This morning’s Courier Herald column.
If a few years ago, I had told you that right after Georgia completed a wholesale change of statewide offices to the Republican party with social conservatives firmly in control, that both the Speaker of the House and the Governor would suggest a possible cease fire in the war on drugs, you would have been justified in asking what I was smoking.
Sometimes, however, social policies get additional scrutiny when the coffers that underwrite them run low. Before budgets can be cut, however, public opinion on such lighting rod topics must be changed, less the leaders and their caucus members open themselves up to being told they are “soft on crime” during their next re-election.
This week, with the attention of the State firmly upon them, both Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal suggested we re-think our approach to the war on drugs. Said Ralston first:
“We’re spending a huge amount of money locking people up that have drug problems. At some point the people of Georgia have a right to ask if that’s an appropriate way to spend their tax dollars.”
This set the table for Deal, who in his inaugural address added this:
“Presently, one out of every 13 Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control. It cost about $3 million per day to operate our Department of Corrections. And yet, every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of perpetrators are juveniles…As a State, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions. It is draining our State Treasury and depleting our workforce…”
While neither seems to be suggesting anything near legalizing or even decriminalizing drugs, it is clear this is the first step in changing how we deal with casual drug users in the state of Georgia. The appeal is straight to the wallet.
The cost of a drug conviction is a one two punch. We must pay to lock up the offender, and then their limited employement ability after a conviction limits future upward mobility, and makes the opportunity cost of a future crime much less.
It is not the first bold move I expected from this Governor nor from this Speaker, but it is a discussion Georgia needs to have. We need to move more young adults into jobs instead of jails. The conversation has started. Please listen closely.