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Race: Blacks Arrested on Drug Charges in Wildly Disproportionate Numbers, Rights Group Charges

As if we needed further confirmation that the war on drugs is racially biased in outcome, the human rights group Human Rights Watch released a report Monday showing that blacks have been arrested nationwide for drug offenses at significantly higher rates than whites for at least the past three decades. Whites and blacks engage in drug offenses at similar rates, but blacks were 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites in every year between 1980 and 2007.

The report, Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests and Race in the United States, was based on the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports. In addition to national arrest figures, the report provides state by state comparisons of arrest numbers and rates.

More than 25.4 million people have been arrested on drug charges since 1980, the analysis found. About one-third of them were black, although African-Americans make up only about 13% of the population and 13% of drug users.

"Jim Crow may be dead, but the drug war has never been color-blind," said Jamie Fellner, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch's US Program and author of the report. "Although whites and blacks use and sell drugs, the heavy hand of the law is more likely to fall on black shoulders."

And modern day Jim Crow is popping up in some unexpected places. States where blacks are arrested at much greater rates than whites for drug offenses include Oregon, where blacks are 6.0 times as likely to be arrested as whites, West Virginia (6.9 times), Wisconsin (7.1 times), Pennsylvania and Nebraska (7.2 times), North Dakota (8.2 times), Vermont (8.6 times), Kentucky (9.9 times), and Minnesota, where blacks are 11.3 times as likely to get arrested for drugs as whites.

The report also says that arrests for drug possession have greatly exceeded arrests for drug sales every year since 1980. Indeed, the proportion of drug arrests for possession has been increasing, amounting to 80% or more annually since 1999. And marijuana possession arrests are a major driver of the overall figure. Between 2000 and 2007, simple pot possession arrests alone accounted for between 37.7% and 42.1% of all drug arrests.

"Hauling hundreds of thousands of people down to the station house each year because they have some weed or a rock of crack cocaine in their pocket has had little impact on drug use," said Fellner. "But the stigma of a drug arrest, especially if followed by a conviction, limits employment, education and housing opportunities. A more effective, less destructive drug policy would prioritize treatment, education, and positive social investments in poor communities over arrest and incarceration."

Human Rights Watch strongly recommended reducing the disparity in drug arrests -- but not by arresting more white people. Instead, it suggested it was time for a "fresh and evidence-based rethinking of the drug war paradigm." It called on all levels of government to:

  • Restructure funding and resource allocation priorities to place more emphasis on substance abuse treatment and prevention outreach, and less on drug law enforcement;
  • Review and revise drug sentencing laws to increase the use of community-based sanctions for drug offenses and to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for them;
  • Conduct comprehensive analyses of racial disparities in all phases of drug law enforcement to devise ways to ensure the enforcement of drug laws does not disproportionately burden black communities;
  • Assess the extent to which considerations of race may influence police decision-making, including decisions regarding the neighborhoods in which police are deployed for drug law enforcement purposes and whom to arrest, particularly for low level offenses such as simple drug possession; and
  • Monitor patterns in pedestrian and vehicle stops and other police activities to determine if unwarranted racial disparities exist that suggest racial profiling or other race-based decision-making and to take appropriate action to eliminate racially disparate treatment.

Feature: Is This the Year New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws Will Be Repealed?

For more than 35 years, New York state has had the dubious distinction of having some of the country's worst drug laws, the Rockefeller drug laws passed in 1973. While pressure has mounted in the past decade to repeal those draconian laws, the reforms made to them in 2004 and 2005 have proven disappointing. But now, in what could be a perfect storm for reform, all the pieces for doing away with the Rockefeller drug laws appear to be falling into place.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally against the Rockefeller drug laws, NYC (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
New York is now governed by an African American, David Paterson, who was arrested in an act of civil disobedience against the Rockefeller drug laws and who has vowed to reform them. The Democratic leader of the state Assembly, Sheldon Silver, is on board for serious reforms. And for the first time in years, Democrats also control the state Senate. Add to that mix the budgetary crisis in which the state finds itself, and it would appear that this is the year reform or repeal could actually happen.

But it hasn't happened yet -- no bills have even been filed -- and there is opposition to real reform, mostly from district attorneys, representatives whose upstate districts depend on prisons as a jobs program, and the law enforcement establishment. Those folks may latch onto pseudo-reforms as a means of blocking real reform.

Their handbook could be the State Sentencing Commission report issued this week. That report, commissioned by Gov. Paterson last year, calls for marginal reforms in sentencing and parole, as well as limited judicial discretion, but leaves too much power in the hands of prosecutors, said reform advocates.

"The Sentencing Commission proposal was positive in that it would return some judicial discretion in limited cases," said Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Rockefeller repeal coalition Drop the Rock. "But we hope and will press for more sweeping and meaningful reform of the Rockefeller laws. This report was the product of a commission composed of many prosecutors and corrections people, and it does not go far enough."

"I can't believe at this particular moment that they would put this out," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New York state office. "Not only does it not include real reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, but it takes a step backward," Sayegh continued. "The commission acted as though the political climate we're in is not happening. It's like they drafted this thing from a cave."

DPA wants judicial discretion and treatment programs, which are included in the Sentencing Commission report, Sayegh said. "The problem is that when you dig into the details of the recommendations, what they are actually saying is that their version of judicial discretion, expanding treatment, and expanding diversion opportunities are all crafted out of the prosecutorial perspective. Prosecutors would maintain their leading roles and their diversion criteria would eliminate half the people from even being considering for it. That's the substance of our objections to the report," Sayegh said.

While Sayegh criticized Gov. Paterson for allowing the commission to "continue with its bumbling," he also took heart from Paterson's non-response to the report's release. "Paterson was going to hold a public event around the release, but that got changed to a press conference, and then even that got cancelled," he noted. "We see that as a good sign, an indication that he will not lend his backing to this report."

Instead, Sayegh said, a much better starting point would be the report issued two weeks ago by Assembly leader Sheldon Silver, Breaking New York's Addiction to Prison: Reforming New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws. In that report, Silver laid out the "principles" of reform:

  • Ilegal drugs should remain illegal. Adults who sell drugs to children, individuals who use guns in drug deals, and drug kingpins deserve harsh punishment.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences for low-level offenders must go. Mandating that judges sentence drug users and very low level street sellers to state prison has not impacted crime or reduced addiction but, rather, has led to a massive increase in New York's prison population with a disproportionate number of Latinos and African-Americans being incarcerated.
  • Real judicial discretion means an end to mandatory minimum prison sentences for Class B felony drug offenses and second time, nonviolent drug offenders and the placing of an equal emphasis on alternatives to incarceration and treatment. Except for the most serious crimes, judges in New York already have the discretion to fashion appropriate sentences for criminal acts. Judges should have the ability to make an informed decision whether circumstances warrant imposing a state prison sentence in drug crimes just as they do in cases of many assault, larceny, property damage and any number of other crimes.
  • District Attorneys should continue to play a key role in the process, but they should not be able to veto a judge's discretion. Indeed, to the extent there are district attorney-sponsored initiatives, such as Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) programs that have proven success rates with the limited populations they serve, judges will have the discretion to continue them.
  • Existing maximum determinate sentences for first and second class B level felony and below offenders should be maintained so that if a judge decided circumstances warrant, those who commit the crime will do serious time.

Partial reforms like those achieved in 2004 and 2005 are not going to cut it, said Caitlan Dunklee. "The reforms in 2004 and 2005 failed across the board... the only positive thing about them was that a few hundred people got to go home to their families, but they failed to address the underlying inequities of the Rockefeller drug laws. Specifically, they failed to return any discretion to judges, perpetuating the one size fits all justice that has led to huge levels of incarceration in New York."

The 2004 and 2005 reforms can be judged by their fruits. According to a Drop the Rock 2008 fact sheet, 5,657 people were sent to prison in 2004 for nonviolent drug offenses. That number increased to 5,835 in 2005, 6,039 in 2006, and 6,148 in 2007. About 40% of drug offenders behind bars in New York, some 5,300 people, are doing time simply for drug possession. And more than half of all drug offenders behind bars are doing time for the lowest level drug felonies, which involve only tiny amount of drugs. For example, it takes only a half-gram of cocaine to be charged with a Class D possession felony. More than 1,200 people are currently locked up for that offense.

So, is 2009 the year that real reform (or outright repeal) of the Rockefeller drug laws will happen? DPA thinks so, and held a conference two weeks ago to help make it happen. New Directions for New York: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy brought together numerous drug policy stakeholders in an effort to break the grasp of the criminal justice template on drug policy.

"This was the first time in state history where we had stakeholders ranging from the Medical Society of New York to needle exchange providers to people who actively use injection drugs and do outreach to reduce HIV to academics, prosecutors, and elected officials," said Sayegh. Although New York has good drug policy programs -- harm reduction offices, overdose prevention strategies in place -- the overall discussion is still framed too much by the criminal justice perspective, Sayegh said.

"There is an apparatus in place to lead the charge for more progressive drug policies, but the discussion is framed by the Rockefeller laws," he said. "At this conference, stakeholders who are focused on the Rockefeller laws met with groups who focus on treatment, harm reduction, and medical research. We used the four-pillars approach pioneered by Vancouver, which for many people was a new concept. This allowed them to look at drug policy and reform from a new conceptual perspective, and that's part of what will bring about change."

Sayegh is guardedly optimistic about the prospects for reform this year. "In the past, we hadn't been able to move forward because the prosecutors controlled the language and logic of the debate," he noted. "But now, we can provide the legislature with new language and a new framework, the logic of public health, not criminal justice. This will make the legislature much more willing to move on reform proposals. Who doesn't like public health?"

"I'm very optimistic," said Drop the Rock's Dunklee. "I think we'll see a progressive piece of legislation get passed this year that will include meaningful restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases. Hopefully, it will also include an expansion of funding for alternative to incarceration programs like job training and drug treatment."

Not everyone was so sanguine. "I'm optimistic that something will happen, but I don't think its going to be as profound as everyone would like," said Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, which has been part of the Rockefeller repeal effort for years. "That's because there is no street movement anymore, not a lot of grassroots pressure.

While mobilizations in 2004 and 2005 put tens of thousands of people on the street calling for reform, the minor reforms achieved then took the steam out of the mass movement, Credico argued. "Some people thought incremental change would work then," he said, "but we said it's better to get no loaf than half a loaf. That way, the pressure would remain and build. But we got half a loaf, and four years later, all these guys are still in jail and all the air has gone out of the movement."

"And it's not just the Rockefeller drug laws -- we need to completely overhaul the criminal justice system, from sentencing to the appointment of judges to judge-shopping by prosecutors to racial profiling to banning stop and frisk searches. People need to focus on the overall criminal justice system, or just as many people will be going to prison as we have now."

Drop the Rock's Dunklee begged to differ with Credico over the state of the mass movement for reform. "Drop the Rock is the statewide campaign for repeal, and we haven't gone away," she said. "There is a movement. The 25,000 signatures we've gathered on our petition for repeal is a sign of that. Last year, we took more than 300 people up to Albany, and we will do it again this year."

Still, Dunklee conceded, the partial reforms of 2004 and 2005 did take a lot of air out of the movement. "The media spun that like they were real reforms, and that did weaken the movement," she said. "But in terms of movement building, we still find it easy to organize around this issue because people are so pissed off. I think there is still a lot of energy there."

That energy will be needed in the coming months. While New York's budget mess will occupy legislators for the next few weeks, they will eventually turn to the Rockefeller law reforms. No bills have been filed yet, but they are expected shortly. And hearings are set for May. This year's battle to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws is just getting underway.

Feature: The Kids Are Alright -- The SSDP 10th International Conference

Buoyed by this month's election results and jazzed by the prospects for change with a new administration in Washington, some 450 student activists converged on the University of Maryland campus in College Park last weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the group's annual international conference.

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first evening gathering (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
Hosted by University of Maryland SSDP, traditionally one of the national group's staunchest chapters, the conference saw students come from across the nation and at least two foreign countries for three days of education, training in effective activism, and hands-on lobbying on Capitol Hill. Among the attendees were representatives of Canadian SSDP, buoyed by their own national conference, the organization's second, attended by 250 people earlier this month.

For both SSDP veterans and newcomers alike, the conference provided opportunities for networking, inspiration, and education. For some of the younger attendees, it was an eye-opener.

"I didn't realize how many people were involved in this," said SSDP national office intern Ericha Richards, a freshman at American University. "It's exciting!"

Jimmy Devine of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire has been attending for several years, but still found plenty to get excited about. "It's always good to come to national, to see what the other chapters have been up to, and to meet old friends," he said. "And we're always looking for new ideas to take back with us."

On Friday, led by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbyist Aaron Houston, the students spent the morning polishing up on lobbying basics, then visited with representatives or their staffers to push for reductions in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Students reported mixed results, but that's no surprise, and even with representatives on the wrong side of the issues, lobbying is part of changing minds -- and votes.

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Rep. Danny Davis (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
On Saturday and Sunday, students gathered at the University of Maryland student union for two days of panels and training in activism. Saturday morning, they heard from movement leaders, who described the chances of drug reform at the federal level in coming years with varying degrees of optimism. With the Democratic sweep of the presidency and the Congress, the prospects have improved, but big obstacles remain, the students heard.

"This election was about change," said MPP's Houston. "It's a very exciting time, so why aren't we doing back flips?" he asked. Drug reform may get short shrift in an Obama administration faced with a free-falling economy and foreign crises, Houston answered himself. "We're walking into favorable conditions, but there are a lot of issues facing Obama and the Congress."

But the economic crisis could lead to opportunity, he said. "We have huge economic problems, and this could be the time to start talking about taxing and regulating marijuana. That could generate $10 to $14 billion a year for the federal treasury," he said.

"Change is going to happen," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. Wolf ticked off an ACLU reform wish list of rescheduling marijuana, ending the government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, ending the selective prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers, abolishing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, and banning racial profiling.

"I'm hugely optimistic about the prospects for change in Congress," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), citing support for ending the federal funding ban on syringe exchange and reducing or eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity among highly placed Democrats. "We are over the hump," the Capitol Hill veteran said. "People are not afraid any more to talk about drug policy, and we have key committee chairs on our side. We will repeal the syringe ban and reduce sentencing disparities," he predicted.

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police militarization panel, featuring Reason's Radley Balko, StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden, SWAT raid victim Mayor Cheye Calvo of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, moderated by Alison Grimmer of Roosevelt University SSDP
But Piper was also looking just a bit further down the road then next year's Congress. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) comes up for reauthorization in 2010, he noted. Rather than try futilely to eliminate the office, "we can try to shift ONDCP's goals" to a more public health-oriented approach, he suggested.

"Marijuana is more popular than the past three presidents," MPP executive director Rob Kampia told a cheering audience as he recounted this year's victories for medical marijuana in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts.

Student activists took no back seat to the professionals, though, and the breadth of reform efforts by SSDP chapters, and number of campuses leading or helping with them was impressive. Conference-goers got to hear about campus campaigns ranging from establishing safe ride programs (reducing intoxicated driving without exposing students to threat of penalty); good Samaritan overdose policies (neither the student needing medical help nor the student reporting it facing threat of arrest); getting schools to stop calling police into dorms for drug infractions; reforming dorm eviction policies for substance violations; working with ballot initiative campaigns such as those in Michigan and Berkeley; public education efforts; and state lobbying campaign; among others.

One chapter, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, seemed to have done almost everything, and all during its first year. At the annual Awards Banquet, where representatives received the Outstanding Chapter Award, a raft of impressive achievements were listed off in the introduction. Not only did Kalamazoo SSDP get a safe ride program established, and Good Samaritan and not calling police into dorms for minor drug violation policies established. They also went outside the campus to bring together a coalition of community groups, government agencies and law enforcement to get approval for a needle exchange program in the city for the first time.

One highlight of the conference was the Saturday lunch debate between SSDP executive director Kris Krane and Kevin Sabet of Students Taking Action Not Drugs. The back and forth between the two, moderated by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, kept the audience rapt -- and scoring the debate like a boxing match.

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Krane/Sabet debate, Washington Post's Courtland Milloy moderating
Sabet, in what must have felt like hostile territory, did his best to try to establish "common ground" with drug reformers, citing his support for addressing the crack/powder disparity and qualifying some of drug czar John Walters' policies as "stupid politics." He also cited as models programs like North Carolina's Project HOPE, where probationers and parolees confronted by positive drug tests are not sent back to prison, but are hit with quick, short jail stays. "That's a huge motivation," Sabet argued.

If Sabet was looking for agreement from Krane or the audience, he didn't find much of it. "Our metrics in the war on drugs are wrong," said Krane. "We should be measuring abuse, problem use, infection rates -- not drug use rates," he argued. "You have to get arrested to get treatment, and that's backwards," he said.

Instead of being based on the Holy Grail of reducing drug use, drug policy should have different guiding principles, Krane argued. "First, no one should be punished for using drugs absent harm to others. Second, we should adopt a harm reduction framework, and third, we should adopt a human rights framework."

"Drug use doesn't occur in a vacuum," Sabet retorted. "A lot of drug use is problematic, and some of that can be addressed by dealing with poverty, health care, and homelessness. There is common ground," he tried again.

Not so quick, Krane replied, arguing that drug use should be treated as a public health problem, not the purview of law enforcement.

"Drug trafficking is not a public health problem, it's a law enforcement problem," Sabet countered.

"Drug trafficking is a prohibition problem, not a law enforcement problem," Krane retorted to cheers from the crowd.

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David Guard and Pete Guither prepare for ''Elevator Arguments'' panel
After the spirited back and forth between Sabet and Krane, attendees were treated to an address by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who zeroed in on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. "One of the most egregious aspects of our drug policy is the racial inequity," he said, reeling off the now familiar statistics about African-Americans sucked into the drug war incarceration machine and urging support for re-entry and rehabilitation efforts for prisoners. "If we can reduce crime and recidivism, if we can help these prisoners, if we can train and educate them, we are helping all of America," Davis said.

Davis, too, pronounced himself optimistic. "There is a sense of hope that we can develop a sane policy in the way we treat drugs," he told the students, "but you have to stay engaged and involved. You have to believe change is not only possible, it's inevitable."

If Saturday was a day of panelists and speechifying, Sunday was for getting down to nuts and bolts as the young activists attended a plethora of sessions hosted by more experienced veterans. Students heard presentations on best practices for chapter organizing, fundraising, making quick reform arguments, networking, working the media, and working with youth communities, and looking beyond campus reform, among others. And the lunch session was a working one, with activists dividing up geographically and deciding on locations for regional conferences to be held in the spring.

From its beginning with a handful of students in the Northeast in 1998 outraged by the Higher Education Act's drug provision, SSDP has grown to an international organization with 140 campus chapters in the US, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria. With all they learned at this year's conference, the newest generation of drug reform activists is now headed back home to spread the message and the movement to the next generation.

Visit the Drug WarRant blog for Pete Guither's seven-part series of live-written reports from the conference.


UMD SSDP window, Stamp Student Center

Paraphernalia: No More Felony Charges For Dirty Pipes or Syringes in Cleveland

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced Monday that people in Cleveland caught with pipes or syringes containing drug residues will no longer be charged with felonies. Under current practice in Cleveland, people caught with dirty paraphernalia are charged with felony drug possession.

More than 6,000 people were arrested on felony drug charges every year in the city. The mayor said he expected the change to reduce that number by from 1,200 to 1,500.

Under Jackson's proposal, it would take three dirty needle arrests to earn a felony drug possession charge. A first drug paraphernalia arrest would be charged as a second-degree misdemeanor and a second as a first-degree misdemeanor. People charged with either of those offenses could be diverted to Cleveland's drug court. A third offense would be sent to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and treated as a drug possession felony.

Jackson portrayed the measure as aimed at getting drug users into treatment without saddling them with a felony record as well as helping to improve the quality of life in the city. "If people have a couple chances, they better take advantage of it," the mayor said. "This is about helping people and stopping the behavior that is destroying our neighborhoods," he added.

Cleveland is the only large city in Ohio that routinely charges paraphernalia cases as felonies. Community activists there have argued for years that since similar cases in the suburbs are treated as misdemeanors, Cleveland residents have been treated unfairly.

But although tensions about racial disparity in Cleveland's drug war are simmering -- the Plain Dealer did a recent series on disparities in felony drug prosecutions -- Mayor Jackson attempted to tamp them down. Drug users come from all communities, he said, and suburban users would be treated just like inner city ones. "It's not a race issue," he said. "Everybody will be treated the same."

Well, that's progress, we suppose.

Feature: Drug Policy and the Reform Vote in the Presidential Race

With the presidential election now less than a month away, Democratic candidate Barack Obama appears poised for victory, according to the most recent polls, though the race is far from over. From the beginning of the campaign, drug reform and drug policy have barely registered in the discourse, a state of affairs that has grown even more pronounced as the country slips into economic crisis and the news media focuses obsessively on the two major party candidates, their campaigns, and their responses to the crisis.

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The White House
Despite the silence at the presidential level, there is an emerging consensus in the country that the war on drugs is a failure -- 76% of respondents in a Zogby poll last week said so -- and there are several presidential candidates whose drug policy platforms actually appeal to drug reformers. With one major party candidate or another establishing clear leads in most states, the presidential election will be decided in a handful of battleground states, and that means drug reformers in the remaining states have the option of voting for candidates whose views resemble their own without jeopardizing the chances of their favored major party candidate.

When it comes to the basic underpinnings of US drug policy, Sens. McCain and Obama are similar, and non-reformist. When it comes to some important details, however, differences do appear. The similarities are well demonstrated by the candidates' responses to a questionnaire from the International Association of Police Chiefs about their views on drug policy, among other issues. The question and their responses are worth reading in their entirety:

"Narcotics abuse and trafficking continues to be a problem that state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers face every day. How would you ensure that enforcement, prevention, and treatment programs receive equal resources and assistance to combat this growing problem?" asked the police chiefs.

Here is McCain's response:

"Illegal narcotics are a scourge that I have fought against for my entire legislative career, and I believe this fight must begin with prevention and enforcement. That is why I introduced the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988 during my first term in the Senate and supported the Drug Free Borders Act of 1999, which authorized over $1 billion in funds to bolster our ability to prevent drugs from flowing through our borders and ports by improving technology and expanding our interdiction forces. As president, I would continue these efforts to ensure that our nation's children are protected from the influence of illegal drugs and that the drug peddlers are brought to justice for their crimes.

We must also realize that treatment is an important element of the mission to eradicate drug abuse. I supported the Second Chance Act, which authorized up to $360 million for violator reentry programs in 2009 and 2010. Last year, approximately 750,000 inmates were released from custody and returned to our communities, and typically one half will return to incarceration. The Second Chance Act funds programs that prepare prisoners for the transition from prison to society by providing job training, mentors, counseling, and more. Some programs report reducing recidivism rates by 50 percent. These programs could save American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. On average, the annual cost of incarcerating a prisoner exceeds $20,000 -- a number that increased sixfold between 1982 and 2002. As president, I believe we should support having parents with children in the home rather than in prison, former prisoners working and paying taxes, and citizens contributing to rather than taking from the community."

Here is Obama's response:

"Drug trafficking has long been a scourge on our society, and we need a national drug policy that focuses on tackling new threats with tough enforcement measures while also providing for robust prevention and treatment programs. All three of these components -- enforcement, prevention, and treatment -- are critical to a complete national drug control strategy, and each will be a key part of my agenda in an Obama-Biden administration. Funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program is essential to avoid law enforcement layoffs and cuts to hundreds of antidrug and antigang efforts across the country. The administration has consistently proposed to cut or eliminate funding for the Byrne-JAG Program, which funds antidrug and antigang task forces across the country. Byrne-JAG also funds prevention and drug treatment programs that are critical to reducing US demand for drugs. Since 2000, this program has been cut more than 83 percent. These cuts threaten hundreds of multijurisdictional drug and gang task forces -- many that took years to create and develop. In my home state of Illinois, the Byrne grants have been used effectively to fund anti-meth task forces, and I have consistently fought for increased funding for this program. As president, I will restore funding to this critical program.

Finally, it's important that we address the crime and security problems in Latin America that have clear spillover effects in the United States in terms of gang activity and drug trafficking, which is why I introduced a comprehensive plan to promote regional security in the Americas in June. I will direct my attorney general and homeland security secretary to meet with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the first year of my presidency to produce a regional strategy to combat drug trafficking, domestic and transnational gang activity, and organized crime. A hemispheric pact on security, crime, and drugs will permit the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean to advance serious and measurable drug demand reduction goals, while fostering cooperation on intelligence and investigating criminal activity. The United States will also work to strengthen civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions in the region by promoting anticorruption safeguards and police reform.

I will also support the efforts of our border states to foster cooperation and constructive engagement with the region. Arizona, for instance, has entered into agreements with its neighboring Mexican state, Sonora, to cooperate on fighting border violence and drug trafficking. These agreements have led to the training of Sonora detectives to investigate wire transfers used to pay smugglers in their state; improved radio communication; and better tracking of fugitive and stolen vehicles. The Arizona-Sonora partnership -- based on information sharing, technical assistance, and training -- provides an excellent model for regional cooperation on security issues. An Obama-Biden administration will support these initiatives and will work to integrate these efforts into the region's coordinated security pact."

While the Obama and McCain campaigns differ slightly in their emphases on different drug policy-related issues, there is more similarity than difference between them. Both refer to drugs as a "scourge," both brag about their anti-drug achievements, both support US drug war objectives across the border and overseas.

But even though there is much to unite Obama and McCain on overall agreement with drug prohibition, there are differences, too, some of them significant. While neither Obama nor McCain support marijuana decriminalization, Obama once did, until he reversed position during this year's election campaign. Whether Obama's flip-flop on decrim says more about his good initial instincts or his political opportunism is open to interpretation.

Similarly, as the Sentencing Project showed in a March report on the candidates' positions on drug and criminal justice policy, while McCain has supported mandatory minimum sentences for "drug dealers," Obama in 2003 told an NAACP debate he would "vote to abolish" mandatory minimums. By this year, Obama had slightly softened his stand on mandatory minimums, saying on his web site, "I will immediately review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders."

Although Obama has tacked to the center (read: right) during the campaign season, other of his drug policy positions remain superior to McCain's. Obama supported lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges; McCain did not address it. Obama explicitly supports drug courts; McCain does not, although he has stated he thinks too many drug users -- not drug dealers -- are in prison. Obama supported reducing the disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenders, even sponsoring a bill that would equalize sentences; McCain has not addressed the subject. Obama has said he would stop the raids on medical marijuana patients in California; McCain would not. Obama sees drug policy in the broader context of social justice; McCain has not opined on that idea.

Still, contrast Obama and McCain's drug policy positions with those of the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Ralph Nader campaign, and real differences emerge -- mainly between the bipartisan drug policy consensus and the three alternative campaigns.

For former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), now running as the Green Party presidential candidate, the Green Party platform lays out a clear drug reform agenda:

Law enforcement is placing too much emphasis on drug-related and petty street crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes. Defrauding someone of their life savings is the same as robbery.

Any attempt to combat crime must begin with restoration of community. We encourage positive approaches that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of nonviolent offenses should be handled by other programs including halfway houses, electronic monitoring, work-furlough, community service and restitution programs. Substance abuse should be addressed as a medical problem requiring treatment, not imprisonment, and a failed drug test should not result in revocation of parole. Incarcerated prisoners of the drug war should be released to the above programs.

Repeal state "Three Strikes" laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing, as opposed to mandatory sentencing. Stop forfeiture of the property of unconvicted suspects. It is state piracy and denial of due process.

Implement a moratorium on prison construction. The funds saved should be used for alternatives to incarceration.

We call for decriminalization of victimless crimes. For example, the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

We call for legalization of industrial hemp and all its many uses.

We call for an end to the "war on drugs." We support expanded drug counseling and treatment.

Likewise, former US Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), running as the Libertarian Party candidate, also has a strong drug reform platform:

Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. Our support of an individual's right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.

We support the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, and property. Only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all laws creating "crimes" without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited to violation of the rights of others through force or fraud, or deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves.... We oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused.

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world and its defense against attack from abroad. We would end the current US government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups. [Ed: Presumably portions of this plank can be taken to have bearing on the US-imposed international drug war.]

Like the Greens and the Libertarians, the Ralph Nader campaign has a solid drug reform platform, as suggested by its title, "The Failed War on Drugs:"

The Nader campaign supports ending the war on drugs and replacing it with a health-based treatment and prevention-focused approach. Enforcement of drug laws is racially unfair, and dissolution of the drug war would begin to make the types of changes needed in our criminal justice system.

According to the federal Household Survey of drug use, "most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998." And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.

The drug war has failed -- we spend nearly $50 billion annually on the drug war and yet problems related to drug abuse continue to worsen. We need to acknowledge that drug abuse is a health problem with social and economic consequences. Therefore, the solutions are -- public health, social services, economic development and tender supportive time with addicts in our depersonalized society. Law enforcement should be at the edges of drug control, not at the center. It is time to bring some currently illegal drugs within the law by regulating, taxing and controlling them. Ending the drug war will dramatically reduce street crime, violence and homicides related to underground drug dealing.

But also like the Greens and the Libertarians, Nader has virtually no chance of winning any state. Most recent presidential campaign polls don't even bother to include anyone besides Obama and McCain, and the most recent poll that included the three minor party candidates, late July Angus-Reid poll, found McKinney, Barr, and Nader combined for only 10% of the vote. Nader polled 6%, Barr 3%, and McKinney 1%.

Still, drug reformers must once again face that perennial question: Should I vote for the major party candidate who is less bad on drug policy, or should I vote for a candidate that reflects my views on this issue? Not surprisingly, there is a variety of views.

Veteran drug reformer Kevin Zeese acted as a Nader spokesman during the 2004 campaign and ran for the US Senate in Maryland as the nominee of both the Green and the Libertarian parties. He still believes third party politics is the answer, he told the Chronicle.

"Until reformers have the courage to vote for what we want why will anyone else? Neither duopoly party will end the drug war -- they are not even discussing it," he said. "The better duopolist picked a leading drug war hawk as his vice president. No doubt many will hope that Biden will pull a Nixon goes to China and reverse himself -- but that is really blind hope."

Drug reformers, especially those in non-battleground states, should send the major parties a message, said Zeese. "Voting for Obama is a true wasted vote in a non-battleground state," he said. "We know how the Electoral College will vote in 40 states. If you disagree with Obama or McCain -- why vote for them in those states? It is important for these parties to see that people are not satisfied with them. If you vote for Obama or McCain when you disagree with them then you are sending a signal of agreement. Why should he change? If you vote against them, they know they have to change in order to earn your vote."

Veteran drug reformer Cliff Thornton, who ran for the governorship of Connecticut on a drug reform platform as a Green Party candidate in 2006, agrees with Zeese. "McCain will just be more of the same, and I don't really know what Obama will do," he said. "Let's just note that Joe Biden was one of the architects of mandatory minimums. If Obama wins, I'm afraid we will have to wait for the next election to see any progress. We need to be supporting alternatives, and a vote for a Green is vote for a Green," he said.

But for Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the differences between Obama and McCain on drug policy, while marginal, are significant. "In terms of reducing the harms associated with both drugs and drug prohibition, the difference between Obama and McCain is big," Piper argued. "Obama supports repealing the federal syringe ban, eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, reforming mandatory minimums, and shifting resources from incarceration to treatment. McCain hasn't said anything major one way or the other about syringe exchange programs or the crack/powder disparity from what I can tell, but has publicly made fun of medical marijuana patients and introduced legislation to essentially ban methadone."

While conceding that it is difficult to predict how either Obama or McCain would govern, Piper argued that an Obama presidency is much more likely to see drug reform. "In terms of seeing a wide range of reforms at the federal level over the next eight years, it seems far more likely to happen under Obama than McCain," he said.

Not likely, retorted Zeese. "Biden will be whispering drug war nonsense in his ears, and his past use of marijuana and cocaine will be reasons that stop him from doing anything sensible," he predicted. "The best we can hope for from Obama is benign neglect. There will be many other domestic and international crises for them to deal with so drug policy will not be high on their agenda -- that is good news -- because Biden is the source of most of what is wrong with modern drug policy. Hopefully, he is kept busy doing something else."

And, said Piper, Obama is not talking about ending drug prohibition, dismantling the prison-industrial complex, and putting violent drug trafficking organizations out of business. "Only Barr, Nader, and McKinney are talking about major reform. They're speaking for the 76% of Americans who say the war on drugs has failed. But they've been excluded from the debates and are largely being ignored by the media. I know a lot of drug policy reformers who are voting for one of them. I know a lot, probably more, who are voting for Obama, and some who are voting for McCain."

Who drug reformers should vote for remains a tricky, personal question, said Piper. "There are a lot of variables to consider, including weighing the possibility of important, short-term incremental gains against the need for long-term systematic change; pondering the question of whether or not change on the margin facilitates or obstructs major change; deciding if the drug war should be the only issue you vote on or just one of many; thinking about the political and cultural changes that have to occur to bring down prohibition and how this election fits into that; considering what state you live in; and wrestling with your conscience," he said, ticking off the issues confronting drug reform voters. "I don't think there is one right answer."

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Press Release: Illinois Commission to Study Racial Impact of Drug Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 8, 2008 Contact: Monica Hubert at 312-573-8214 Blagojevich signs law requiring new commission to study racial impact of IL drug laws Illinois incarcerates African-Americans at a rate 9 times greater than that of whites (Springfield)--On Friday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved legislation to create a new state commission that will study the impact of Illinois drug laws on minority communities. This measure addresses the findings of a 2007 study that showed African-Americans in Illinois were 9 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, ranking Illinois 14th worst in the nation. "No legislature sets out to make a law that disproportionately imprisons a particular racial community, but I believe our laws here in Illinois do just that," said State Senator Mattie Hunter, chief sponsor of the bill creating the commission, Senate Bill 2476. "Now that there's a commission dedicated to examining the problem, legislators will have the opportunity to examine and right the wrong." The new commission--composed of legislators, members of the criminal justice system, social service agencies, and representatives from minority communities--is charged with examining the nature and extent of the harm caused to minority communities by disproportionate incarceration rates, and offering recommendations for legislation and policy changes to address the impact. "We now have the opportunity to render an informed judgment based on an empirical data analysis and not just intuition," said Pamela Rodriguez of the Center on Criminal Justice at TASC, who will assist the commission's study. "This study will thoroughly examine drug laws from the ground up and open doors for the creation of effective, fair drug policies." Creasie Finney Hairston, dean and professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who will also assist the commission's study, agrees with Rodriguez. "Illinois' policies have to change. Our legislators need a different, informed perspective. This study will provide the perspective needed to help establish laws that not only positively affect the well-being of minority families but address community safety as well." The Commission's report must be submitted to the Illinois General Assembly on or before December 31, 2009. The initial appointments to the commission included: - Judge Timothy Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County - Ed Burnett, Cook County Public Defender - Lori Levin, executive director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority - Terry Solomon, executive director of the Illinois African-American Family Commission SB2476 was co-sponsored in the Illinois House by State Representative Art Turner. The commission's operations will be managed by the Center on Criminal Justice at TASC and the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Location: 
IL
United States

Racial Disparity Manual for Practioners, Policymakers Published

Friends:

The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of "Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System," a comprehensive manual for practitioners and policymakers. The publication provides insight into how racial disparities develop in the criminal justice system, and workable solutions to address and reduce disparities. The manual provides strategies for addressing disparities at each stage of the system, as well as 17 "best practices" illustrating practitioner approaches for enhancing fairness.

"Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System" is a tool for criminal justice practitioners, policymakers, and community organizations seeking to develop constructive approaches to one of the most challenging problems facing the criminal justice system.


-The Sentencing Project
  

National African American Drug Policy Coalition Conference

This is a major conference being held at Howard University. The Conference program will focus on issues of what drug law policy changes should be seriously considered by the next Administration, establishing the same sentencing provisions for crack cocaine as for powder cocaine and repeal of mandatory sentencing laws and restoration of judicial discretion in sentencing, but with reasonable standards for appellate review. The program will also include panel discussions on increasing significantly the number of drug courts and their funding and supporting personnel, making sure that they reach more non-violent drug offenders in a culturally sensitive manner, and that the treatment duration is long enough to really be effective based on a public health medical standard. There will also be a panel discussion on using drug courts to provide necessary treatment for substance abuse, alcoholism and related mental health issues of returning veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places abroad, and whether a system of drug courts should be created within the Federal courts to be presided over by United States Magistrate Judges which would include this function. In the area of juvenile justice, there will be presentation on the proposed Youth PROMISE Act - The Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act. The policy positions set forth in this proposed Act are essential if we are to interrupt the pipeline of young African American youth headed to prison. In the area of adult criminal prosecution, we will focus in a separate panel on eliminating racial and ethnic disparities and bias in criminal prosecutions in the United States. We will present a discussion of the proposed Federal "Judicial Integrity Act of 2008" draft Bill introduced by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on July 10, 2008 and whether there should be a similar pilot program developed for State prosecutors' offices in ten (10) States under a Federal justice assistance grant program. Finally, we will have an extended panel discussion on implementing the Second Chance Act signed into law this past April, how to make it effective and how to obtain needed appropriations and adequate supporting personnel. This presentation will also include a discussion on how can we overcome problems of literacy, and low education and skills level of many such former inmates, which are barriers for jobs existing in our economy in the 21st century. Finally, this panel will focus on how can we reduce significantly the recidivism rate by former prison inmates and assure the public safety. This promises to be one of the most substantive conferences to be recently held dealing with issues impacting the African American community, as well as other minority groups, and the healthcare, criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our speakers and panelists are among the most knowledgeable and expert in the field. For this two-day conference, including two luncheons, the early registration fee through Monday, September 15, 2008 is $160.00 payable by check to the "National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc." The Registration Fee after September 15, 2008 and on-site is $185.00. The Registration Fee should be mailed to Ms. Rosalee Morris, Administrative Assistant, Center for Drug Abuse Research, Howard University, Holy Cross Hall, Room 400, 2900 Van Ness Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. Anyone with questions may call Senior Judge Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., National Executive Director, National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. and Conference Planner at (202) 806-8622 or 806-8623 or send an e-mail to Aburnettsr@aol.com or call Ms. Rosalee Morris at (202) 806-8600.
Date: 
Tue, 09/23/2008 - 8:30am - Wed, 09/24/2008 - 6:00pm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Release's Drugs, Race & Discrimination Conference

Release’s annual conference this year takes the important step of focusing the industry on the complex and damaging practice of routine prejudice in health services. The morning session of this one-day event includes addresses by two doctors and a nurse, each of whom have vital experiences in the drug treatment field. Dr Gordon Morse is the new Clinical Lead for the Turning Point Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service in Somerset. Dr Morse will look at how treatment attitudes towards the personal use of psychoactive drugs amount to simple prejudice. He will also examine how treatment systems set up to help those who are suffering the direct or indirect consequences of their drug use, are also influenced by institutional discrimination that arises from the same prejudices. Mandie Wilkinson, a qualified nurse for over 25 years, now leads the Blood Borne Virus nursing team at a large London hospital. She will examine how current prejudices in the treatment sector lead to limited options for drug users infected with Hepatitis C. Mandie’s research shows that there are high rates of treatment compliance amongst active injecting drug users, indicating that refusal to treat such individuals amounts to little more than discrimination. The other sessions will include talks from leading experts in the field of youth discrimination and racial prejudice. The original material and latest research that will be presented at this event is crucial for understanding and informing the drug policy debate. There will be time for contributions from the floor during each session and plenty of networking opportunities throughout the day. This is an event not to be missed. For more information including registration, see http://www.release.org.uk/ or contact Claudia Rubin at 020 7749 4037 or claudia@release.org.uk.
Date: 
Thu, 09/18/2008 - 8:30am - 4:15pm
Location: 
London
United Kingdom

Ohio Officer Acquitted of Killing Mom Holding Baby [in Drug Raid]

Location: 
Lima, OH
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93045122

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