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Life Without Parole for a First-Time, Nonviolent Drug Offender

"President Obama, Commute Sharanda Jones' Sentence."

Red StateRed StateOver at Red State, Leon H. Wolf introduces us to the heartbreaking case of Sharanda Jones, who is cooling her heels in a federal prison until she dies there.

In 1999, Jones was 

convicted of a single, non-violent drug offense involving crack cocaine. This conviction stemmed from her first ever arrest, and she was not even caught with crack in her possession....

Sharanda was convicted based on the testimony of two government informants who themselves were facing draconian drug sentences. The thrust of their testimony was that they had, over the course of several years, received several shipments of crack cocaine from Sharanda, who according to their understanding had brought the cocaine up from Houston to Terrell (northeast Dallas metro area) for them. There was no allegation that Sharanda had ever committed a violent act, and she was not ever caught with any amount of crack in her possession. By the uncontested testimony at trial, Sharanda did not supply the crack herself or distribute it, but rather acted as a conduit to transfer it from Houston to Terrell.

Sharanda was initially charged with seven criminal counts, and pled not guilty to all seven.

Read the whole thing here and I suspect you'll agree with Wolf's headline plea: "President Obama, Commute Sharanda Jones' Sentence."

Earlier this summer, The Washington Post wrote about Jones. In 2014, the paper noted, Attorney General Eric Holder began granting clemency to non-violent drug offenders who had been model prisoners. There are about 100,000 federal prisoners in on drug charges, "among them thousands of nonviolent offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Most are poor, and four in five are African American or Hispanic."

Jones applied under that program, reported the Post.

It has been a halting process, however. Only 89 prisoners of the more than 35,000 who have filed applications have been freed. They include 46 inmates who were granted clemency on Monday by Obama.

Jones wasn’t among them.

Red State's Wolf concludes

Until a day comes where one [there is] a more politically palatable solution, all Sharanda Jones can do is pray that someday, someone in a position of authority will determine that she has been punished enough, and that she should be given the second chance that we all deep down believe that we deserve for our mistakes.

Jones' case—and all the others like, especially in these early days of the end of the war on pot and, one assumes eventually, the end of the war on drugs—should haunt us all.

Your kids and your grandkids will one day ask, What did you do during the drug war? I hope that we will all be able to answer in a way that makes our descendants proud—and more free.

Hat Tip: Popehat.

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  • John||

    This is from Red State? I thought all conservatives were evil drug warriors and all Progs and liberals freedom lovers who wanted to end the drug war?

    It is almost like the issue is not partisan or something. Well knock me over with a feather.

  • Hugh Akston||

    John's title bout versus the strawman may be the most one-sided fight since 1973 when Ali faced an 80-foot tall mechanical Joe Frazier. My memory's not what it used to be, but I believe the entire earth was destroyed.

  • Florida Man||

    Interesting if true...

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    That it surely is not.

  • John||

    Hugh you are a humorless douche bag. I really don't know what to do for you if you can't understand the humor of that post.

    Yes, it is a non partisan issue. There are people on both sides of the drug war who are both conservatives and liberals. That was the whole point of my post. It wasn't a straw man you fucking half wit. It was a joke to make a point. You know, the point I make in the last two sentences of the post.

  • Tony||

    Good. I'll trust right-wingers not to reflexively oppose reform just because the dirty liberals are in favor of it, like they do every other goddamn thing in the world.

  • Lee G||

    Wait a minute, do 50.0000001% of the people support reform? Because if not, the discussion is moot.

  • Tony||

    If you only have to change one mind, then it's not too much of an effort is it? You guys do this hair-over-50% thing like it's not actually an argument against your anti-democratic impulses.

  • Lee G||

    You're the one who believes in the will of the majority.

    As far as anti-democratic impulses go, you can set the god of democracy ablaze on a bonfire of ballots for all I care. The only thing that matters is freedom.

  • Tony||

    And you're going to have your freedom no matter how many people's wills you have to bulldoze over.

  • Lee G||

    If the people's will tramples my individual freedom or the freedom of someone else, then yes, I will work to oppose it.

    You never fail to astound.

  • Karl Hungus||

    And you're going to have your freedom no matter how many people's wills you have to bulldoze over.

    And so long as my freedom doesn't infringe upon those other people's freedom, then I couldn't possibly care less if it infringes upon their "wills."

  • kbolino||

    Is Tony quoting from Mein Kampf now? Those dirty Jews are bulldozing over the will of the great and glorious German people! What with their banking, and their Jewishness, and their possession of precious metals. Those things belong to the Reich!

  • Warren's Strapon||

    Tony's quote is some definite mask slippage. He doesn't give a shit about your freedom if it stands in the way of something he wants, just like an efficient slave master.

  • WTF||

    Ah, 'Tony' is back!

  • Agammamon||

    Tony|9.1.15 @ 1:10PM|#

    And you're going to have your freedom no matter how many people's wills you have to bulldoze over.

    Yes.

    If your will is to enslave me then I will take you out back and shoot you myself.

  • Pulseguy||

    I have to say Tony is special. It seems impossible, but astoundingly he outdoes himself day after day after day. It is nothing less than miraculous.

    One would think peak stupidity had been reached, but it hasn't. It never has. That is how amazing he is.

    Tony!....Tony!....Tony!

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    And you're going to have your freedom no matter how many people's wills you have to bulldoze over.

    I, like Tony, would rather see the triumph of the will.

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    And you're going to have your freedom no matter how many people's wills you have to bulldoze over.

    Yes, for the same reason I'd oppose majority opinion if they started putting Jews in concentration camps. What would you do in that situation, Tony?

  • fish||

    We voted......to tell you to go fuck yourself!

  • kbolino||

    All hail the great project-o-tron.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Interesting side note: as a head without a body, I envy the dead.

  • Zeb||

    It was a strawman. It was also clearly a joke, but the joke involved attacking a strawman.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    John, you're absolutely right on this one, but you're mostly preaching to the choir. Well, the choir and some trolls who are either delusional or mentally defective.

    But the perception that Republicans crafted the war on drugs to oppress people of color is widespread. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that established the 100-to-1 federal sentencing guidelines was introduced to a Democratic House by Texas Democrat Jim Wright. The next year Democrats rewarded Jim Wright by making him Speaker of the House.

    At the same time, Milton Friedman was already speaking out against the war on drugs. Buckley felt the same way at the time, but only came out in the nineties. Of course, socons loved the war on drugs and neocons were just fine with it. And, unfortunately, they made up the majority of the Republican Party then, and now many of these ratfuckers are doing their very best to ostracize any libertarian influence.

    The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 passed the House 392-16 and it passed the Senate 97-2. This was bipartisanship at it finest. Ron Paul wasn't in the House in 1986, but Phil Crane, a libertarianish Goldwater Republican, was one of the nays. The Congressional Black Caucus supported the House Bill, but several members voted nay. They were joined by the gadfly Henry Gonzalez, Barney Frank and a few other white liberals. In the Senate, the nays were split evenly.

  • Zeb||

    It is interesting and encouraging to see more conservatives really come out and question this shit.

    The drugwar has always had broad bipartisan support, but it seems like you used to hear very little opposition to it from the right outside of a few weirdo libertarian types. Now I think it is fair to say that both sides have a lot more people calling for actual reforms (but sadly not many actually calling for rolling back prohibition except for weed).

  • Lee G||

    This. The calls for changes to the drug war from the right (and the left) are utilitarian. Legalize weed because of its relative harmlessness but ignore the whole question of whether or not people have the right to decide what goes in their own bodies.

  • Robert||

    Isn't utilitarian better than dysutilitarian? Isn't it always?

  • CatoTheChipper||

    I'd hardly categorize Milton Friedman and Bill Buckley as 'weirdo libertarian types'.

  • Zeb||

    "Very little" is not "none at all".
    And Friedman might count as weirdo libertarian type in my book.

  • Warren's Strapon||

    To be fair, the Red State author does later say

    I think everyone, including Sharanda herself, would concede that she deserved to serve some amount of prison time for her crime

    But it is a good start.

  • Zeb||

    It's something, anyway. But still: barf. Did she assault, rob, kill, defraud or rape someone? No? Then she doesn't deserve shit.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Pretty standard national review stuff

  • R C Dean||

    Sharanda was convicted based on the testimony of two government informants who themselves were facing draconian drug sentences.

    Jailhouse snitch testimony should be per se inadmissable, unless the snitch receives absolutely no benefit for testifying.

  • Lee G||

    Stop hating justice.

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Justice is a whore who only gives herself to the highest bidder... which is usually our Lie-Cheat-Steal-and-Murder, Win-At-All-Cost Federal thugocracy.

    From the comments, actually.

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Fuck, that's twice.

    I need moar coffee

  • Lee G||

    someone in a position of authority will determine that she has been punished enough

    Punished enough for what? Being part of an informant's plea negotiation?

  • ||

    So if this went to trial, this conviction was handed down by a jury. What was her jury composed of, fucking sociopathic sadists?!?

  • Almanian Bridges, Not Walls||

    Yes, her peers

    /sarc, in case it wasn't clear

  • Agammamon||

    You've met other people? No need for sarcasm, that's how people are with any amount of power over others and an opportunity to ingratiate themselves to those with more power than they.

  • Lee G||

    I would be surprised if the jury knew that the informants were under indictment. Judge probably barred that information.

    That said, the jury was obviously composed of suggestible retards.

  • Rhywun||

    Judge probably barred that information.

    They are in the habit of making up jurors' minds for them, aren't they.

  • Hugh Akston||

    This was 1999, Epi. Drugs and gangs were literally the only things anybody was worried about. I mean, even Rolling Stone was so out of ideas that they were still publishing cover stories about Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

  • Robert||

    The Beatles were Bob Dylan's orchestra then?

  • ||

    Who knows how long a sentence the jury thought she was up for. I'm sure the "enhancements" weren't brought up until sentencing.

  • Karl Hungus||

    What was her jury composed of, fucking sociopathic sadists?!?

    Or, more likely, twelve typical Americans who have no idea that as jurors, they sit in judgement not only of the facts of the case at hand, but also of the law itself. They were almost certainly lied to during voir dire and jury instructions, and told that if the evidence points to factual guilt, then they're required to convict. Also, without having read the article, I imagine that jurors were unaware that she faced sucha draconian sentence.

    When the court goes to such lengths to stack the jury in the state's favor, a defendant like her doesn't stand a chance.

  • creech||

    Yet another example of why libertarians shouldn't duck jury duty.

  • Lee G||

    My own experience with juries indicated that people are sheep. I had at least 6 members change their vote after about 5 minutes of presentation. No argumentation on their part at all.

  • Robert||

    Even if they judge the laws, remember that these laws have very wide popular support.

  • Loki||

    Have you ever been to Terrell, TX? It's not exactly a deep gene pool.

    Although there is a great steak house there is a really good steak house there.

  • Karl Hungus||

    Although there is a great steak house there

    That 16 oz. ribeye sounds pretty damned good.

  • Almanian Bridges, Not Walls||

    Hey - don't do the crime if you can't do the time. If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.

    And keep your eye on the sparrow....

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    For instance, among other enhancements, Sharanda’s sentence was enhanced for carrying a gun “in furtherance of a drug conspiracy,” based simply on the fact that she had a legal license to carry a firearm in Texas. There was no testimony at trial or at any other time that she ever used her gun or even brandished or displayed it to anyone at any time. Additionally, although Sharanda was acquitted on six of the seven counts against her, her testimony in her own defense was declared at sentencing to have been false and therefore an “obstruction of justice.”

    Absolutely awful story. Good on Red State for publicizing it. I'm sure Obama will be all over this one, though.

  • Lee G||

    The charges read like a prosecutor's trumped up plea bargaining list. She must have had a shit attorney.

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Maybe, but it sounds like the deck was stacked against them.

    FTA:

    Sharanda was initially charged with seven criminal counts, and pled not guilty to all seven. She testified in her own defense and was ultimately acquitted on six of the seven counts. However, at the sentencing phase, prosecutors took the opportunity to pursue a despicable and un-American tactic all too common in our criminal justice system: they sought at sentencing to punish Sharanda for insisting on her right to trial by seeking “sentencing enhancements” – many of which essentially constitute separate crimes (e.g., obstruction of justice) but which of course prosecutors weren’t required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at this phase of the trial.

    Bad.

  • Lee G||

    punish Sharanda for insisting on her right to trial by seeking “sentencing enhancements” – many of which essentially constitute separate crimes (e.g., obstruction of justice)

    That, right there, would have been enough for the Founding Fathers to have started a shooting war over.

    We are so far down in the toilet...

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Absolutely. And precisely why it is so difficult to have conversations about this with anyone not versed in today's criminal justice system. I cite stories like this and the excuse-generators kick in:

    "we don't know the whole story"
    "one bad apple"
    "most _______ are just doing a hard job the best they can"

    Blah blah blah.

    All I got is: "Fuck off, slavers."

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    "most _______ are just doing a hard job the best they can"

    This one gets my blood boiling. Your good intentions aren't worth shit!

  • Robert||

    OK, then I'll have bad intentions.

  • Loki||

    I'm sure Obama will be all over this one, though.

    Surely, if comrade Stalin Obama knew...

  • Mr Drew||

    Sure, sure, sure, but is she a nice person?

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    Well she's black, so most likely not.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    A second chance? To put a known drug mule back on the streets? Are you high?

  • Lee G||

    From the comments (just in case you thought redstate was going soft)

    If this sort of sentence were uniformly applied, I wouldn't have a problem with it (of course, I'm a big believer in the death penalty for most drug crimes). The problem, as you said, is that this sentence is often NOT meted out for violent crimes*; q.v. the low sentences baby-killers get.

    *I refuse to say 'more serious crimes', since drugs are a great cause of the societal rot; that's precisely why I believe death should be the penalty for most crimes. Mere possession should be 20 years hard labor. If these laws existed AND WERE CONSISTENTLY applied, you'd see the drug problem start to dry up.
  • kbolino||

    If these laws existed AND WERE CONSISTENTLY applied, you'd see the drug problem start to dry up.

    Counterexample: North Korea

    I don't mean this in a snarky way, either. They do exactly what this guy is advocating: hard labor for minor drug crimes, death penalty for major ones. Yet they have a massive and growing meth problem.

  • Lee G||

    But they're godless commies...

    I jest, but I believe his answer would fall along those line.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Mostly because they're hungry. It's a good way to skip meals.

  • kbolino||

    But Juche is delivering so much food to the people. Why, it's more food than anyone could ever need!

  • Enough About Woodchippers||

    "Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!"

  • Robert||

    Is there nothing the Jews can't do?

  • Karl Hungus||

    I don't mean this in a snarky way, either. They do exactly what this guy is advocating: hard labor for minor drug crimes, death penalty for major ones. Yet they have a massive and growing meth problem.

    And to guys like that, that just means more people to imprison and execute. Feature, not bug.

  • Rhywun||

    This dude should pack up and move there then. Or to one of the many other bastions of freedom that murder drug users and dealers, in which case he might want to brush up on his sharia.

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    in which case he might want to brush up on his sharia.

    Speaking of, the grand and glorious moderate Islamists of Indonesia recently created an international incident when they executed Australian, Nigerian, and Brazilian citizens for smuggling drugs into the country.

    It's interesting how the craziest conservative right-wingers have a great deal in common with the Muslims they claim to hate.

  • ||

    Ugh. Can I get the death penalty for people who think individuals have a responsibility to "society"?

  • Lee G||

    As long as you start with Tony

  • ||

    Who knows what his handler really thinks though?

  • Pulseguy||

    Tony would willingly go to the gallows provided 50.0001% of the population thought he should.

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Social Contract, Nicole. Apparently we were all wasted when we signed it, though.

  • Zeb||

    I hear you can't actually consent under those conditions.

  • kbolino||

    Also: Drugs are the cause, but people should be killed? Does the commenter understand what "causality" means?

  • Loki||

    Does the commenter understand what "causality" means?

    "You talk like a fag and your shit's all retarded." /commenter

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    I refuse to say 'more serious crimes', since drugs are a great cause of the societal rot; that's precisely why I believe death should be the penalty for most crimes.

    This guy is legitimately evil.

  • Bubba Jones||

    If these laws were consistently applied, white people would repeal them.

  • Robert||

    If they were consistently applied, there'd be nobody of any race left alive to repeal them.

  • chipper me timbers||

    The one thing I'd love to see SJW's succeed on is getting everyone to equate drug war with racism.

    Once all the soccer moms in Orange county start feeling racial guilt over drug laws we might get somewhere. I look forward to the day when future history books lament the evils of our drug warriors with the same vehemence and guilt that we now lament the evils of the 19th century slavers

  • Tony||

    The only thing keeping this freakshow going is the disparate impact on minorities. If little Johnny and Suzie were likely to be put in a cage for their casual drug use, the soccer moms would already be on board.

    Racial guilt is not a big of a thing as you think it is. Even the most sympathetic white liberals have to make an effort at checking their own biases. Which is why we don't buy it when white conservatives play do the whole "color blind" routine.

  • kbolino||

    Which is why we don't buy it when white conservatives play do the whole "color blind" routine.

    PROJECT-O-TRON TURBO MODE ENGAGE

  • Idle Hands||

    Even the most sympathetic white liberals have to make an effort at checking their own biases.

    I can now die in piece.

  • Lee G||

    Not before you check your privilege.

  • Idle Hands||

    *peace

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    But you will die in pieces.

  • HolgerDanske||

    At least you have the decency to try and be cognizant of your own racism.

    Given the way racists generalize large groups of people, it's not really shocking that they would identify themselves by group affiliation, like race, and assume that everyone else in their peer group was also a racist.

  • Jordan||

    Focusing on the racist aspect of the Drug War is a huge mistake, since the racial grievance industry in this country has watered down the claim of racism into meaninglessness. Crying racism is guaranteed to get a significant chunk of the country to roll its eyes and tune you out. The Drug War is not unjust because it disproportionately affects black men; it's unjust because it affects anybody.

  • Lee G||

    This. It must be opposed on first principles.

  • Lee G||

    Obviously the problem for her son was that heroin possession was not punished harshly enough under our current system.

  • Antilles||

    Wonder if she would still support the WOD if her son was caught with heroin and given a life sentence. Grief sometimes makes people irrational.

  • Robert||

    But if they do succeed, they succeed in convincing everyone that, yes, racial minorities are the ones particularly attracted to narcotics & the business, so all the race majorities had to do was observe that fact & make it illegal. Which is eventually going to get those minorities pretty mad at the Single Jewish Women.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Something, something. Woodchippers might be useful.

  • Jordan||

    There are people on Radley Balko's Twitter feed actually defending this miscarriage of justice. What the fuck is wrong with people?

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Defending it because drugz 'r bad, 'mkay?

    What the fuck is wrong with people?

    People are shit. The reason that the Constitution, alcohol and libertarianism exist is because of this simple truth.

  • kbolino||

    They will not be satisfied until everyone else does exactly what they want?

  • Frankjasper1||

    Is it just me or is tony been projecting himself onto others lately? I must say his views seem a bit apalling

  • Jordan||

    Projection - along with strawmen and poisoning the well - is Tony's standard MO.

  • kbolino||

    Tony can't find the well to poison it half the time...

  • ||

    Ah. The War on Drugs. Aka as The War On Insisting To Stay Barbaric.

    I wonder if all these 'tough on crime' types ever sit back and THINK for a second the evil of sending a non-violent person to prison because of drugs.

    It's whacked on so many intellectual and moral levels I can't breathe.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I brought this up a while back, but it sort of makes sense in context of moral foundations theory. Drugs desecrate the body. Some people see this as inherently immoral and deserving of punishment.

  • Zeb||

    Drugs desecrate the body.

    That's a rather large assumption that could be made about lots of things that aren't against the law just as well.

  • sarcasmic||

    Aren't against the law but should be! I mean, spoons cause obesity and heart disease! They should be outlawed!

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    That's a rather large assumption that could be made about lots of things that aren't against the law just as well.

    You're presuming deep philosophical thought where none exists. Drugs are bad because drugs make an icky feeling in my stomach when I think about them. That's the extent of the thinking here.

  • Robert||

    There's some deep "thought" there, but not conscious. Drugs are bad because they make people feel better cheaply, i.e. without much effort. Most of the things that make people feel better take a lot of effort, while those that don't, like stealing, tend to be bad things. So if you have a way to feel better without doing the work I have to do to feel better, that's cheating. Same thing as sexual pleasure without baby-making.

    Lately that attitude's come out in even stranger ways, such as getting people to go to school far longer than they'll need to do the useful things they wind up doing.

  • ||

    Yes...but if my education here at Reason taught me anything...if a person does so of their free will and without hurting others (and I understand this is incredibly complex and subtle as of course they're 'hurting' others like family etc.) how the heck is it the government's business?

  • Antilles||

    how the heck is it the government's business?

    Because your fellow citizens have to pay your medical bills when you get sick or injured from you irresponsible drug use. Plus heavy drug users are less productive and don't earn as many taxable dollars as people who enjoy legal drugs.

    Not what I believe, but that's a typical explanation of why taking 'illegal' drugs is not a victimless crime.

  • ||

    That's standard in Canada but it's wrong and bull shit to me.

  • Zeb||

    The thing about the "hurting your friends and family" argument is that you can do all the horrible things to your family that addicts often do without drugs. You can be straightedge and a gigantic asshole, wifebeating maniac. It's not the drugs, it's a person's behavior. Which isn't any better or worse because drugs had something to do with it.

  • Robert||

    That's why we may have to work our way out of those attitudes by promoting psychoactive drug use as therapeutic. Once doctors are the ones giving people the drugs they want, they'll be sanctifying rather than desecrating.

  • sarcasmic||

    You don't understand. All drug offenses are violent. Drugs cause innocent children to become addicts. Drug dealers peddle their poison to children. Drugs cause addicts to commit burglaries and robberies to support their habit, not to mention all the assaults, rapes and murders the drugs cause them to commit while high. It all comes down to the dealers and distributors. Addicts themselves are victims, but the peddlers of the poison are doing great violence on society. They need to all be locked up forever. Or executed. That's one thing ISIS is doing properly. They don't tolerate that shit. We need to be more like ISIS. Duh.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte||

  • Enough About Woodchippers||

    I have a 2.5 year-old GSD. Pedigree. Her father is from the working-dog line in Germany. His paternal bloodline is traceable, unbroken, to the dozen or so used to establish the breed in Germany in the 19th century. Flown to the US to breed with her mother. Beautiful dog. Knows about two dozen commands.

    On of those is "Know this. Every cop wants to shoot you. Every last one. It's what they live for. Stay away from them."

    Granted, it's kind of long for a dog command, but she's super-smart and it's so important for her to know.

  • Enough About Woodchippers||

    I meant three dozen commands.

  • Rt. Hon. Judge Woodrow Chipper||

    WTF is with this bullshit word gaming:

    Sharanda did not supply the crack herself or distribute it, but rather acted as a conduit to transfer it

    To act "as a conduit to transfer" means to distribute.

    I don't think the draconian-and-barbaric law ever intended "distribute" to only mean "send to more than one person." I mean, that's the whole goddamned point of any law written in the last 40 years, to ensnare as many as possible for the smallest of acts. It's the exact hatred I expect from government, so let's not pretend their words of legislation ever mean anything but the highest imaginable level of malice towards its subjects.

  • MH1976||

    Somali pirate 33 years while someone caught with drugs gets life. She is just 1 example of the lost war on drugs. I read drugs is one of the greatest scourges.
    If they legalized all of it or some of them it doesn't mean people are gonna run out and get crack or heroine or meth. They can already get them now. Its a stupid argument. Same with guns crimanals can already get them and will always be able to. Jail and prsion is a big money making industry .

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