Published DateTo the editor,
The Belknap County Commissioners want to build a new 42 million dollar jail, with unknown higher operating costs. This facility will be the size of a football field and add additional staff to double inmate capacity. I toured the current facility and found it to be in good condition — but was crowded. As someone who spent many years in the military, I am amazed that the facilities are being portrayed as unacceptable for prisoners. The jail was built in the late 1970s, with the last upgrade in 1988. The existing prison was designed to have an additional wing when needed but the current County Commissioners have decided a new larger prison is better, despite these tough economic times. Currently, 80 percent of the inmates are just waiting to see a judge at a cost of $87.50 per day, plus medical expenses. During my visit, there were many young females living in the gym and, unfortunately, many of them were mothers separated from their children. The vast majority of the inmates are in the County Jail for drug and alcohol crimes that were not created until the 1980s. The current prison proposal is a testament to the failure of the War on Drugs.
People in their 50s or older remember a world prior to the War on Drugs. We were more free and wealthier as a nation. College and health care were affordable and, as Americans, we had no limits as to what we could accomplish. We believed in personal responsibility and we did not like to be monitored or managed by government planners. The current War on Drugs does not help people, but can destroy them and sentence them to a life of poverty and government dependency. People convicted of a felony drug crime may never earn a living wage and will most likely require government assistance for the rest of their life. Who benefits from these policies and at what cost? The prison population has increased fivefold since the so called "war" started. The beneficiaries of these policies are big government and the jobs that come with it. The prison industry is now big business that promotes fear to maximize profits. My criticism is not directed at law enforcement, which has a very difficult job, but to the politicians who promote these laws.
Our current policy towards alcohol and marijuana benefits lawyers. We send 18 year olds off to war, but it is illegal for them to drink a beer. The hard liquor sold in the State Liquor Store is far more dangerous to your health and public safety than marijuana. We could save a lot of money if we would just legalize marijuana and alcohol for all adults. The courts would not be back-logged and the real criminals could get processed, allowing the county prison population to drop. No need to build a 42 million dollar jail with more employees and pensions we cannot afford. The only way to win the War on Drugs is through education and support for people who want help. Our resources should be spent on drug treatment and counseling not prison cells and job destroying felony drug convictions. The end result of the current War on Drugs is angry young people with no future, thus perpetuating drug abuse and crime.
In the next few weeks and months, the County Commissioners will be promoting their new county jail. They will tell you that their $160,000 consultant gave them the answer to the War on Drugs. They will cite all of the counties drug woes, in order to justify confiscating more property tax money. Unfortunately, we have become a nation of sheep, good citizens are ones who learn to live with less and follow the herd with their heads down. Ask your state and federal representatives to question the cost and effectiveness of these failed policies. Currently, Belknap County ranks 52 out of 3,145 counties nationwide on the percentage we pay of our income on property taxes. Do we have to be number one in the nation before some people think we are finally taxed enough?