts. This in turn created a need and an excuse for legalizing local gambling by states. What the people want they can get. For a price.

Now, the trouble with drugs is that the states and federal government cannot control their use except in legal terms. But we at M.A.C.C. believe that drugs can be controlled .... at least the import of them. If all the moneys devoted to the punishment and incarceration of smalltime drug offenders were to be applied to the apprehending, sentencing and incarcerating of drug dealers and importers, the problem would almost disappear. More importantly, all those nonviolent offenders would be treated as victims, which they are, and not as criminals.

But sadly, the prison system has evolved into a profitable enterprise. As long as victims are given stiff sentences and the prison system realizes profits for corporations, this method of prison recruitment of cheap labor through our courts will continue and even escalate. We cannot see a change in policy unless all of our citizens protest. Our elected representatives will lend a deaf ear to the people if they are not united and adamant in their protests against a policy that has gone awry --- The Drug War. Three decades ago in the era of Martin Luther King, civil rights and the peace movement, radical changes were brought about because of the resolute, and sometimes downright rebellious demonstrations that were staged in those tumultuous times.

Make no mistake, if the drug war, in its present form, is not stopped, we all will lose our freedoms one by one, until the day comes when we will all be slaves to a government ruled by greed and corporate profiteering. Truly free enterprise will be enjoyed only by a select few.

But it doesn't look good, people. Long ago our country condoned slavery. Used it. The southern states became rich in money and power because of slavery, notably in the cotton industry. Dynasties were created, but only for a few greedy people --- the rest suffered. And suffered terribly. And now in these times, slavery is coming back.

You'd be hard put to find sympathy up there in political circles. Let's face it, as an entity they could not care less. Unless --- it became apparent that the people were not going to stand for it happening again. No bullcrap here, that is the key --- many separate voices becoming a chorus. I kid you not, that song cannot help but be heard, as in the past when it became necessary. And believe you me it is necessary --- no, vital to our survival as a nation.

Arby O'Keefe (MACC Correspondent)