Tuesday, January 27, 2009

By The Numbers

As you may or may not know, the United State still has at least one accomplishment in which it leads the world: We have the highest prison population rate in the world. That’s right, with 738 of every 100,000 people in the U.S. in prison, we are number one. That’s roughly 0.7 percent of the population. Now 0.7 percent might not sound like such a big number, but compared to the rest of the world it’s pretty impressive. It works out to about 2.3 million people. In comparison, Russia comes in a distant second with only 611 per 100,000 of its population in prison. And England, for example, has only 148 per 100,000 of its population in prison.

But it seems to me that we are not doing enough, prison population-wise. If we aren’t careful, some of those prison population wannabes, like Russia or Cuba, are going to take our crown. Not that such a thing would be easy, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our past achievements. We need to keep up our frenetic pace of arrests and convictions. And how better than by going after people using illegal drugs. They are, after all, pretty easy to catch. Especially in California where they operate in the open. Not like murderers or rapists. Sort of like if you’re in college and you’re worried about your GPA dropping, you sign up for some easy classes. The results look good on paper, and you don’t really have to put in a lot of effort.

So I’ve been looking at some numbers to see how much we can accomplish if we really set our minds to it. Currently, the U.S. population is approximately 305 million. Of those, approximately 66 percent are White, 15 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Black. The reason such a breakdown is important is because you can’t just go around putting lots of White people in prison. We do need to maintain at least somewhat of the status quo, where the Black prison population is about 6 times that of the white prison population, and Hispanics are incarcerated at about twice the rate of Whites. Of course if we really want to excel we’re going to have to set aside some of our old ways, and start going after non-minority offenders a lot more than we have.

And where better to start than with marijuana users. Unlike other crimes, and even other drug-related crimes, marijuana smoking crosses all racial, ethnic, and geographic lines. The rich and poor alike, urban and rural, young and old, all like their weed. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population 12 years and older are regular marijuana smokers. If broken down by age group, that number goes up considerably. Of those aged 18-25 years, 16.6 percent smoke marijuana regularly, and 8.6 percent of those aged 26-34 are regular smokers. Now we’re talking some serious numbers. According to U.S. census information, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 percent of the population falls into that 18-34 age group. That works out to about 67 million people, and of those about 8 million are regular marijuana smokers. That’s almost 3 percent of our total population.

I don’t know about you, but numbers like that tell me that our law enforcement officials are not coming anywhere close to doing their jobs. We have over 8 million criminals in this country, and fewer than one million of them are behind bars. That means that almost 90 percent of those dangerous marijuana-smoking criminals are walking around free, smoking their reefer and flouting the law. I don’t know much about how the law-enforcement business works, but in any other business a 12 percent success rate would be totally unacceptable. It would indicate total, absolute failure. Heads would role, people would be fired. Consultants would be brought in.

So what can we do? Almost 3 percent of our population are criminals, yet fewer than one in ten of those criminals are behind bars. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that pretty embarrassing. And scary. How can any of us feel safe and secure with so many criminals running around free? The only solution I can see is to ceaselessly go after all of these marijuana-smoking criminals. I mean, let’s get really serious about it. Not just the occasional bust of a kid smoking a joint or a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary. I think it would be more efficient to just assume that everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Then, after we get that 3 percent of our population safely locked away, we can go after the rest. Remember, that 3 percent represents only the 18-32 age group. There are still millions of younger and older Americans who smoke marijuana regularly. And what about the occasional users? They’re breaking the law just like the rest; an occasional crime is still a crime. So with just marijuana smokers alone, we could increase our prison population to over 5 percent and quite possibly close to 10 percent of our total population. No other country would ever come close to a number like that. We would secure our number one position in the prison population game once and for all. And we would all certainly sleep better knowing that nearly one in ten of our friends and neighbors are securely locked away, no longer smoking their “devil’s weed.” I know I would.

Now if you would, please join me in a little patriotic chant: U – S – A… We’re number 1. U – S – A… We’re number 1. U – S – A… We’re number 1. U – S – A… We’re number 1.

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