(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #55, 8/21/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Kris Lotlikar and David Borden
Recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that the numbers of Americans in prison, as well as those on probation or parole, have continued to grow rapidly throughout the 1990's. "Prisoners in 1997," released on August 2 (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/p97.htm on the web), found that 61,186 men and women had been added to the prison population during that year, bring the total to 1,244,554 state and federal inmates -- plus 567,079 men and women held in local jails, either awaiting trial or serving sentences of one year or less, bringing the total of incarcerated adults in the United States to 1.7 million. Throughout the 1990's, the number of incarcerates in US prisons has been grown at a rate of roughly 64,000 inmates a year -- more than the number of Americans who perished in the Vietnam War.
An analysis by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC think tank, found that two million people will be behind bars in this country by the year 2000, if current trends continue. (The Project's analysis is posted on their web site at http://www.sentencingproject.org, News section.)
Compounding the prison population are the 3.9 million Americans on probation or parole in the United States. At the end of 1997, one out of every 35 adults in the United States was either in prison, jail, or on probation or parole, according to a BJS report released August 16, "Nation's Probation and Parole Population Reached New High Last Year," http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/papp97.pr on the web.
Since the massive growth of the prison industry began to take place in the 1980's, continuing this decade, the United States has led the world in the percentage of its population that it incarcerates, trading off for first place with Russia. The question arises, why in the land of the free, has the prison population risen to such a shocking level, during such a short period of time?
One of the main factors, according to the Sentencing Project, is mandatory minimum sentencing. "Mandatory minimum sentencing policies that now exist in every state have been used disproportionately for drug offenders", the above-mentioned report states.
Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), explains that mandatory minimum penalties, along with so-called "truth in sentencing" laws, have directly led to the rapid growth of U.S prison populations. Truth in sentencing, under which defendants must serve typically 85% of their sentences, has been driven by a 1994 financial incentive passed by congress for states which pass such laws. "We are filling our prisons up and not letting the prisoners out and it has shown no impact on crime", Stewart told The Week Online. "Mandatory Minimums have sparked this prison growth. It is an indictment of the American judicial system."
(It is important to note that the sentencing schemes in place prior to the truth in sentencing laws, were enacted as part of a system that included probation and parole, through which it was assumed that many if not most inmates would be released early -- e.g., 20 years wasn't intended to be 20 years, except for those deemed to be truly incorrigible. By enacting truth in sentencing laws, without modifying the corresponding sentencing laws that they affect, Congress and state legislatures have dramatically increased sentence lengths based on a soundbite as opposed to a thoughtful analysis. This is nothing new -- the 1986 mandatory minimum laws, for example, were passed by Congress without so much as a hearing.)
"Prisoners in 1997" reports that 25% of the growth of the prison population since 1990 is accounted for by drug offenders. But this figure may understate the magnitude of the impact that the war on drugs has had on the prison system. Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, explained to the Week Online: "It's true that the proportion drug offenders comprise of new incarcerations has leveled off during the 1990's. But that doesn't negate the enormous climb in the number of drug offenders incarcerated during the 1980's, many of whom are still in prison, serving mandatory minimum sentences. In 1980, drug offenders comprised a mere 6% of the incarcerated population. Furthermore, the fact that violent offenders are being incarcerated at greater rates than previously, doesn't negate the fact that the number of drug offenders in prison is growing rapidly in and of itself, and that many of offenders are not true threats to society, and could be dealt with in other ways."
A resolution calling for the phasing out of mandatory minimum sentencing laws on the federal and state level was passed by the American Psychological Association at a Council of Representatives Meeting of its 50 divisions, in San Francisco on August 16. The APA is the world's largest association of psychologists, with a membership exceeding 155,000. The resolution was sponsored by Div. 32, Humanistic Psychology, and co-sponsored by Div. 50, Addictions, Div. 27, Community Research & Action, Div. 36, Psychology of Religion, and Div. 28, Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse. APA is online at http://www.apa.org.
Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, a National Conference and Strategy Session. September 25 - 27, 1998, University of California, Berkeley. Building a campaign to resist the expansion of the punishment industry. For further information, contact: Critical Resistance, P.O. Box 339, Berkeley, CA 94701, phone: (510) 643-2094, fax: (510) 845-8816, e-mail [email protected], http://www.igc.org/prisons/critical/ on the web. DRCNet is attending, and we recommend this free conference to those of you who reside in the Bay Area or can get there.
Citing the "moral superiority" of abstinence over reliance on methadone, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced this week that the 2,000 patients who are currently enrolled in city-funded methadone programs will have 90 days to wean themselves from the medication after which it will no longer be offered. Numerous drug treatment experts, including some providers of methadone-to-abstinence programs, have criticized the mayor's action, as flying in the face of years of research showing that methadone is by far the most effective path to a stable and productive life for the vast majority of recovering addicts. Studies show that only a small percentage of opiate addicts can successfully become abstinent, while the majority will return to the street in search of relief from their withdrawal in the form of black market methadone or, more likely, heroin.
Ty Trippet, spokesman for The Lindesmith Center, a New York-based drug policy think tank, told The Week Online, "The shortsightedness of this decision is astounding. With virtually every credible medical professional in the world in support of greater access to methadone, Mayor Giuliani has taken it upon himself to play doctor, or, more disturbingly, to play god. Methadone is the single most effective tool at our disposal to stabilize the lives of the addicted. History shows that almost 90% of those who are forced off of methadone will relapse into heroin use. It is difficult to see the logic here."
Keith Cylar, Co-executive director of Housing Works, a full-service harm reduction agency serving formerly homeless people with AIDS told The Week Online, "This is simply outrageous. Giuliani is sentencing these people to yet another plunge back into heroin addiction. The majority of them will wind up with a needle in their arm. Many of them will wind up in jail, whereas with methadone, they could be gainfully employed and rebuilding their lives." Cylar continued, "the devious part of this, of course, boils down to money. New York City pays twenty-five cents on every federal dollar they receive for Medicaid. By pushing 2,000 people off of methadone, you are guaranteeing that their lives will revert to chaos. Couple that with the fact that public assistance in New York is very high-threshhold. In other words, they make you jump through numerous hoops in order to keep your status. Methadone clinics, for a lot of these people, become case-management centers, helping clients to do what they need to do to keep their Medicaid cards valid. By disordering their lives in this manner, Giuliani has found a back door to push these people off of the public rolls, both in terms of Medicaid, and the city's contribution to that, and for local assistance. These people, back on the street, will no longer exist in that system. There are legitimate ways to help people off of public assistance. But cutting them off at the knees and making it impossible for them to function at a high enough level to claim their benefits is pure evil."
E-MAIL THE MAYOR! Don't be rude, but do let Giuliani know that you've read the evidence on the Internet and that he is clearly misinformed on the issue. Send e-mail to [email protected]. Or, call the Mayor at (212) 788-9600 or write to: Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, City Hall, New York, NY 10007. As always, send us copies of your letters, or a note letting us know what actions you've taken, to [email protected].
(A few weeks ago, during the midst of our technical troubles, when many of you didn't receive The Week Online, we published an interview with Dr. Robert Newman, one of the world's leading authorities on methadone maintenance, commenting on the Mayor's threat and what Dr. Newman views as the self-inflicted wounds of the methadone establishment. Check out this fascinating discussion on our web site at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/051.html#newman. You can also read our news coverage from that issue at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/051.html#giuliani. For further information on methadone maintenance, we recommend the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (NAMA), at http://www.methadone.org, and The Lindesmith Center's methadone focal point, online at http://www.lindesmith.org/library/focal3.html.)
The First Methadone Advocacy Conference, Saturday, 9/26, 9:30am - 5:00pm, Roosevelt Hospital Auditorium, 1000 Tenth Avenue, New York City.
"The voice of the methadone patient has been excluded from methadone treatment for too long. This conference will discuss the empowering of methadone patients, stigma and important issues that impact the lives of methadone patients such as physician prescribing."
This is a Methadone Patient Organized Conference for Methadone Patients. To register, send NAMA a coupon with your name, address, and phone number, with 1) a check or money or order for $25.00; or 2) a photocopy of your patient ID card and a donation of whatever you can afford. Mail it to: NAMA, 435 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
American Methadone Treatment Association Conference 1998, 9/26-29, Marriott Marquis, New York City, registration $360. For more information and to register visit http://www.assnmethworks.org.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has released a report examining the government's data and concluding that criminal penalties have had no net effect on adolescent marijuana usage rates.
Key findings of the report are that:
Taken as a whole, the sheer totality of the failure of the government's vast effort to end marijuana use by force is astounding. For further information, visit the MPP's web site at http://www.mpp.org, e-mail [email protected], or call (202) 462-5747.
(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)
August 20, 1998, West Australia, Australia: Government officials announced last week that first time marijuana users will no longer face criminal charges for possessing less than 50 grams of the drug. West Australia is the fifth state to enact marijuana decriminalization in recent years.
Police Commissioner Bob Falconer said that the new policy will take effect October 1 on a trial basis in the Mirrabooka and Bunbury police districts. If the trial proves successful, leaders will extend the measure statewide.
"Western Australia's experimental marijuana policy is similar to the laws of ten U.S. states where marijuana users face a civil 'violation' rather than criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said. "It is encouraging to see other regions around the globe adopt these reforms. It is our hope that West Australian political leaders will adopt this policy statewide and not just in select regions."
Under the new system, individuals will receive a warning for possessing marijuana as long as they attend a lecture on the potential misuse of the drug. "It's not synonymous with being tough on drugs to crunch people for small quantities of cannabis when it's essentially about an education issue," Falconer said. He and other law enforcement officials lobbied the government for the policy change, arguing that valuable police and judicial resources were being wasted prosecuting marijuana smokers.
Other Australian states to recently adopt a marijuana "caution" system are the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT), the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Victoria. This spring, the Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia concluded a two year national study finding that the decriminalization of marijuana does not lead to increased use.
For more information, please contact Paul Armentano of NORML, (202) 483-5500.
Best selling author and medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams, held for over a month on a nine-count federal indictment will finally be released from custody tonight (8/19) after posting a quarter of a million dollar bond. McWilliam's attorneys and supporters had argued that the bond was excessive, and McWilliams himself had previously offered to turn in his passport to insure that he would indeed appear for his court date, but these efforts were unsuccessful in getting the bond reduced.
During his incarceration, McWilliams was forced to file an appeal to the court in hopes of ordering his jailers to provide him with his complex regimen of AIDS medication, which he takes six times daily.
The charges against McWilliams stem from his involvement with Todd McCormick, another medical marijuana user and activist, to whom McWilliams had advanced money to write a book on the medical uses of cannabis. McCormick was arrested last year when police found over 4,000 plants in his rented home. McCormick, already free on bond on state charges, is now also under federal indictment for the same offense.
"Peter McWilliams is a threat to no one," McCormick told The Week Online. "His incarceration, and the deleterious impact that it has had on his health, is exactly what California voters wanted to avoid when they passed Proposition 215. Peter is an outspoken advocate, and therefore an inviting target. But he is also a man who suffers from both cancer and AIDS. What kind of a government locks up its sick and dying people over something like this? He's not accused of diverting medical marijuana to the street. He's never hurt a soul. The mistreatment of Peter McWilliams by the justice system is the real crime here."
McWilliams distributed the following note to his supporters on the Internet, late last night:
(Reprinted from the Drug Policy Foundation's monthly Network news. Subscribe online at http://www.dpf.org.)
Federal prosecutors will have to follow the same ethical standards and rules that govern other attorneys in the state in which they are practicing if new legislation gets signed into law. The provision, the "Citizens Protection Act of 1998" (Title VIII), was authored by Reps. Joseph McDade (R-PA) and John P. Murtha (D-PA), and passed by the House on August 6 as part of the Justice Department appropriations bill (H.R. 4276).
Until 1994, federal prosecutors were governed by state ethics rules, but in that year the Justice Department issued a regulation that exempted federal prosecutors from certain provisions of the rules. At this time, according to the American Bar Association, state disciplinary authorities are prevented from taking action against a federal prosecutor for violating a state ethics rule until the Attorney General finds a prosecutor guilty of a willful violation.
In addition to requiring federal prosecutors to be subject to state ethics rules, the McDade/Murtha bill establishes punishable conduct for Justice Department employees, penalties for violations, and a "Misconduct Review Board" to investigate alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Such misconduct includes, among others: seeking the indictment of a person in the absence of probable cause; intentionally misleading the court as to the guilt of a person; knowingly misstating evidence; and offering sexual activities to a government witness.
On August 6, the Washington Times published an op-ed ("Reclaiming Justice," p. A19) by syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts praising the McDade/Murtha legislation. Notedly, Roberts blamed the war on drugs for an increase in unethical behavior among federal prosecutors. He wrote, "A former U.S. Attorney confessed to me that the Justice Department lost its prosecutorial integrity when the conservatives' war on drugs resulted in an increase in the number of assistant U.S. attorneys from 1,200 to more than 7,000 almost overnight. Swamped by new infusions, the old guard was unable to moderate the career ambitions of the newcomers by inculcating the respect for truth that restrains prosecutorial power."
(The alert is reprinted from the ACLU's cyber network. Though it doesn't specifically bring up the drug issue, the "Driving While Black" problem is driven in substantial part by the police mandate to find illegal drugs, that are naturally hidden from view and can only be found through intrusive searches. Feeding into this is the mistaken belief that African Americans use or traffic in drugs at higher rates than other Americans. You can subscribe to the ACLU's alert list through their web site at <http://www.aclu.org>.)
Among far too many measures aimed at curtailing civil liberties that await consideration when the Senate returns to Washington at the end of the month is HR 118, a positive first step toward eliminating traffic stops based only on the race and ethnicity of the driver.
Scores of African-American males - including prominent athletes, Members of Congress, actors and business leaders - have experienced the humiliation of being stopped on the nation's roads for no other reason than the alleged traffic offense derisively referred to as "Driving While Black." Yet no agency has ever attempted to document how widespread the problem is, even though 1995 Maryland survey found that 73 percent of the cars stopped and searched were driven by African-Americans, although they make up only 14 percent of the people driving along the interstate.
The "Traffic Stops Statistics Act of 1997" (HR 118), sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), would encourage police departments to keep detailed records of traffic stops, including the race and ethnicity of the person stopped. The Justice Department would be charged with collecting the data and making a determination on the scope of this problem nationwide.
While the House passed HR 118 last March, the Senate has yet to take action on the bill. Urge your Senators to encourage passage of this important legislation by sending a FREE FAX from the ACLU website at http://www.aclu.org/action/drivingblack.html.
(As always, please remember to let DRCNet know about what actions you've taken in response to our bulletins. Please send copies of your letters, or just a note letting us know what actions you've taken, to [email protected].
A report released this week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that one out of every thirty-five American adults is either in prison or jail, on probation or parole. After three decades of lock-em-up drug policy, of street sweeps and the chipping away of constitutional protections, of hard time for marijuana users and jail rather than treatment for the addicted, we have arrived at the point where fully one in thirty-five of us is under the "supervision" of the criminal justice system. At what point, exactly, does a society qualify as a police state?
In 1972, there were approximately 200,000 incarcerates in the U.S. Today that number is fast approaching 2 million. And the prison boom continues. Has any of this made drugs less available to our kids? Has it forced up the price of cocaine? Driven down the purity of the heroin that is sold on our streets? No. In fact, by any of these indicators drugs are far more available today than they have ever been. In fact, we can't even keep them away from the people whom we've locked up, as drugs run rampant throughout our prisons.
One in 35. And that doesn't even tell the whole story. If that number were further broken down, we'd find that the proportion of American males under supervision is more than one in twenty, of African American men, more than one in nine, and of young African American men, more than one in three. And apparently, our esteemed leaders are not done yet.
During the 1996 Presidential campaign, Republican nominee Bob Dole took President Clinton to task for being "soft on drugs." No matter that no president had ever spent so much on enforcement, no matter that arrest rates were already at their highest levels in history, no matter that prisons were being built around the country at an astounding rate: "If you elect Bob Dole, we'll have a real drug war in America."
Today, Dole's successors in the Republican leadership have done him proud. They have a plan to "win" the drug war in four years. They want to make it impossible for anyone with a drug conviction, no matter how trivial, to receive financial aid for college. They want to institute the death penalty for increasing numbers of drug crimes, and they want to imprison as many people, doctors and patients included, as humanly possible in an effort to prove, once and for all, that we can, in fact, arrest and terrorize our way out of our drug problem. Oh, and the Democrats? Their platform differs only in the details.
When is it enough? How many people do we have to imprison to "win" the drug war? One in twenty-five Americans? One in twenty? One in ten? In cities such as Washington, DC, fully half of all young African American men are "in the system." But Washington is not "drug free". Nowhere near. Will two out of three do it? Three out of four? All of them?
Is there no other way for an ostensibly free society to deal with the issues surrounding substance use and abuse? Is it, as our leaders would have us believe, the responsible thing to do: criminalizing personal choice and addiction, creating black markets which are not only criminal in their own right but which also drive up rates of property crime in service to artificially inflated prices, teaching our children that the way to a safer society is to continue to raise the number of people in cages? Have we, as a society, decided that gulags are preferable to the vagaries and pitfalls of liberty?
Today, in America, the land of the free, one in every thirty-five adults is either in prison or jail, on probation or parole. Our leaders scoff at the efforts of other nations to find non-punitive ways to deal with their drug problems, calling them "irresponsible" and "disastrous." But what is the adjective to describe our own transformation into a nation of jailers? Would the great leaders of our past, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, believe that mass incarceration was the appropriate response to our current problems? To any problem of which they could conceive? Would the leaders of today have the courage, the gall to look any one of those great men in the eye and explain to him why this is the course we have chosen for America? One in thirty-five... and rising. Now tell us, mighty drug warriors, where do we go from here?
Adam J. Smith
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