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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #128, 3/10/00

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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  1. DRCNet and TV's "Judge Judy" in War of Words Over Needle Exchange Remarks Following Launch of "" Web Site
  2. Prop. 21 Passage Sparks Lively Protest
  3. Forfeiture Vote Postponed Again
  4. New Hampshire, Vermont to Close the Gap with Methadone Legislation
  5. Two Hawaii Medical Marijuana Bills Pass, Letters to Legislators Still Needed
  6. STUDIES: Marijuana Eases Multiple Sclerosis, Might Help Brain Cancer, Could Pose Heart Risk
  7. Feinstein-Campbell
  8. Link of the Week
  9. Events
  10. EDITORIAL: California's Shame
(visit the last Week Online)

1. DRCNet and TV's "Judge Judy" in War of Words Over Needle Exchange Remarks Following Launch of "" Web Site

Remarks made in Australia last November by the popular TV personality "Judge Judy" Sheindlin against needle exchange and injection drug users continue to "follow her around," according to the New York Post, Thursday, March 9, following the launching by DRCNet of the web site

During a book talk in Brisbane, Australia last fall, Judge Judy was quoted in The Courier Mail as saying, "give [addicts] dirty needles and let 'em die," and "I don't understand why we think it's important to keep them alive," calling needle exchange to reduce the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases an idea advocated by "liberal morons."

Judge Judy was soon slammed from both sides of the globe. Bob Aldred, chief executive of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation of Queensland called Judge Judy's comments "callous and deplorable," quoted in the Melbourne newspaper "The Age," saying "the arrogance of a TV celebrity using the tragedy of young lives struck down by drugs for her own commercial gain is nothing short of repulsive." In the United States, prominent conservative commentator Arianna Huffington slammed Judge Judy in her nationally syndicated column, with an editorial titled "The New Callousness."

An Internet-based campaign aimed at the Judge Judy show's sponsors began to percolate, as DRCNet, together with allied organizations such as the Harm Reduction Coalition, Family Watch and Drugsense, circulated lists of Judge Judy advertisers and contact info. Three Judge Judy sponsors, Herr's Potato Chips, Papa John's Pizza, and a joint venture of Shell Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank, responded by e-mail that they would cease running ads on the Judge Judy show. Feeling the pressure, Sheindlin released two public statements on her web site,, on 11/30/99 and 12/3/99.

On 12/21/99, the campaign received coverage in the unlikely venue of supermarket tabloids, with simultaneous articles appearing in both The Globe and The National Enquirer. On Feb. 18, a caller to the CNN program "Larry King Live" show challenged Judge Judy about the incident. Later in the month, activists in New York planned to protest a Judge Judy book talk, but called the plans off after learning she was reading from a children's book. Earlier this week, DRCNet launched a web site,, (, to enhance the anti-Judge Judy campaign and raise awareness of drug-related HIV and hepatitis and the urgent need for needle exchange programs.

Last Tuesday, 3/7, the popular web site covered and the Judge Judy campaign (see
DRCNet Executive Director David Borden was quoted in the article, saying "We have children being born with AIDS because of infected needles, and nowhere in any of her statements has she acknowledged that the disease spreads to other people," adding "I feel she owes an apology to anyone that has lost a loved one to drug abuse."

Papa John's spokesman Brian Jennings told APB, "I regret ever advertising on her show," continuing, "We stopped it as soon as we found out about her adverse views. We have nothing to do with Judge Judy, nor will we ever."

APB's story led to a Thursday, 3/9 article in the New York Post titled "Judge Judy sorry... sort of." Sheindlin told the Post, "If they're looking for me to say I'm sorry to the families who lost children or loved ones [to AIDS or drugs] -- absolutely. I feel badly if words that I used hurt them. But am I going to apologize to a [drug advocacy] group that has an agenda -- absolutely not. This group has an agenda, and that's legalizing drugs." Sheindlin said she doesn't remember her exact, original quote, but claimed it was changed or taken out of context.

Borden explained to the Post, "[t]hrough her callous remarks she has made herself fair game, and we intend to use this episode [as a platform] to discuss an important public health issue." (The Post article can be found online for several more days at

Members of DRCNet's Board of Directors who are prominent in the AIDS field made comments in a statement released by DRCNet announcing the web site. Board member Keith Cylar, Co-executive Director of Housing Works, the nation's largest minority-run AIDS services organization, said, "Ignorant is too good a word for her views," explaining, "Syringe exchange protects not only the lives of drug users, but their families and sexual partners, present and future."

Board member Joey Tranchina, Executive Director of the AIDS Prevention Action Network (APAN), stated, "No person who proudly and unrepentantly consigns whole groups of human beings to horrible death from AIDS can ever be considered an acceptable spokesperson for any product or an attractive personality for any entertainment. By these comments, Judy Sheindlin has made herself unwelcome in any decent American home." (APAN is a needle exchange program that achieved legality under a California law passed late last year.)


Experienced sources have told us that could be a hot story if Judge Judy's sponsors continue to drop her. Please visit to help. Our site offers e-mail, web form links and sample text to contact the sponsors online, making it easy for you to join the campaign. The site also includes a petition to state legislators asking them to make needle exchange and pharmacy syringes sales legal, a "Don't Come Back" section of responses Australians have written to Judge Judy, information about needle exchange and more. Please visit and forward this article to your friends too. And please let us know of other sponsors you see advertise on Judge Judy, and forward us any correspondence you receive back.


Judge Judy's comments dehumanized people with drug problems and harmed efforts to improve drug policy. Even if she was sincere when she told the Post she felt "badly if words that I used hurt" families who've lost loved ones to AIDS or drug abuse, her other comments are scarcely more positive. She talks about how addicts "rob and maim and murder" and how her sympathy is with the victims of crime and the children born addicted to drugs.

No one should doubt that crime by addicts and prenatal drug exposure are serious, often tragic problems. But nowhere in any of her public statements does she acknowledge that most addicts don't "rob and maim and murder" nor even commit low level property crimes. Nowhere in any discussion of this issue has she acknowledged that the worst prenatal substance exposure problems are due to the legal drugs alcohol and cigarettes, nor to our knowledge has she called for those drugs to be prohibited. By attempting to cast all addicts as violent, child-abusing monsters, Judge Judy is unfairly demonizing an entire, vulnerable class of people.

And most bafflingly, she has failed on repeated occasions to explain why children, even under the worst of circumstances, are better off being born with AIDS -- the inevitable, horrific consequence of the unavailability of sterile syringes. Only an extraordinary leap of illogic gets one from "some addicts commit crimes" to concluding that deadly, incurable epidemic diseases should be allowed to spread unchecked through the population. The spread of disease places untold numbers of wholly uninvolved third parties as well as injection drug users at risk. Nor does she acknowledge the great weight of evidence showing that not only do needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV, but that they do so without increasing the use of drugs, hence do not contribute to the drug abuse problems that she decries.

Your efforts can keep the controversy going and bring publicity that will fuel positive discussion in the popular press and attract new supporters to the issue and the organization. Please visit and please help us spread the word.


official Judge Judy web site:

Judge Judy's 11/30 statement:

Judge Judy's 12/3 statement:

Arianna Huffington's column slamming Judge Judy:

Media Awareness Project archive of relevant articles:

Family Watch, organization that contributed to the write-the-sponsors campaign:

Harm Reduction Coalition:

DRCNet's 11/19 Judge Judy article and action alert:

DRCNet's 12/6 Judge Judy update:

DRCNet commentary on Judge Judy, 12/6:

3/7 article:

3/9 New York Post article:

2. Prop. 21 Passage Sparks Lively Protest

More than 150 people were arrested at a non-violent protest in San Francisco on Wednesday (3/8), the day after California voters resoundingly approved Proposition 21, the controversial initiative that gives prosecutors much greater freedom to try people as young as 14 as adults.

"People better wake up and see what's going on," one young protester told a KRON-TV news reporter. "I can't vote, but they can try me as an adult," she added.

Most of the 500 demonstrators, who gathered in the lobby of a Hilton hotel, were in their late teens to early twenties. The location was chosen because of W. Barron Hilton's $10,000 donation to the pro-Prop. 21 campaign. "The only good thing that's come out of this is that it has energized young people all across the state," said another demonstrator.

Prop. 21 received was approved by 62 percent in Tuesday's election. In addition to giving district attorneys much greater latitude to try juveniles as adults, the new law creates new crimes for gang-related activity, lowers the threshold for some felonies, opens juvenile court records to possible scrutiny by employers, and contains other provisions that led opponents to dub it the "juvenile injustice initiative."

The projected costs to enforce the new law may well prove onerous to the state and local governments. The report from the state Legislative Analyst found that Prop. 21 will likely incur a one-time cost of $750 million and ongoing costs of $300 million at the state level. The same report predicts that the initiative will cost local governments between $200-300 million, with ongoing costs as high as $100 million dollars each year. The city of Los Angeles, already facing the threat of bankruptcy from the projected costs accruing in the Rampart-LAPD corruption scandal, will share a significant proportion of the financial burden to implement and enforce the new law.

"This is a sad day for California," Kim Miyoshi, spokesperson for the statewide Committee to Defeat Proposition 21, told the San Jose Mercury News. "Voters have chosen to allocate billions of dollars to lock up youth and not one penny for prevention."

Indeed, although the California District Attorney's Association claims that Prop. 21 will "teach at-risk, impressionable youth who can truly be rehabilitated that their actions have consequences," opponents say research shows that the law itself is likely to have unintended consequences. Citing a 1996 study from the RAND Corporation, a Schools Not Jails fact sheet against Prop. 21 notes that "Prevention programs are estimated to be at least twice as effective and significantly cheaper than laws designed to increase incarceration."

But other studies show that incarceration is not simply less effective than prevention; jailing juvenile offenders often results in even greater harm to both young people and society. Research from the Washington, DC-based Justice Policy Institute, which opposed Prop. 21, shows that juveniles incarcerated with adults are at increased risk of being raped and of committing suicide, and are more likely to commit more, and more violent, crimes upon release.

And Prop. 21 is expected to send thousands of California's youngest, newly minted felons to its adult prisons. While current state laws prohibit juveniles from being housed with adults -- a large portion of that one-time $750 million dollar price tag for the state will be spent on building new housing for juveniles at existing adult prisons -- many of the Justice Policy Institute's findings still apply. As the state Legislative Analyst noted in its report, "A number of research studies indicate that juveniles who receive an adult court sanction tend to commit more crimes and return to prison more often than juveniles who are sent to juvenile facilities. Thus, [Prop. 21] may result in unknown future costs to the state and local criminal justice systems."

Web sites with information that contributed to this story include:

Schools Not Jails

Justice Policy Institute

California Secretary of State elections & voter information

California District Attorney's Association

Robin Templeton writes an excellent story on the youth movement spawned by opposition to Prop. 21 in this week's edition of Alternet news, online at

3. Forfeiture Vote Postponed Again

The Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on S. 1931, an asset forfeiture reform bill, has been postponed again, this time until March 23. Please visit to let your two Senators know that you support this bill. (You can also call (202) 224-3121 to speak with their offices by phone, and are encouraged to do so.)

MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENTS: Due to an outdated e-mail address for Sen. Kennedy, your letters to him didn't go through. The company that provides us the service wasn't able to resend them in this case. Kennedy is a member of the Judiciary Committee, and is likely to be supportive, but your letters and phone calls to him could make a difference in how much influence the Dept. of Justice -- the enemy in this legislative battle -- has over the final language. Please visit and resend your letter.

4. New Hampshire, Vermont to Close the Gap with Methadone Legislation

It was a promising week for methadone maintenance advocates in northern New England with both New Hampshire and Vermont moving closer to making the drug more available for residents trying to overcome heroin addiction.

Currently, Vermont and New Hampshire residents trying to kick the heroin habit must travel long distances to methadone clinics in neighboring states. For example, some Vermont residents must commute three hours each way, seven days a week to clinics in Greenfield, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine and Albany, New York.

Methadone allows users to quit heroin without the painful side effects associated with withdrawal. It is widely considered to be the most effective treatment available for heroin addiction. Methadone maintenance is often likened to insulin treatment for diabetics; its long-term use has allowed many former addicts to lead productive lives with relatively few negative side effects.

In the New Hampshire legislature, which passed a ban on methadone treatment in 1995, two bills sponsored by Senator Katie Wheeler were passed in committee and go to the state Senate floor later this week. One bill, S.B. 445, allows the only clinic in the state now providing methadone treatment, Merrimack River Medical Services, to offer long-term methadone maintenance treatment. Currently, the clinic, which opened in October, only offers treatment for a six-month period, despite research showing that arbitrary time limits set on methadone maintenance often lead to relapse and treatment failure.

The other bill is an effort to "get rid of our state's prohibition against methadone maintenance and to require the department of health and human services to write rules governing how it should be administered," Senator Wheeler told The Week Online. "We may be one of eight states that doesn't offer methadone maintenance treatment, but we are the only state that prohibits methadone maintenance in our statute."

Senator Wheeler expects the bills will pass the Senate and House and does not expect opposition from the governor. "As long as the law enforcement community understands the importance of this as a medical treatment, I can't see there being real opposition that would encourage the governor to veto," she said.

Senator Wheeler said she sponsored the legislation because she believes providing substance abuse treatment is a part of good health care overall. "We can't just segregate addiction as some kind of moral failing and not a disease," she said.

In Vermont, the state Senate voted 26 to 4 in approving S. 0132, a bill that would allow methadone treatment in both clinics and doctor's offices. Until recently, all methadone treatment programs around the country have operated out of clinics or hospitals, but changes in federal regulations have opened the door to private physician prescribing.

Holly Catania, a senior research associate at the Lindesmith Center who works on methadone issues, said passage of the Vermont bill would mean a great deal to patients in that state. "It will be the first time there will be a clinic system and a hub system where doctors are prescribing in rural areas," she said. "This is currently being done in pilot projects in different places like New York, San Francisco and Baltimore. The difference in Vermont is people wouldn't need to have so many years of exemplary performance in a methadone treatment program. It makes sense because Vermont is a very rural state."

The next stop for the Vermont bill is the House Committee on Health and Welfare, where Reps. Malcolm Severance, a Republican, and Ann Pugh, a Democrat, hope to give it swift approval.

But the bill will need at least a two-thirds majority in the House to override a veto threatened by Governor Howard Dean. Governor Dean, who is also a physician, said making methadone available to heroin addicts will attract drug users to the state, even though most other states in the region already provide methadone treatment. A Vermont legislative study, conducted last summer, found that most heroin treatments fail if they don't use methadone. The report concluded that such failed treatments contribute to the overall crime rate in Vermont as relapsed addicts stole to support their habits.

In a strange twist, Governor Dean was a supporter of the state's law supporting needle exchange, which was passed last year. In general, needle exchange programs are thought to be more politically problematic than methadone programs. The irony was not lost on State Senator James Leddy, the director of the largest substance abuse treatment program in Vermont and the methadone bill's sponsor. "How can we, on the one hand, say it is right to give clean and sterile needles to addicts who can not and will not stop their use, while we deny access to the very medication that's been demonstrated to be the most effective part of a heroin treatment program?" he said. "I thought the needle exchange program, which I also sponsored, would be more controversial."

When asked if he thought the measure would pass the House, Leddy said the two-thirds majority vote would be difficult to achieve because the House is a much larger body than the Senate. "Much of the challenge in getting support is education," he explained. "Most legislators don't have a real in-depth knowledge of the issues surrounding heroin. We have to convince them that methadone is not just another form of heroin. They also need to be convinced this a problem for Vermonters."

Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states in the Northeast that bar the use of methadone maintenance to treat heroin addiction. Six other states around the country have no methadone services for heroin addiction, including Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, North and South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.

For more information about methadone maintenance treatment, visit the following links:

DRCNet's Special Report on methadone

The Lindesmith Center's focal point on methadone

National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (NAMA)

Find information on New Hampshire legislation online at Legislative info for Vermont is on the web at

5. Two Hawaii Medical Marijuana Bills Pass, Letters to Legislators Still Needed

(alert from the Marijuana Policy Project,

Two medical marijuana bills in Hawaii were passed by the full Senate and full House of Representatives on March 7!

The Hawaii House of Representatives passed H.B. 1157 / HD 2 by a 32-18 vote (with one state representative not voting). The Hawaii Senate passed S.B. 862 / SD 2 by a 13-12 vote.

This is only the third time in history that both chambers of a state legislature have passed legislation to protect patients from state-level prosecution: Maine did so in 1992 and California did so in 1995. Unfortunately, the governors of both states vetoed those bills. A veto will not occur in Hawaii, as the Hawaii governor actually introduced the medical marijuana legislation in the first place!

The House bill now crosses over to the Senate, and the Senate bill crosses over to the House.

If H.B. 1157 / HD 2 or S.B. 862 / SD 2 is enacted into law, patients who use medical marijuana with their doctors' approval will no longer be subject to arrest and imprisonment under Hawaii state law. It would also protect physicians from being penalized for recommending the medical use of marijuana.

The House Health Committee passed H.B. 1157 in February 1999, and the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee passed the bill with a 7-4 vote on February 29, 2000. On March 7, the full House passed the bill by a 32-18 vote.

In February 1999, the Senate Health Committee passed S.B. 862, and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure with a 5-1 vote on March 3, 2000. On March 7, the full Senate passed the bill by a 13-12 vote.

If both the House and Senate can ultimately agree on the same bill, then Governor Ben Cayetano will definitely sign it into law, as he has indicated he remains supportive.

MPP, DRCNet and the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii have sponsored a web site to build support for the bills. Please visit to send a letter to your legislators and to find out how they have already voted. It is important that your legislators hear from you, because the Senate will be voting on the House bill in the days to come, and the House will be voting on the Senate bill.

6. STUDIES: Marijuana Eases Multiple Sclerosis, Might Help Brain Cancer, Could Pose Heart Risk

Three marijuana studies were released in three separate countries this week, two hopeful, one cautionary. One of the studies seems to confirm one medicinal benefit of marijuana -- easing Multiple Sclerosis symptoms -- another raises a new area of hope -- shrinking brain tumors -- and the third signals an area of caution in the possibility of increased risk of heart attack for smokers suffering from heart disease.

The journal Nature published a report this week by British scientists, including Lora Layward of the MS Society of Britain, that showed that compounds which mimic cannabis ameliorated MS symptoms in mice.

"This work gives support to anecdotal reports from people that say cannabis can alleviate spasticity and tremor," Layward told reporters. "This is the first time it has been shown objectively and scientifically that cannabis derivatives can control some of the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis." The report pointed out that symptoms were eased in within sixty seconds of the drug's intake. Layward, bemoaning the current legal problems faced by many MS sufferers, added, "It is an unacceptable state of affairs when people suffering from a serious disease feel driven to break the law."

In Spain, researchers at the Complutense and Autonoma Universities in Madrid found that inoperable brain tumors in rats were completely dissipated by the introduction of cannabis in one third of the test subjects, and that another third lived an average of 40 days longer than expected. The same type of tumors, which inflict thousands of humans, generally kill patients within a year, despite any treatment currently available. While the researchers were quick to point out that smoking cannabis should not be considered a treatment option to the exclusion of more traditional interventions, they also admit that they are not certain exactly how cannabis works. Their best guess is that cannabis stimulates the immune system to attack the cancerous cells.

Lead researcher Manuel Guzman, who hopes to begin human testing within a year, noted, "we observed a very remarkable growth-inhibiting effect." In the experiment, THC, the compound in cannabis that causes intoxication, was injected directly into the brain tumors. "When one smokes (cannabis), only a small part of the cannabinoids are expected to reach the tumor," said the researchers. "These results may provide the basis for a new therapeutic approach for the treatment of malignant gliomas."

Finally, a study presented this week by Dr. Murray A. Middleman at the American Heart Association's annual conference on cardiovascular disease in San Diego, showed that smoking marijuana significantly raises the risk of heart attack in people already at risk through heart disease.

Dr. Middleman noted that marijuana's tendency to increase heart rates in reclining smokers, and for those rates to drop precipitously when the individual stands up, may pose significant risks for people with coronary disease. The group studied 3,882 heart attack sufferers, of which 124 were marijuana users. Of those, 37 claimed to have used marijuana within 24 hours of their heart attack, and 9 had used it within the previous hour. The risk, said the researchers, was 4.8 times higher than normal within an hour of smoking, but dropped precipitously to 1.7 times normal risk by the second hour.

7. Feinstein-Campbell

A poll by the Los Angeles Times showed that incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein maintains a strongly lead over her likely Republican challenger, the still relatively unknown Rep. Tom Campbell. Campbell made news recently for suggesting that individuals already addicted to drugs like heroin should receive a legal supply, in order to reduce the illicit market and resultant crime.

The Times poll found that likely voters would disapprove 60% to 39% of such a proposal and would be less likely to vote for a candidate who floated it. The poll did not identify Campbell as the source of the proposal.

Dale Gieringer of the Drug Policy Forum of California has pointed out that 39% is "[n]ot a bad showing for such a supposedly politically unthinkable proposition."

The Los Angeles Times poll was published on March 3, and can be found online at

8. Link of the Week

Columnist Marjorie Williams remarks on candidates and drugs in The Washington Post.

9. Events

March 17-18, New York, NY, "Is Our Drug Policy Effective? Are There Alternatives?," a two-day multidisciplinary conference presented by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the New York Academy of Medicine and the New York Academy of Sciences. Featured speakers will include Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, former US Attorney General, Kurt L. Schmoke, former Mayor of Baltimore, Robert Sweet, US District Court Judge, Southern District of New York, Edward H. Jurith, General Counsel, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Sally Satel, Psychiatrist, David Musto, Yale University, Robert Newman, Continuum Health Partners and many others.

Advance registration (by 3/13) is $30 or $20/day; on site $20/day, includes lunch; send check made out to Send check made out to NYAS to: Henry Moss, NYAS, 2 E. 63rd Street, New York NY 10021. March 17 will be held at 1216 5th Ave. at 103rd St., March 18 will be held at 42 W. 44th St. For further information, contact Jefferson Fish at (718) 990-1547, Valerie Vande Panne at (212) 362-1964 or Henry Moss at (212) 838-0230 ext. 410.

March 14, 4:00-6:00pm, New York, NY, seminar at The Lindesmith Center: "Let's Get Real: New Directions in Drug Education." Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, director, The Lindesmith Center West and Lynn Zimmer, PhD, professor of sociology, Queens College, CUNY, critique traditional models of drug education. Rosenbaum, author of Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education (1999), and Zimmer, coauthor of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence (1999), examine new directions for educating teenagers about drugs.

March 30, 4:00-6:00pm, New York, NY, seminar at The Lindesmith Center: "MDMA ('Ecstasy') Research: When Science and Politics Collide." Julie Holland, MD, attending psychiatrist, Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Emergency Room and faculty, NYU School of Medicine, John P. Morgan, MD, professor of pharmacology, City College of New York, and Rick Doblin, president, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and PhD candidate, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, assess scientific and political efforts to conduct MDMA research in the US and abroad.

(Lindesmith Center Seminars are held at the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), 3rd Floor. Call (212)548-0695 or e-mail [email protected] to reserve a place.)

May 10-13, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 9th International Conference on Penal Abolition. At Ryerson Polytechnic Metropolitan United Church, $200 CND (agency), $140 CND (individual), $40 low-income, negotiable. Visit for info and to register.

May 17-20, Washington, DC, the 13th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, sponsored by the Drug Policy Foundation. Visit or call (202) 537-5005 for further information. The deadline for scholarship requests is Monday, April 3.

10. EDITORIAL: California's Shame

Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

Little noticed amidst all of the coverage of the Super Tuesday presidential results this week was the passage in California of Proposition 21, which will, among other things, place children as young as 14 into adult prisons. The measure also adds significantly to the list of offenses for which California children can or must be tried as adults, including, absurdly, any vandalism resulting in more than $400 worth of damage. The new penalty, incidentally, for a child who, for instance, writes his or her name in wet cement, is a minimum one-year jail sentence.

The measure is expected to cost the state up to a billion dollars in the near term and indeterminate sums thereafter as the largest prison system in the world gears up for the addition of tens of thousands of young people to its population. This boon to interests such as the private prison industry and the prison guards' unions (the most generous supporters of state-wide candidates in the state) will be enhanced as well by the measure's provision adding dozens of new juvenile offenses to the list counting toward California's notorious "Three Strikes" law.

Despite the overwhelming costs imposed by Prop. 21 on state and local governments, and despite the enormous shift that the measure dictates in the state's treatment of juvenile offenders, 62% of primary participants voted yes. This result has been explained, in part, by the heavy conservative turnout for the Republican primary, as well as by the blatantly slanted wording of the initiative's description in a large number of districts. That wording asked voters whether they approve of a measure that would shift "murderers, rapists and other serious juvenile offenders" into the adult court system.

The reality is that the passage of Prop. 21 flies in the face of everything we know about the effective treatment of juvenile offenders. Money for prevention and rehabilitation programs is far more cost-effective in reducing crime than money spent to incarcerate juveniles. Incarcerated juveniles are also 70% more likely to re-offend than similar offenders who receive alternative sanctions. Alternatively, those under 18 who are locked up in adult prisons are 8 times more likely to commit suicide, 5 times more likely to be raped and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon behind bars as similar offenders in youth-only facilities.

It is interesting to note that while Proposition 21 will have a debilitating, and likely a disastrous impact on young people, families and taxpayers across California, the measure was supported by big-bucks contributions from such disinterested parties as Unocal Corp., Pacific Electric and Gas and Hilton Hotels. It should be noted too that while these corporate sponsors might not have had an interest in the proposition itself, they all had an interest in currying favor with California's former Governor, Pete Wilson, chief supporter of the measure and, at the time of the donations, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

At a time in California's history when juvenile crime is at its lowest rate since 1966, that state has just voted to spend enormous taxpayer resources to abandon nearly everything we know about juvenile justice in favor of prison cells. It is a disheartening statement about, well, a lot of things. Not the least of which being the impact of a mass media addicted to cheap, sensationalistic crime coverage, a prison-industrial complex grown out of control, and an authoritarian propaganda campaign waged by government agencies and politicians on the need for more punishment as an antidote for society's real and perceived ills.

And so it goes in the most populous state in the most incarcerated nation on earth. The people of California this week, at the urging of moneyed interests whose interest has nothing to do with the welfare of children or public safety, have voted to feed tens of thousands of young people to the gaping mouth of the prison industrial complex. In doing so, they have sent a message. It is a message of draconian cruelty and fiscal and social irresponsibility. They will pay with their tax dollars, as new prisons are constructed around the state. They will pay with their safety, as younger and younger children are transmogrified from errant youths to hardened criminals behind the wall. They will pay with their souls, as the act of sacrificing those who might otherwise have been saved hardens and numbs the system itself and those it is designed to serve.

Congratulations California, and to all who spent money to insure that your state leads the world in putting kids in cages. Next year, perhaps you will vote to simply eat your young. You'll find that if you skimp a bit on the condiments, it'll be a whole lot cheaper.

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Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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