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A prescription for societal dysfunction

| Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

With murders dramatically on the rise in America's cities and drug overdoses escalating nationwide, an October headline in The Washington Post proclaims “Justice Department set to free 6,000 prisoners, largest one-time release.” It summarizes the result of a series of allegedly “compassionate” policy changes that portend to deliver more violence, more addiction and higher rates of poverty and distress.

The early release of prisoners follows policy prescriptions by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that reduced punishment for future drug offenses and made the changes retroactive.

A separate initiative by President Obama to “grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders,” reports The Washington Post, has resulted, to date, in the release of nearly 100 inmates.

The “nonviolent” description is erroneous, given overdose deaths, the funding of terrorist organizations by global drug traffickers and the murders and other acts of violence committed by drug operators against competitors, witnesses, customers and law enforcement.

The early prisoner releases are, according to The Post, “an effort to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past three decades.” The outcome of the early releases of drug offenders is that the criminal overcrowding will be transferred from prisons to certain neighborhoods that already are inundated with criminals and drugs.

The unintended outcome is that the supposedly fair and compassionate release of prisoners to correct supposed and earlier racial inequities will deliver a blow to communities that can least afford additional deterioration. The “relief” being dispensed to drug offenders, including dealers, will dispense the opposite of relief to those already burdened by drugs, crime and dysfunction.

According to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths in the United States rose from 2013 to 2014 for both men and women in all age groups 25 and older. Pennsylvania was among 14 states with a rising overdose death rate in 2014, according to CDC data, while West Virginia and Ohio were among the five states with the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation.

The aforementioned 6,000 early releases is only the first step in the release of drug prisoners. The changes in sentencing “eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation's approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release,” reports The Post.

“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” states Mary Price, a lawyer with Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“Quite exceptional” is also likely to be the impact of the prisoner releases on Baltimore and Chicago in their “senseless-killing” neighborhoods (a phrase in Joan Didion's “The White Album” to describe the fading and threatening neighborhood where she lived during the '60s) .

With these acts of judicious “compassion,” President Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, the Sentencing Commission and the Justice Department have unleashed a strong formula for increased crime, drug abuse and overall societal dysfunction.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (rrreiland@aol.com)

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