Incarceration

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Drug Courts Poor Public Policy, Reports Charge [FEATURE]

With a pair of separate reports released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) have issued a damning indictment of drug courts as a policy response to drug use. Instead of relying on criminal justice approaches like drug courts, policymakers would be better served by moving toward evidence-based public health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, as well as by decriminalizing drug use, the reports conclude.

Since then-Dade County District Attorney Janet Reno created the first drug court in Miami in 1989, drug courts have appeared all over the country and now number around 2,000. In drug courts, drug offenders are given the option of avoiding prison by instead pleading guilty and being put under the scrutiny of the drug court judge. Drug courts enforce abstinence by imposing sanctions on offenders who relapse, including jail or prison time and being thrown out of the program and imprisoned on the original charge. The Obama administration wants to provide $57 million in federal funding for them in its FY 2012 budget.

Through organizations like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals  (NADCP), the drug court movement has created a well-oiled public relations machine to justify its existence and expansion. NADCP maintains that the science shows that drug courts work and even maintains a convenient response to criticisms leveled by earlier critics.

The Chronicle contacted NADCP for comment this week, but representatives of the group said they were still digesting the reports and would issue a statement in a few days.

But in a Monday teleconference, DPA, JPI, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which issued its own critical report on America's Problem-Solving Courts in 2009, slashed away at drug court claims of efficacy and scientific support. Drug courts are harsh on true addicts, don't benefit the public health or safety, and are an inefficient use of criminal justice system resources, they said.

"The drug court phenomenon is, in large part, a case of good intentions being mistaken for a good idea," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA's Southern California state deputy director and co-author of the DPA report, Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use. "Drug courts have helped many people, but they have also failed many others, focused resources on people who could be better treated outside the criminal justice system and in some cases even led to increased incarceration. As long as they focus on people whose only crime is their health condition, drug courts will be part of the problem -- not the solution -- created by drug war policies," she said.

"Even if drug courts were able to take in all 1.4 million people arrested for just drug possession each year, over 500,000 to 1 million people would be kicked out and sentenced conventionally," Dooley-Sammuli added. "Drug courts just don't make sense as a response to low-level drug violations."

The DPA report found that drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety. Previous "unscientific and poorly designed research" supporting drug courts has failed to acknowledge that drug courts often "cherry pick" people expected to do well, that many petty drug law violators choose drug courts because they are offered a choice of treatment or jail and drug courts thus are not diverting large numbers of people from long prison sentences, or that, given their focus on low-level drug violators, even positive results for individuals accrue few public safety benefits for the community.

Not only are drug courts' successes unproven, DPA said, they are often worse for the people participating in them. Their quick resort to incarceration for relapses means some defendants end up serving more time than if they had stayed out of drug court. And defendants who "fail" in drug court may face longer sentences because they lost the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge. In addition, the existence of drug courts is associated with increased arrests and imprisonment because law enforcement and others believe people will "get help" if arrested.

Worst, the DPA report found, drug courts are toughest on those who most need treatment for their addictions. Because of their use of quick sanctions against those who relapse, the seriously addicted are more likely to end up incarcerated for failing to stay clean, while those who don't have a drug problem are most likely to succeed. Drug courts typically don't allow what Dooley-Sammuli called the "gold standard" of treatment for opiate addiction, methadone or other maintenance therapies.

Drug courts should be reserved for cases involving offenses against persons and property committed by people who have substance abuse problems, while providing other options such as probation or treatment for people arrested for low-level drug law violations, the report recommended. It also called for bolstering public health systems, including harm reduction and drug treatment programs, to deal with drug use outside the criminal justice system, and for decriminalizing drug use to end the problem of mass arrests and incarceration.

"Drug courts are not a true alternative to incarceration," said Natassia Walsh, author of the JPI report, Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependency on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities. "They are widening the net of criminal justice control. Even the mere existence of a drug court means more people are arrested for drug offenses, which brings more people into the criminal justice system, which means increased costs for states and localities, as well as for offenders and their families."

The JPI report found that providing people with alternatives like community-based drug treatment are more cost-effective and have more public safety benefits than treatment attached to the criminal justice system, with all its collateral consequences.

"It is shameful that for many people, involvement in the criminal justice system is the only way to access substance abuse treatment in this country," said Walsh. "We need to change the way we think about drug use and the drug policies that bring so many people into the justice system. The dramatic increase in drug courts over the past 20 years may provide talking points for so-called 'tough-on-crime' policymakers; however, there are other, better options that can save money and support people and communities. More effective, community-based programs and services that can have a positive, lasting impact on individuals, families and communities should be available."

"All three of our reports have some things in common, " said the NACDL's Elizabeth Kelly. "They recognize that substance abuse is a public health issue not appropriate for the criminal justice system to handle, they recognize that these problem-solving courts cherry pick their participants, allowing them to inflate success rates, and they recognize that drug courts exclude the people who are most problematic and who have the most profound addictions," she said.

"It is fundamentally bad public policy to make the only means to treatment through the criminal justice system that stigmatizes and burdens the individual with all the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction," Kelly concluded.

The fight to avoid the drug policy dead end that is drug courts is on.

New Directions New Jersey: A Public Safety and Health Approach to Drug Policy

The New Directions New Jersey conference will examine the decades-old ramifications of President Nixon’s declaration of the “war on drugs” in urban communities like Newark.

Drug policy experts from across the country and around the globe will discuss topics including: reducing crime and incarceration, effectively addressing addiction, treating drug use as a health issue, communities of color and the war on drugs, and drug policy lessons and models from abroad.

When asked about the war on drugs on the campaign trail, President Barack Obama said, “I believe in shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach [to drugs].” Polls show the American people agree. President Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn’t like the term “war on drugs” because “[w]e’re not at war with people in this country.” Yet for the tens of millions of Americans who have been arrested and incarcerated for a drug offense, U.S. drug policy is a war on them—and their families. What exactly is a public health approach to drugs? What might truly ending the war on drugs look like?  This conference will serve as a model for those looking for new directions and strategies for ending the war on drugs.

“We see the impact of the ‘drug war’ first hand, where so many people are incarcerated for being economically disadvantaged by the disappearance of work,” says Bethany Baptist Church pastor, Reverend William Howard.  “Afterwards, they are virtually permanently barred from the legal workforce for the rest of their lives. We must take our stand against the destructive scourge of drug abuse and trafficking by developing new, sensible strategies that solve more problems than they create.”

The conference will be guided by four principles:

  • The war on drugs has failed and it is time for a new approach to drug policy.
  • Effective drug policy balances prevention, harm reduction, treatment and public safety.
  • Alcohol and other drug use is fundamentally a health issue and must be addressed as such.
  • Drug policies must be based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Panel members and conference speakers include:

·         Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., pastor, Bethany Baptist Church

·         Ethan Nadelmann,executive director, Drug Policy Alliance

·         Paula T. Dow, New Jersey Attorney General

·         Garry F. McCarthy, police director, City of Newark

·         Michelle Alexander, Esq., associate professor, Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity; Author, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

·         Beny Primm, MD, executive director, Addiction, Research and Treatment Corporation, Brooklyn, New York

·         Todd Clear, dean, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University

·         Donald MacPherson, former drug policy coordinator, City of Vancouver

·         Alex Stevens, professor of Criminal Justice, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Chatham, UK

·         Stephanie Bush-Baskette, Esq., Author and Director of the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University

·         Deborah Peterson Small, Founder and Executive Director, Break the Chains: Communities of Color & the War on Drugs

For a full list of panel members, go to: http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/DPA_New_Directions_NJ_final_prog_REFERENCE.pdf

Please RSVP to: bgalarza@bethany-newark.org

Date: 
Sat, 03/19/2011 - 8:30am - 5:00pm
Location: 
275 West Market Street Bethany Baptist Church
Newark, NJ 07103
United States

The Politics of Incarceration Will Have to Change When the Money Runs Out

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/incarceration.jpg
Reducing incarceration rates is a hot topic this month as state governments desperately seek to decrease spending. It's an important and encouraging trend, but one that gets predictably sidelined when certain interests exert malicious influence over the process. This example from Indiana pretty much sums it up:

 

A criminal justice reform bill that Gov. Mitch Daniels hoped would save more than $1 billion by reducing the number of people held in prison is headed to the Senate floor.

But the bill, approved 8-2 by a Senate committee Monday, has changed so much because of pressure from prosecutors that it's no longer clear whether it will save any money in the long term. [Indianapolis Star]

It should come as a surprise to no one that prosecutors -- who've worked tirelessly to create this problem -- would vigorously oppose any effort to fix it. Their livelihood revolves around the concept that it's good to have lots of people locked up, and that we're lucky to have these bankruptcy-inducing incarceration costs because if we didn't, it would mean all those bad people were still on the streets forcing us to buy drugs from them.

Still, it's generally getting easier for our political culture to agree in principle with the notion that we're keeping far too many people behind bars at far too great a cost. That much is obvious, but the path that brought us here has also resulted in a massive criminal justice infrastructure that's become self-aware and lobbies aggressively on its own behalf. Accordingly, we've now entered a bizarre debate in which almost everyone feigns agreement about what must be done, but they just aren't actually doing it.

Obama's federal drug control budget maintains a Bush-era disparity devoting nearly twice as many resources to punishment as it does for treatment and prevention, despite his saying less than three weeks ago that, “We have to think more about drugs as a public health problem," which requires "shifting resources." [LEAP]

It's a stark hypocrisy, made possible in part by the fact that Obama's rhetoric of reform inevitably rings louder in the press than the reality of boring budgetary figures. For all the progress that's been made towards popularizing the idea that our jails aren't the best place for many who currently reside there, it's impossible to carve out cost-savings without shrinking the output of the factory that our criminal justice system has become. This requires admitting that certain practices are harmful, or at least unnecessary, and ultimately eliminating jobs right and left within a powerful industry that will threaten the public with rape and murder if they don’t get their way.

For better or worse, real progress towards resolving this enormous mess will take place not because politicians and prison profiteers voluntarily admit the error of their ways. It will happen when there literally exists no other option. When the inevitability of ever-increasing, plainly unsustainable incarceration costs becomes simply unbearable, the alternative approaches to which we've paid considerable lip service over the years will finally be given a chance to deliver on their promise. That's what has to happen, and when it does, even the most self-interested scumbags in this debate will eventually be found claiming disingenuously that they supported reform all along.

New York County Closes Crime Lab Over Massive Drug Test Errors

Location: 
NY
United States
New York county officials shut down their crime lab because, they said, police officials knew that examiners were producing inaccurate measurements in drug cases even before a national accrediting agency placed the lab on probation. Nearly 9,000 drug cases dating to late 2007 are currently being reviewed for signs of errors after a spot check last week of nine cases involving ketamine or ecstasy revealed that six of them were inaccurately analyzed.
Publication/Source: 
Sify News (India)
URL: 
http://www.sify.com/news/ny-county-closes-crime-lab-over-drug-test-errors-news-international-lctbOdabcha.html

Hearing on Indiana Marijuana Study Bill Today (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE            February 15, 2011

Hearing on Indiana Marijuana Study Bill Today

CONTACT: Morgan Fox, communications manager………………………(202) 905-2031 or mfox@mpp.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The first hearing on S.B. 192 took place today to discuss the need to study the marijuana laws in Indiana and find alternatives to arrest and incarceration. S.B. 192 would create a mandate requiring lawmakers to investigate other options to the marijuana laws that put non-violent Hoosiers behind bars and tie up scarce resources that the public would rather see spent on infrastructure. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Dist. 4).

            “It has become painfully obvious that our current marijuana laws are not effective,” Sen. Tallian said. “We spend a sizable amount of money every year going after marijuana users and locking them up for a non-violent crime, while more important programs that desperately need funds go wanting. I think we need to take a very close look at the laws we have, determine what is working and what isn’t, and explore every possible alternative. This bill will make sure that we, as lawmakers, commit to this course.”

            Over a dozen people testified at the hearings, including policy experts, former law enforcement officers, and medical marijuana patients that suffer from the threat of arrest under the present system. One speaker, C.J. Parker, said, “I am a Gulf War Era Veteran and former police officer who suffers from over 20 diagnosed illnesses, including PTSD, and have been 100% unemployable since 2004 due to the combined effects of my illnesses. I have had no success with the over 30 pharmaceutical medications that have been prescribed to me over the last 9 years, but have found great relief from treating my illnesses with marijuana. It is time my elected leaders take a look at how to allow people like me to live without the fear of arrest.”

            A local leader in the marijuana reform community, Joh Padgett, said, “I have been a cannabis [marijuana] therapy patient for many years treating diabetic neuropathy, and pain associated with chronic venous stasis, edema, and a blood clotting disorder that has reduced circulation in my legs by 80%. I co-founded ReLegalize Indiana with our Chairman, Bill Levin, in January 2010 to give a voice to patients in Indiana like me who can benefit greatly from medical cannabis. Proper medical research is something we do well in Indiana and it is time we allowed our world-class researchers and our most vulnerable citizens to study and access a therapy allowed in 15 states and the District of Columbia.”           

            With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

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Location: 
IN
United States

Bill Aims to Legalize Marijuana, Make Washington Pioneer State

Location: 
WA
United States
Sponsors of a marijuana legalization bill predict Washington will lead the nation in getting rid of the prohibition on marijuana. If bill sponsors get their way, Washington residents will be able to go to the state liquor store and legally buy marijuana. The same laws against selling to minors and driving while impaired would apply.
Publication/Source: 
KOMO (WA)
URL: 
http://www.komonews.com/news/local/115604624.html

ACLU Witnesses Brutal Beating of Los Angeles County Jail Inmate Detained on a Non-Violent Marijuana Charge (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 8, 2011

CONTACT: ACLU [1] Will Matthews, ACLU National at (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org [2] Sandra Hernandez, ACLU of Southern California at (213) 977-5252; shernandez@aclu-sc.org

ACLU Witnesses Brutal Beating Of Los Angeles County Jail Inmate By Sheriff’s Deputies

Attack Underscores Need For Systemic Reform And Decrease In Jail’s Population

LOS ANGELES - February 8 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) today condemned a recent brutal beating by two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of a detainee at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the county jail system.

The violent attack January 24 on James Parker, detained on a non-violent marijuana charge, was witnessed by ACLU/SC’s Esther Lim, who is assigned to monitor all county jails.

“We believe Mr. Parker’s beating is not an isolated incident,” said Hector Villagra, incoming Executive Director of the ACLU/SC. “Rather, it highlights the rampant violence that continues to plague the county’s jails, and demands court intervention to protect detainees from brutal attacks and retaliation. That the ACLU/SC monitor witnessed a brutal attack in plain sight is alarming and can only lead us to conclude detainees are subject to even greater cruelty when no one is looking.”

The beating was made public Monday in a sworn statement submitted in federal court by Lim, who watched through a glass window as deputies repeatedly punched, kneed and tasered Parker while he was lying motionless on the floor.

“Mr. Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching bag,” Lim says in her statement. “I thought he was knocked out, or perhaps even dead.”

Lim hit the glass divider hoping to get the deputies’ attention and stop the attack, but the officers continued to punch and taser Parker.

“Mr. Parker was not fighting with the deputies,” Lim says in her statement, adding he “was not trying to kick, hit or otherwise fight with the deputies.”

Yet deputies continued to order him to “stop resisting” and “stop fighting,” while simultaneously punching and kneeing his limp body repeatedly and tasering him multiple times.

The deputies then wrote in a jail log that Parker had been fighting and resisting, in complete contradiction to what the ACLU witnessed.

“This kind of brutal beating is unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “We are also very concerned that shortly after the beating the sheriff’s department issued a log report contradicting what witnesses, including our monitor, saw. The report claims Parker was resisting and fighting with deputies. That is blatantly false.”

Parker now faces charges for allegedly assaulting the very deputies who beat him.

Lim’s statement, along with that of another witness to the beating, was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to bolster a motion the ACLU filed in November seeking a federal court order prohibiting jail deputies from retaliating against prisoners through violence or threats.

The ACLU first sued Los Angeles County and its sheriff on behalf of all detainees in the county’s jail system in 1975, charging the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Many remedial orders have been issued over the years in the case, Rutherford v. Block. But the systemic problems plaguing the system have recently become so acute the ACLU in December asked U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson to order a new trial in the case based on “an escalating crisis of deputy violence, abuse and inmate suicides” at Men’s Central Jail, another of the system’s facilities. The ACLU contends the problems plaguing the jail system can only be fixed by finding alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment and community-based programs for the low-level, non-violent offenders and detainees with serious mental illnesses that comprise the vast majority of the system’s population, and seeks to prove the jail’s population can be safely, rapidly and radically reduced with existing resources and at great savings to county taxpayers.

A report released by the ACLU in September painted a stark picture of unacceptable levels of violence in the jails, including reports of deputies beating handcuffed detainees, injuring some so badly that they ended up in intensive care. The report also showed retaliation against inmates to be an acute problem. Several prisoners have been severely punished for meeting with representatives of the ACLU, which is the court-appointed monitor of conditions inside L.A.'s county jails.

“The reign of terror we’re uncovering in the Los Angeles County jails is unmatched by any of the hyper-violent prisons and jails across the country we have investigated,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The brutality there is so blatant and routine that the deputies carried out a vicious beating in full view of a court-appointed monitor. The court needs to take immediate action to ensure the protection of prisoners.”

A copy of the ACLU’s sworn statement, as well as that of the beating’s other witness, is available online at:

http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/declarations-esther-lim-and-christopher-brown-regarding-january-24-2011-beating-twi[4]

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Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Mexican Prisons Failing to Keep Drug Traffickers on the Inside

Location: 
Mexico
Just as Mexican authorities are struggling to put drug traffickers in prison, Mexican prisons are struggling to keep them there. Hundreds of dangerous inmates have escaped from state penitentiaries along the U.S. border in recent months, some through spectacular action-movie breakouts, others by simply walking out the door.
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post (DC)
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/03/AR2011020303747.html

Georgia Governor Pushing More Alternative Programs for Non-Violent Drug Offenders

Location: 
GA
United States
Gov. Nathan Deal says he's moving ahead to reduce Georgia's prison population by diverting non-violent drug offenders to other programs. A 2009 national report said drug prohibition related crimes were listed as the primary offense for about 17 percent of Georgia's prisoners. Deal has made it clear he's not interested in springing repeat or violent offenders. But locking up non-violent offenders wastes their lives, strains the state's budget and depletes its work force, he said.
Publication/Source: 
Savannah Morning News (GA)
URL: 
http://savannahnow.com/news/2011-02-01/gov-deal-working-divert-non-violent-drug-offenders-programs-outside-prison

Republican Lawmakers Shifting Tough-On-Crime Stance As State Budget Problems Multiply

In no state is the philosophical U-turn more abrupt than in Oklahoma, where last year the Legislature was barreling in the opposite direction. New Republican Speaker of the House Kris Steele is expected to unveil a package of proposals that would divert thousands of nonviolent lawbreakers from the prison system and ramp up paroles. Similar crash prison reductions are going on from coast to coast. Michigan has shuttered 20 correctional facilities and slashed spending by nearly 7 percent. South Carolina expects to reduce its inmate numbers by 8 percent by putting drug dealers, burglars and hot check writers into community programs instead of behind bars.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-us-broken-budgets-prison-problems,0,2779184.story

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