JULY 4, 1997
THE READER'S PAGE
could double space
To the Editor:
In his June 17 comment, Michael Graney, vice president of the New York
State Law Enforcement Officers Union, stated the major cause of the deadly
1971 Attica riot was prison overcrowding.
He went on to say not only are we even more overcrowded now, but the
classification system of segregating violent prisoners has broken down and
that puts us all at risk. He recommends building more prisons as the
First, an economic comment. It costs approximately $500,000 to put a new
person in jail; $150,000 to build a new cell; $150,000 for arrest and
prosecution; and $150,000 to $200,000 to incarcerated that person for five
It must give the proposed number of people to be incarcerated for a certain
crime in order to lower the incidence of that crime. Then, that number
should be multiplied times $500,000 to see if we can afford it as a
Second, Graney should look at his own correction statistics. In 1980, there
were 7,959 state prison commitments. Of that, 4,550 or 57 percent were for
violent felonies: murder, rape, manslaughter, robbery and assault. There
were 2, 654 -- 33 percent -- commitments for nonviolent offenses, of which
885 -- 11 percent -- were for sale or possession of drugs.
In 1996, there were 21, 171 state prison commitments. Of that, 6,192 or 29
percent were for violent felonies. There were 12,865 -- 61 percent
commitments for nonviolent offenses, of which 9,841 or 46 percent were for
sale or possession of drugs.
This trend is obviously backward. Any sane society worried about violence
would not be wasting extremely expensive prison space by quarantining
Rather than sock it to the tax-paying public by expanding prisons, we could
double our state prison capacity merely by decriminalizing and regulating
drugs and allocating some of the savings toward public health programs that
would reduce the harms caused by drugs.
Putting people in prison for drug offenses certainly hasn't reduced our
How many must go to prison before the war on drugs can be considered
successful? Then, multiply that number times $500,000.
Tinelli is a member of ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy