The Contrarian

Evers Dead Wrong On Pot Convictions

Less than one percent of male inmates jailed for drug possession.

By - Feb 20th, 2019 11:14 am
Tony Evers. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Tony Evers. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

As reported Monday in the Journal Sentinel, Governor Evers has justified his proposal to decriminalize marijuana as follows:

“Bottom line is we’re spending too much money prosecuting and incarcerating people and often people of color for non-violent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana.”

Don’t hold your breath, so to speak, waiting for evidence that “possessing small amounts of marijuana” has anything to do with the incarceration rate.

Last month the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported on the most serious offenses for which inmates were admitted to state prison. Among male inmates, 111 of 22,459 — or slightly less than one-half of one percent — were admitted for drug possession. Among female inmates, 30 of 1,624 — 1.8 percent — were admitted for drug possession.

More than 20 years ago I studied a representative random sample of state prison inmates from Milwaukee County. The most recent offense of seven percent of the inmates was drug related. As detailed in the report, none of the offenses were for possession. All involved possession with intent to deliver or actual delivery of drugs. Many offenders were armed. Some were in school zones.

Current data demonstrate that little has changed. The new LFB report shows that nearly eight percent of current inmates had convictions for possession with intent to deliver or manufacturing and delivery.

As for who really goes to prison, a 2018 LFB report states: “The predominant offenses by [male inmates] are sexual offenses, murder/homicide, robbery, assaults, and burglary. The most common by women are murder/homicide, theft, assault, operating while intoxicated, and robbery.”

Yet another 2018 report, from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, addresses the “logic” employed by Evers. Under the heading “Serious Crimes, Serious Time,” WPF describes “the rising share of inmates serving time for violent crimes. These numbers rose from 59.4% of inmates in 2006 to 66.0% in 2017.” Directly addressing the assumption that “most inmates are nonviolent drug offenders who do not require incarceration,” WPF matter-of-factly observes that “corrections data do not appear to bear that out.”

2 thoughts on “The Contrarian: Evers Dead Wrong On Pot Convictions”

  1. mkwagner says:

    What Mitchell doesn’t consider is the connection between the criminalization of addiction disorders and crimes such as robbery and burglary addicts commit to afford their addictions. When we decriminalize the possession of marijuana, we break that connection. His statistics fail to illuminate the overwhelming racial disparities in the incarceration of peoples of color for non-violent drug offenses.

    Finally, Mitchell fails to understand how this small change can have a snowball affect on communities of color where felony convictions of non-violent drug offenses sentences some to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty or worse, forces them to turn to the underground economy aka a life of crime, to survive.

  2. John says:

    So by Mr. Mitchell logic since this law only concerns a small percent of the population don’t do it? He admits that it will keep some people who commit non-violent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana out of prison and not condemn them to a felony conviction that they will have to carry around the rest of their lives. So why not do it? It helps people, doesn’t hurt anyone and can save money. Not allowing the law is the classic conservative party’s agenda; keep as many people of color in prison or more importantly not voting by any means possible. Every vote they can suppress is a win for them. Not passing this law is just wrong, unchristian and done by the party claiming family values. Tearing families apart by putting siblings and parents in prison, keeping them from having felonies and limiting their ability to participate more in society is wrong! Thirty-three states have adjusted or even totally legalized marijuanas yet some of our conservative legislators still want to continue to lock people up for smoking pot. I logically can not think of any reason to oppose this law except for outdated, racist, discriminatory values many people and politicians of this state harbor against anyone less fortunate or not white.

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