Allegedly, it was New York State and its 1973 drug laws, championed by then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, that helped kick off the massive national prison buildup that led to the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Four decades ago, the prison population in the United States was similar to that of the rest of the industrialized world. Less than 0.2 percent of the U. S. population was in a prison or jail. By 2012, the share of Americans behind bars tripled to 0.7 percent.
By 2012, 2.2 million Americans were in jail or prison.
Fueling the mass incarceration of millions requires an army of public employees.
Public defenders are particularly needed since many people are accused of victimless crimes, and many cannot afford a lawyer.
Private (as opposed to government-sanctioned) gambling, possession by adults of recreational drugs, petty sales of recreational drugs directly to consumers who are consenting adults, adult-to-adult prostitution and other consenting-adult entertainment, are among the offenses that help keep the need for prosecutors and public defenders high.
For example, according to FBI data, around 750,857 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the U. S. in 2012, most of them low level possession or petty sales to consenting adults. Some were arrested just for having a cannabis plant in their home.
All who are arrested require the time and attention of prosecutors. Many require public defenders. Taxpayers pay for both. If there not enough prosecutors and public defenders, it would stand to reason that police would have to arrest only those people who commit serious crimes that have a identifiable victim.
Hence, the state of New York, in order to enforce its spate of victimless crimes, is now offering public subsidies to lawyers who agree to continue their role in this cycle of putting poor people in jail for what amounts to, in large part, vices.