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Criminal Injustice -- Inside America's National Disgrace

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/reason-criminal-injustice.jpg
The libertarian Reason Magazine ("free minds and free markets") has devoted its July issue to "Criminal Injustice -- Inside America's National Disgrace"). Wrongful convictions, the immigration detention system, rogue prosecutors, the wastefulness of long prison terms and the peril of vague criminal statutes are just a few of the topics addressed.

In one particularly interesting column, "The Crime Rate Puzzle," Radley Balko (recently hired away from Reason by the Huffington Post) examines what academics think about the causes for the much-touted drop in crime of recent years. "Did incarceration reduce the crime rate, or did it get in the way?"

Sam Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska and one of the top scholars of policing, tells Balko:

Conservatives say the crime drop was because of incarceration. Liberals say it was programs like community policing. I don't think there's much convincing evidence for either."


Academic consensus, according to Balko, exists for just two factors: the ebbing of the crack trade after its peak in the late 1980s, and the growth in the economy since 1992. In this understanding, part of the drop in crime is due to the previous rise having been an aberration -- the new drug crack, shorter acting and marketed in poor neighborhoods, brought in a larger number of transactions each day and new fighting over turf. When the trade restabilized and the use of crack diminished, violence went back down to more normal levels. And over the longer term, a big part of the drop in crime is the growth of the economy, leading to lower unemployment, more jobs in the licit economy, less desperation, etc. "[I]t seems that as we live better... we live better," writes Balko.

Balko's willingness to question whether imprisoning more people has really reduced crime is especially important in light of the willingness of some academics to oversimplify that very question. In a generally insightful column published last month, sociologist James Q. Wilson was willing to question how much of the drop in crime was accounted for by the increased in incarceration, and even whether some types of incarceration really do address violence, low-level drug dealers in particular. But overall it is as simple to Wilson as to say "when prisoners are kept off the street, they can attack only one another, not you or your family."

Of course it's not that simple. The prisoner kept off the street may have a younger brother who becomes embittered by his sibling's absence, and is driven to crime for that reason. The money spent to incarcerate that person might instead have funded an after-school program serving dozens of at-risk youths, possibly preventing a number of criminal careers from ever beginning. Ultimately such questions can only be answered by research. Wilson's willingness to entirely omit such questions from his discussion makes it less likely to shed light on that particular point, and it ignores research calling the assumption into question. As Balko cites:

In a series of studies published in 2009, the University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld and the SUNY-Albany sociologist Steven Messner found that during the last 15 years, states with lower incarceration rates saw bigger drops in crime, on average, than those with lock-'em-up policies. Moreover, the historic increase in the prison population began in the early 1980S, a decade after the crime rate began to rise and a decade before it started to fall. The incarceration rate increased by more than 100 percent in the 1980s, but violent crime still increased that decade, by 22 percent.


Also omitted by most authors, but not Balko, is the prohibition issue. "[W]ere it not for drug prohibition, we could well be living in the safest era in American history." A good reason not to be complacent about the state of crime and the criminal justice system in America today.

Supreme Court Holds Crack Penalties Apply to "Cocaine Base"

In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the US Supreme Court upheld a 10-year federal prison sentence for possession of cocaine base, rejecting an appeal that harsher penalties for crack cocaine did not apply to "cocaine base." The case was DePierre v. US, and it concerned the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, passed at the height of mid-1980s crack hysteria.

The Supreme Court says "cocaine base" means more than just crack. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Under that law, possession of 50 grams of "cocaine base" was punishable by a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, while it took five kilograms of powder cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride or "cocaine salts") to garner the same sentence. While those penalties have been imposed almost exclusively on crack cocaine offenders, the words "crack cocaine" do not appear in the law. Instead the harsher penalties are imposed on those who possess substances or mixtures containing "cocaine base."

Frantz DePierre got busted for selling more than 50 grams of "cocaine base" to an undercover agent in Massachuseets in 2005. At trial, a federal judge rejected his request to instruct the jury that "cocaine base" meant only crack cocaine, and a federal appeals court in Boston agreed with the trial judge. And now the US Supreme Court has endorsed those lower court rulings.

"Cocaine base," as used in the 1986 law, "means not just 'crack cocaine,' but cocaine in its chemically basic form," Justice Sotomayor held, as the court upheld DePierre's conviction and 10-year prison sentence. That basic form includes "the molecule found in crack cocaine, freebase, and coca paste," she continued. "On its plain terms then, 'cocaine base' reaches more broadly than just crack cocaine.

While Congress last year voted to substantially reduce -- although not eliminate -- the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, crack still earns you substantially more time than powder. And this ruling clarifies that those stiffer penalties apply to freebase and coca paste, as well as crack.

Washington, DC
United States

Drug Submarines and the Futile Fight Against Colombian Smuggling

Location: 
Colombia
Yet another lessen in the futility of drug prohibition: Drug smugglers in Colombia have a low-cost way to transport cocaine -- narco-submarines. Authorities are struggling to keep up, and the technology keeps improving. Jay Bergman, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration's Andean division, said it's a whole new challenge. "Without question, it has us all going back to the textbooks and the drawing boards and figuring out what are we going to do about this." Bergman pointed out that so far, no drug submarines have been detected under the sea. But seizures of semi-submersibles have dropped dramatically in the past two years. That could mean that traffickers have already made the switch to submarines – and that they're eluding detection.
Publication/Source: 
Public Radio International (MN)
URL: 
http://www.pri.org/science/technology/drug-submarines-and-the-fight-against-colombian-smuggling3412.html

Venezuelan Drug Trafficker, Walid Makled, Says Chávez Government Officials Tied to Cocaine Trade

Location: 
Venezuela
Walid Makled says he had top Venezuelan generals and government officials on his payroll. He says that five or six plane-loads of cocaine take off everyday from San Fernandeo de Apure, in south-western Venezuela, bound for the US, via Honduras and Mexico. "It’s an everyday thing. Not every other day, it’s every day. Between FARC and the Venezuelan Army, we’re talking about four or five planes leaving Apure every day."
Publication/Source: 
PODER (FL)
URL: 
http://www.poder360.com/dailynews_detail.php?blurbid=10919

Morales: DEA Not Coming Back to Bolivia‎

Location: 
Bolivia
The arrest of Bolivia's top counternarcotics cop, Rene Sanabria, has not changed President Morales' stance on allowing the DEA into the country. Morales insisted he has no intention of inviting the DEA back. He alleged "interests of a geopolitical nature" were behind the Sanabria case. "They are using police to try to implicate the government," he said. Vice minister of social defense, Felipe Caceres, suggested that Sanabria's arrest was the DEA's revenge for being expelled. The president also hinted at U.S. hypocrisy, recalling reports that American agents ran guns to Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s with the proceeds of cocaine sales in the United States.
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/arrest-of-top-bolivian-859877.html

Drug Smuggling Scandal Shakes Bolivia

Location: 
Bolivia
Drug prohibition is responsible for a phenomenal amount of government corruption across the globe. Retired-general Rene Sanabria, the former head of Bolivia's main anti-narcotics unit serving as a top intelligence adviser to the country's Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti, pled not guilty in a Miami federal court on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S., in a scandal that has rocked the government of Evo Morales. Felipe Caceres, Bolivia's top antidrug official said Mr. Sanabria's security unit "was riddled" with corruption, and that 15 other police officials were in the process of being detained for complicity in the drug-smuggling operation.
Publication/Source: 
The Wall Street Journal (NY)
URL: 
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703559604576176632502187182.html

Former Head of Bolivia's Drugs Police Is Sent to U.S. to Face Cocaine Trafficking Charges

Location: 
Bolivia
In yet another example of drug prohibition corrupting top officials, the former head of Bolivia's counter-narcotics police, Rene Sanabria, has been arrested in Panama and sent to the U.S. to face charges he ran a cocaine trafficking ring.
Publication/Source: 
Daily Mail (UK)
URL: 
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361384/Bolivias-drugs-police-head-Rene-Sanabria-face-cocaine-trafficking-charge-US.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Philippine Congressman Jailed for Drug Trafficking in Hong Kong

Location: 
Philippines
A Hong Kong court sentenced Philippinian Rep. Ronald Singson to a year and a half in jail for trafficking cocaine. Singson got a lighter sentence from Wanchai District Court Judge Joseph Yau after he pleaded guilty to the charge of drug trafficking while insisting that he did not intend to sell the drugs he brought with him to Hong Kong. In Manila, Rep. Erico Aumentado, chairperson of the House Ethics and Privileges Committee, said there will be "no immediate sanction" imposed on Singson despite his sentence.
Publication/Source: 
GMA News (Philippines)
URL: 
http://wwt.gmanews.tv/story/213843/rep-singson-gets-18-months-for-drug-possession-in-hk

Experts: 'Nothing Amateur' About Narco Submarine

Location: 
Ecuador
The only narco submarine ever captured is a 73-foot-long camouflaged vessel capable of carrying at least 7 tons of cocaine while cruising stealthily beneath the ocean's surface. In the seven months since the game-changing discovery of the submarine, built by drug traffickers in a covert shipyard deep in the Ecuadorean jungle, naval experts from multiple countries have studied the vessel. Their conclusion: It is the "real deal" — fully capable of making multiple journeys to North America.
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle (TX)
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/7415756.html

The Futility of Drug Prohibition: 'Cocaine Clothes' Found in Italy Drug Bust

Location: 
Italy
Another example of the futility of drug prohibition and drug traffickers' unrelenting innovation: Italian police said they had uncovered a drug trafficking ring that used clothes dipped in liquid cocaine to smuggle the drug into Italy from the Dominican Republic.
Publication/Source: 
Agence France-Presse (France)
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jxGn0c-xXqk6KZpOxL8Ny-FDqeHw?docId=CNG.df91623da6926ca3cdfc80280770bcac.8d1

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