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Preckwinkle Decries War On Drugs At Palatine Breakfast

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said criminalizing non-violent, low level drug offenders was costly and ineffective.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decried the war on drugs and its cost to society Wednesday at the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Preckwinkle was asked a question about reforming the criminal justice system and Cook County Jail during the breakfast at , 360 S. Creekside Drive.

“We have 5 percent of the world’s population and we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. So unless you think that Americans are more likely to be criminals than people elsewhere in the world, we are doing something terribly wrong,” Preckwinkle said. “And it’s extraordinarily expensive.”

Preckwinkle said the yearly cost of housing a single prisoner exceeds $50,000 a year. She said that 70 percent of the Cook County Jail population is there for non-violent offenses and many of them are low-level drug offenses.

“We started [in] the 1980s a terribly misguided and destructive war on drugs in this country,” Preckwinkle said.

She said that although about 8 percent to 10 percent of illicit drug use exists across races, minorities are arrested for the offenses at a disparate rate.

“If you look at our jails, our jails are filled with black and brown young men. The jail population does not reflect illicit drug use in this country,” Preckwinkle said. “What I usually say is that our jail is at the intersection of poverty and racism in this country. And it’s not just us it’s across the board.”

“We’ve got some tough issues to deal with around criminal justice and the way in which our laws are being administered,” Preckwinkle said. “We spend half a billion dollars a year on our jail. You can do a lot with half a billion dollars. Especially when 70 percent of the people in your jail are awaiting trial for non-violent offenses.”

Preckwinkle said many of the non-violent offenders commit crimes such as shoplifting or prostitution to support a drug habit.

“Instead of dealing with our addiction problem in this country with a public health response, we’ve responded by criminalizing people,” Preckwinkle said. “And I would suggest that’s destructive to those individuals. It’s destructive to the communities they come out of and its extraordinarily expensive to the rest of us.”

Preckwinkle said the public safety portion of the county – sheriff’s department, state’s attorney – are attempting to reduce the county jail population by 1,000 during the year. She said the county will use personal recognizance bonds, electronic monitoring and provide pre-trial services such as drug treatment for some non-violent offenders.

malcolm kyle February 09, 2012 at 10:42 AM
* Apart from the huge percentage of people addicted to both sugar and caffeine, a small minority of adults (5%) will always experience the use of other drugs as problematic. - approx. 3% are dependent on alcohol, and 1.5% dependent on other drugs. * Just as it was impossible to prevent alcohol from being produced and used in the U.S. in the 1920s, so too, it is equally impossible to prevent any of the aforementioned drugs from being produced, distributed and widely used by those who desire to do so. * Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the drugs it prohibits. * Due to Prohibition (historically proven to be an utter failure at every level), the availability of most of these mood-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour. * Throughout history, the prohibition of any mind-altering substance has always exploded usage rates, overcrowded jails, fueled organized crime, created rampant corruption of law-enforcement - even whole governments, while inducing an incalculable amount of suffering and death. * The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, essayist and philologist.
James Ware February 09, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Another politician awakened to the obvious. Let's decriminalize now and save ourselves hundreds of millions.
yolanda donnell benitez February 09, 2012 at 08:37 PM
“What I usually say is that our jail is at the intersection of poverty and racism in this country." Racism? Is she on drugs as well ? Basically she's saying that because the majority of inmates are from certain ethnic groups, that the justice system is targeting them because they are from these minority groups. Oh yeah, we now have a special task force dedicated to only catching criminals that are from a certain minority !!!
Rick Edwards April 22, 2012 at 12:37 PM
I could not agree more with yolanda donnell benitez's remarks. Ms Preckwinkle has NO monopoly on THE TRUTH or Wisdom. That the jails of this country have a high % of Black or Brown skinned males does not prove the justice system is racist. If you break the law, are arrested, are convicted, and are sentenced to jail, WHERE did I identify skin color as being a causation of your being sent to the Big House????

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