One thing that I didn't really get into with yesterday's post, though it is implied, is that you have to make decisions about what is important and where you allocate resources. Part of why I have been thinking about that is due to some ads supporting Ballot Measure 91, in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
The ads take an interesting angle, with people from law enforcement and courtroom backgrounds talking about all the wasted resources that go into enforcing these laws, when they could better use their time solving murders.
The ad tactics make sense. My first thought might have been that there would be a lot on benefits of smoking pot, or comparisons to alcohol, or something like that, but I think most people probably already have heard as much as they are willing to hear on that. Anyone who is going to be swayed by those arguments is probably already there, but you might be able to convince some people who despise potheads that this really is a law and order move. A lot of libertarians are already pro-legalization, and a lot of people who are registered Republican lean libertarian, so that's the ground you might be able to gain.
I can appreciate the logic of that, but what goes through my head is the thought that a lot of priorities are set by revenue. Traffic patrols do matter, because that people generally obey the laws of the road makes being out on the road safer for everyone. It is still really common for people to assume that when they are pulled over that the officer is trying to make a quota.
Are there really quotas? For motivation to obey traffic laws, fines do make sense, but it can't possibly be good for that to be a needed source of revenue. Many of the articles we have seen about Ferguson show a very abusive relationship that essentially funds city hall, but that has also led people from other areas to talk about inaccessible city halls that play scheduling games and it becomes an important source of revenue.
We put a lot of money into the war on drugs. Without stopping drug use, it has filled the prison systems, kept down communities, justified harassment, and led to the militarization of the police. That is not good. Legalizing marijuana won't help much with that.
That's not about this specific ballot measure. Mass incarceration is a problem, and prison privatization is a problem, but also other issues frequently come up. It does take having an actual goal.
If the purpose of the prison system is to protect the public from criminals, is it doing that well? Do the people who are dangerous end up off the streets? Do people go into the prison system and come out more or less dangerous? Are there more effective ways to keep the public safe? For example, could we do early investment to keep people from becoming dangerous instead of warehousing them after they're dangerous? And "which one is cheaper" is a reasonable question to ask for that, but it is not the only question to ask.
Is the purpose of the whole system to punish bad people for being bad? If so, are we comfortable with that purpose? Is it working the way it's supposed to? Does it only punish or does it do other things? If it only punishes, what is the effect of that on society?
I mention this because I don't think we realize how often some things come about and stay in place merely because of tradition, and those traditions often started in bad practices. Are we content with that?
And maybe, if the system works for you, you are content, but there are people for whom that system really sucks. It may be uncomfortable to be caught in the currents of change, but those changes matter, and to get good changes it takes thinking. It takes open eyes and open minds, and it takes open hearts.
What do you think?