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House Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act

The US House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill, HR 5143, Monday night that would create a national commission to study the US criminal justice system and make recommendations for reform. Bulging prison populations, draconian drug war policies, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system will all be on the table for the commission.
Bill Delahunt, championed the Webb bill in the House of Representatives
The bill was sponsored by Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) and passed under an expedited process that assumes unanimity if no members object. None did.

The bill is a companion bill to one sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his first term in the Senate has convened a series of forums on the state of the criminal justice system. The Webb bill has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to see a Senate floor vote this fall.

"It is a sign of how quickly the tide has turned against punitive criminal justice policies that this bill passed without opposition," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Prisons are overflowing at great taxpayer expense, in large part because of the failed war on drugs, and members of Congress are finally saying enough is enough, we need ideas for reform."

"Today's vote shows Congress is aware that our nation's criminal justice system is in need of major repair," said Julie Stewart, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "With 2.3 million people in its jails and prisons, the United States has the highest incarceration in the world. One of out of 31 Americans is under some sort of correctional supervision -- jail or prison, parole or probation. Brave though we may be, we are no longer the land of the free," continued Stewart.

"The House has spoken decisively. Now it is time for Senators to act," Piper said. "Sen. Webb's and Rep. Delahunt's bipartisan commission legislation needs to be passed quickly before the war on drugs and punitive criminal justice system bankrupt our country and destroy more lives."

"We know too much about crime and rehabilitation, and about what works and what doesn't work with regard to recidivism, to continue to mindlessly sentence minor offenders to long prison sentences and inflexible mandatory minimum penalties," said Stewart. "The moral bankruptcy of such policies is now being compounded by the fiscal bankruptcy it is visiting upon the state and federal governments. We applaud the House for taking this enormous step, and we look forward to seeing this bill through until it reaches the president's desk before the 111th Congress adjourns," Stewart concluded.

If passed by the Senate and approved by the president, the legislation will create a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the entire criminal justice system and offer concrete recommendations for reform within 18 months. Like its House counterpart, the Webb bill has strong bipartisan support. Among its 37 cosponsors are Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), ranking minority member Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch (D-UT).

Washington, DC
United States

New Compendium of Recidivism Studies Unveiled

June 28, 2010


Dear Friends,

The Sentencing Project is pleased to announce the publication of a first-of-its-kind comprehensive database, "State Recidivism Studies." The database provides references for 99 recidivism studies conducted between 1995-2009 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

These studies have been produced by a variety of agencies, including departments of corrections, sentencing commissions, statistical analysis centers, and universities. The studies address issues including juvenile/adult status, race, gender, offense type, program intervention, and many others, and thus offer insights into the variety of factors that affect recidivism outcomes.

Because of the diversity among the studies in methodology and definitions of recidivism, the measurements of recidivism rates are not necessarily comparable across jurisdictions. Overall, though, the studies provide insight into the factors that affect program success for people sentenced to incarceration or community supervision.

We hope you find this database useful in your work, and please keep us posted regarding new research in this area.

Marc Mauer
Executive Director


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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

The Rape of Justice!

The rape of justice, the guardian of liberty is an assault on the American dream! Big government or the establishment ideology of unethical capitalism and welfare-warfare statism is an assault on the American dream. Morally bankrupt profiteers are well on their way to killing the American dream of self government free of big government tyranny and oppression! Let ethics and the free market rule!

DISCLOSE Act proponents want to reduce political expression by groups that represent anti-Statist, pro self-government ideals and kill our ability to fire and replace incumbents. Please, oppose this bill!

"The House Judiciary held a ultra sober two hour hearing on the problem of rape kits not being opened across the USA. The Members made nice speeches about the problem but no action is expected. Recall NPR had an excellent report 18 months ago about the 400,000 unopened kits. And the lawmakers have snoozed.

All witnesses agreed that the number of kits untested in unknown. Kits are left at hospitals (never picked up), evidence rooms and labs. Police departments are reluctant to find out how many they have, due to adverse publicity. Detroit PD has about 15,000 untested. Los Angeles has about 12,000. New York City recently worked off a 17,000 kit backlog…the only bright spot in testimony.

It costs about $900 to 1000 to process a kit. At 50% of police depts, forensic DNA evidence is NOT a priority.

Mariska Hargitay, the star actress from the TV show Law & Order – SUV was especially effective in pointing out how society places so little value on women. The victims (thousands of whom have written her) interpret not testing, as a sign that the police and society do not care about rape. IMHO the victims are correct." Detective/Officer Howard Wooldridge (retired) Drug Policy Specialist at COP, CitizensOpposingProhibition, blogged recently. "NOTE: while testifying, she cracked emotionally for about 10 seconds….very moving."

Sexual predator treatment squeezes state budgets as do rape kit testing.

Now is the time for American lovers to unite and insist American warriors get their adrenaline rush catching murderers and other violent predators. Regulation, science based education and treating abuse as a medical problem is a better drug policy that increases public safety and harm reduction plus frees up billions in wasted funds to use incarcerating the violent and sexual predators.

The only real wealth is well being and happiness. We, the nonviolent members of the pro-better-world society, far out number the violent evil doers. Get tough on violent crime! Take away violent offenders' and sexual predators' ability to reproduce. Aggressive behavior can be bred out of us as it has been done in dogs. We shall overcome the violent and inherit the earth.

Drug treatment is at least five times less costly than prison. Arresting nonviolent people for making a safer health choice, Cannabis, compared to other medicinal/social drugs is scandalous reefer madness. The people believe in self-government and self-medication. Jury nullification is a Constitutional power tool we the people pack.

Cannabis oil is that cure all some of our ancestors used! Thank God, they did not let us all be brain washed into forgetfulness about the wonder of it! Oooops they spilled the beans, in spite of the oppression promoted by medical profiteers.

Prohibition has become a war on parental authority, local government decision making and free speech. Current policies destroy families and official lawlessness rules. Alcohol makes domestic violence 8 xs more likely, cannabis does not. Taking children out of homes of nonviolent cannabis users and placing them in homes in which alcohol is the drug of choice is discrimination and a policy bordering on insanity! Meanwhile, damage from fetal alcohol syndrome fills our prisons with folks who can not comprehend the consequences for their actions..

Taking property from people who have made a safer health choice is legalized discrimination and extortion! States seized $1.52 billion in 2007 End asset forfeiture! We owe reparations to people for all this tyranny.

"I believe the most important facet of American life is our freedom. Life in America should be free from discrimination for every social class, religion, and race. The police in America are charged with the protection of our citizens, not discrimination. Our courts protect our citizens, not encourage their oppression. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to protect the citizens from these harms and we, the people, have the requirement of holding them accountable.

It is my hope that as my home state of Texas is thrust into the legalization debate that our legislators take into consideration the need to reduce the harm associated with discrimination against its citizens. We need to reduce the harm with sending trained law enforcement after nonviolent offenders. We need to reduce the harm by reducing the number of nonviolent offenders we send to prison. But most importantly, we need to reduce the harms associated with youthful indiscretions and protect our children." - a retired member of our Armed Forces, Larry Talley.

Americans deserve policies that build family bonds instead of destroying them. Our children deserve an education free of lies, half truths, innuendoes and any similar government propaganda.

"Freedom to make bad decisions is inherent in the freedom to make good ones. If we are only free to make good decisions, we are not really free." US Congressman Ron Paul notes. Take action now, join the Campaign For Liberty!

We just have to love our kids, teach them that their body is the temple for their soul and hope they make the right choices. You can't live their lives for them; they will not allow it. Independent individuals will eventually throw off the bonds of tyrannical parents and big government tyranny and oppression

Across America paramilitary drug raids trigger violence rather than lessen the risk. It is called, "Overkill" to use such force on a nonviolent health issue. This unconscionable bloodshed is on the hands of leadership as much as those who pulled the trigger or did the actual butchering and torturing. It is a policy created problem.

Michael Phelps has won 14 career Olympic gold medals, the most by any Olympian. Last I checked, Phelps has broken thirty-seven world records in swimming. Neither the USA Swim team nor Kellogg's cereal and munchie company had a problem with him despite an alcohol-related arrest in 2004. Michael has nothing to apologize for but Kellogg's and the Swim Team should reconsider their decision to punish him for making a safer social and health choice to simply celebrate with friends.

The horrors of meth are triggered by our insane policy. Since the 1930s methamphetamine has been safely manufactured as a legal drug. Today it is routinely prescribed for children with ADHD. Only when its manufacture is forced underground does it become dangerous. Just as legal distilleries make whiskey safely now, yet during the Noble Experiment from which we learned nothing, small illegal stills poisoned users or exploded and burned, causing major public safety problems. Moonshine stills burned down forests and polluted rivers during our first failed prohibition.

Dallas is one of six main sites for a nationwide electronic town meeting entitled “America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy” on Saturday, June 26, 2010 from 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at the Dallas Convention Center. (Lunch and childcare will be provided.) Thousands of Americans across the country linked by satellite and webcast will participate in an unprecedented national discussion to help find solutions to our budget deficit and the national debt. Find common ground on some of the tough choices our country needs to make about spending, taxes and the role of government.

Please support the 84 congressional candidates from every political party who have signed a statement against war spending The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans over $1 trillion in direct costs, and over $3 trillion altogether.

Stall war funding for economic relief! At a time when our national debt exceeds $13 trillion, we can no longer afford these wars. It's time for Congress to reject any funding except to bring all our troops safely home.

Ron Kovic presented Tom Cruise with his Bronze Star medal on the final day of filming Born on the Fourth of July for his "courageous portrayal of the true horrors of war." Time Magazine reported that Oliver Stone said, "He gave it to Tom for bravery, for having gone through this experience in hell as much as any person can without actually having been there."

Kovic wrote his autobiography in less than two months. "I wrote all night long, seven days a week, single space, no paragraphs, front and back of the pages, pounding the keys so hard the tips of my fingers would hurt. I couldn't stop writing, and I remember feeling more alive than I had ever felt. Convinced that I was destined to die young, I struggled to leave something of meaning behind, to rise above the darkness and despair. I wanted people to understand. I wanted to share with them as nakedly and openly and intimately as possible what I had gone through, what I had endured. I wanted them to know what it really meant to be in a war — to be shot and wounded, to be fighting for my life on the intensive care ward — not the myth we had grown up believing. I wanted people to know about the hospitals and the enema room, about why I had become opposed to the war, why I had grown more and more committed to peace and nonviolence."

Ron's story was also the inspiration for the novel and movie, Coming Home.

"The scar will always be there, a living reminder of that war, but it has also become something beautiful now, something of faith and hope and love. I have been given the opportunity to move through that dark night of the soul to a new shore, to gain an understanding, a knowledge, and entirely different vision. I now believe I have suffered for a reason and in many ways I have found that reason in my commitment to peace and nonviolence. My life has been a blessing in disguise, even with the pain and great difficulty that my physical disability continues to bring. It is a blessing to speak on behalf of peace, to be able to reach such a great number of people." Ron Kovic, born July 4, 1946.

As we celebrate Independence Day, please consider those heroes, who have given their limbs and lives for this country, sacrificed and died for freedom, for making this world a better place, will have died in vain; if the American dream of self-government free of tyranny and big government oppression dies.

No fear! Be brave, end the terror by changing our intrusive, big-bully policies, both foreign and domestic. The monetary and environmental costs are staggering and the human suffering unconscionable.

True patriots, lovers of liberty, insist morally bankrupt US warriors are held responsible for torture and wars abandoning our ideal of nonintervention. The world knows they violated international law. They are traitors to the republic for which we stand. We will be derelict in our duties to maintain an in fact, free republic if we don't insist on it.

Our founders knew big government would always mean a gang of evil doers, often hiding tyranny under the guise of good intentions. Sometimes a great notion comes along that can save a great nation!

The American dream is, "for the power of love to overcome the love of power." We will overcome! Founded in self-government or the freedom philosophy, both economic and personal, we will overcome!

Track your Senators' and Representative's votes by e-mail

Changing who's in charge will not affect much. The real cause of this huge quagmire of failed policy is the beast, big government, that money hungry beast, Uncle Sam! Ma Freedom tells it like it is! The beauty of it is when we focus on down-sizing our government we regain our roots of self-government and secure the blessings of liberty for future generations and ourselves.

Compiled and written by Colleen McCool

Prohibition: Drug War is a Failure, Associated Press Reports

In a major, broad-ranging report released Thursday, the Associated Press declared that "After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." The report notes that after four decades of prohibitionist drug enforcement, "Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread."
The AP even got drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to agree. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske said. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The AP pointedly notes that despite official acknowledgments that the policy has been a flop, the Obama administration's federal drug budget continues to increase spending on law enforcement and interdiction and that the budget's broad contours are essentially identical to those of the Bush administration.

Here, according to the AP, is where some of that trillion dollars worth of policy disaster went:

  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico -- and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the US were serving sentences for drug offenses. [Editor's Note: This $450 billion dollar figure for federal drug war prisoners appears erroneous on the high side. According to Department of Justice budget figures, funding for the Bureau of Prisons, as well as courthouse security programs, was set at $9 billion for the coming fiscal year.]

The AP notes that, even adjusted for inflation, the federal drug war budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon asked for in his first federal drug budget.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron told the AP that spending money for more police and soldiers only leads to more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

"President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. "This despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

"For the first time ever, the nation has before it an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate," said economist and drug policy expert John Carnevale, who served three administrations and four drug czars. "Yet... it appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget."

Of the record $15.5 billion Obama is requesting for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it is destined for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction. About one-third will go for prevention and treatment.

The AP did manage to find one person to stick up for the drug war: former Bush administration drug czar John Walters, who insisted society would be worse if today if not for the drug war. "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Uh, yeah, John, that's what it's saying.

The Safe Streets Arts Foundation: Volunteer Opportunity for Book Cover Designer



 We are about to publish another book under our Foundation House Publishing imprint. We seek a volunteer book cover designer to create the cover for it using selected images of art made by imprisoned artists. All text and image files will be sent to you as email attachments.


The 250-page book is entitled "Art on the Inside: Understanding and Helping Imprisoned Artists." The table of contents reads as follow:

1. Creating Art in Prison

2. Men and Women Who Make Art in Prison

3. How Prisons Operate

4. Role of the Arts in Prisons

5. Helping Artists in Prisons

6. Getting Started as a Mentor to Artists in Prison

7. Duties of a Mentor to Artists in Prison

8. Dangers to Avoid When Mentoring to Artists in Prison

9. Mentoring Over the Long Haul

10. Marketing Art Made in Prison

11. Helping Artists After Their Release From Prison

12. Career Opportunities for Mentors


If you have the time and interest to help us design the cover for this exciting new book, please email [email protected]   Thank you.


  All art on this page created by imprisoned artists and available  at our Prison Art Gallery or online at


"The Safe Streets Arts Foundation, incorporating both the Prisons Foundation and the Victims Foundation, is proud to sponsor the annual From-Prison-to-The-Stage Show at the Kennedy Center and the Prison Art Gallery at 1600 K Street. NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC, three blocks from the White House."



I Am My Sister's Keeper

On March 16, 2010, I will be receiving the Reverand Dr. Constance M. Baugh Justice Works award for the work I've committed my life to of changing the tide of inhumane incarceration of women, particularly women who are primary caregivers to children. I became involved with Voices from Inside as a prisoner in Massachusetts in 2003. Seven years have passed since that time and I remain involved and committed to this grassroots organization of women committed to helping women find their voice within the walls of the hugely oppressive criminal justice system which seeks to contain and silence them. I now work in the addicitons field with women, many of whom have been incarcerated in the past for non-violent drug related offenses. What these women face is the long uphill climb from incarceration and separation from their children and families. This path is fraught with challenges produced by their incarceration; families wounded from separation, criminal record accessability by landlords, employers, and school officials, raging unemployment, poverty, and the sense that they are second-class citizens in America, unworthy the attention required to mitigate these obstacles. It is my belief that the solution lies in educating the public about the inefficacy of incarcerating people who suffer from the disease of addiciton, the effects of living in poverty, and the lack of opportunity for people living in poverty. Money spent to incarcerate a woman and place her young children in foster care would be more wisely spent on lifting this family from poverty; by providing treatment for drug addiction within the community and partnering with social justice organizations to address the needs of families faced with the effects of incarceration. The solution is to address this at it's source: the treatment of drug addiciton within the community with an emphasis on keeping families intact whenever possible.

Safe Streets Arts Foundation: Our Director to perform at ACLU awards dinner

Can't wait for our director Dennis Sobin to perform his classical-jazz guitar music again at the Kennedy Center? Got $150 to spend on a very worthwhile cause (ACLU awards dinner) at Washington's prestigious Omni Shoreham Hotel on March 18?


As many fans of our director's classical and jazz guitar playing know, when he is not engaged in his regular performances at the Kennedy Center, he appears at colleges, festivals and (his favorite) nonprofit fundraisers. Coming up on his busy early spring performance schedule is the annual Nation's Capital ACLU Bill of Rights Awards Dinner on March 18, 2010, 6:30 pm at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, DC. Presenting the awards this year is Gregory B. Craig, President Obama's first White Counsel Counsel. Mr. Craig led the Administration's effort to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and fought for President Obama's "civil liberties campaign" to correct many of President Bush's harsh policies.

For more information about the ACLU awards dinner, please click here. For free listening/downloads of Dennis Sobin's ten guitar music CDs, please click here. Thank you.


All art on this page created by imprisoned artists and available at our Prison Art Gallery or online at


"The Safe Streets Arts Foundation, incorporating both the Prisons Foundation and the Victims Foundation, is proud to sponsor the annual From-Prison-to-The-Stage Show at the Kennedy Center and the Prison Art Gallery at 1600 K Street. NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC, three blocks from the White House."


Washington, DC
United States

Feature: Obama Seeks Increase in Drug War Spending in a Drug Budget on Autopilot

The Obama administration released its Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal this week, including the federal drug control budget. On the drug budget, the Obama administration is generally following the same course as the Bush administration and appears to be flying on autopilot.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the administration is requesting $15.5 billion for drug control, an increase of 3.5% over the current budget. Drug law enforcement funding would grow from $9.7 billion this year to $9.9 billion in 2011, an increase of 5.2%. Demand side measures, such as prevention and treatment, also increased from $5.2 billion this year to $5.6 billion next year.
The $15.5 billion dollar drug budget actually undercounts the real cost of the federal drug war by failing to include some significant drug policy-driven costs. For instance, operations for the federal Bureau of Prisons are budgeted at $8.3 billion for 2011. With more than half of all federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses, the real cost of current drug policies should increase by at least $4 billion, but only $79 million of the prisons budget is counted as part of the national drug strategy budget.

The Obama drug budget largely maintains the roughly two-to-one imbalance between spending on treatment and prevention and spending on law enforcement. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske called the imbalanced budget "balanced."

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration prevention programs (SAMHSA) is set at $254.2 million, up $29.6 million from this year, while funding for SAMHSA treatment programs is set at $635.4 million, up $101.2 million from this year.
  • Funding for ONDCP's Drug Free Communities program is set at $85.5 million, down $9.5 million from this year.
  • Funding for the widely challenged National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is set at $66.5 million, an increase of more than 50% over this year.
  • The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring II program (ADAM) is funded at $10 million. It got no money this year.
  • Funding for the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment program is set at $1.799 billion, the same as this year.
  • Funding for the Second Chance Act for reintegrating people completing prison sentences is set at $50 million, a whopping 66% increase over this year.
  • Funding for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force is set at $579.3 million, up $50.8 million over this year.
  • Funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program is set at $210 million, down $29 million from this year.
  • Funding for the Defense Department's counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan is set at $501.5 billion, up about one-third over this year.
  • Funding for State Department counternarcotics activities in West Africa is set at $13.2 million, up $10 million from this year.
  • Funding for State Department counternarcotics activities in Colombia is set at $178.6 million, down $26.6 million from this year.
  • Funding for the DEA is set at $2.131 billion, up 5.5% over this year. That pays for 8,399 employees, 4,146 of whom are DEA agents.
  • Funding for the Office of Justice Programs' Byrne grant program, Southwest Border Prosecutor Initiative, Northern Border Prosecutor Initiative, and Prescription Drug Monitoring program has been eliminated.

"The new budget proposal demonstrates the Obama administrations' commitment to a balanced and comprehensive drug strategy," said Kerlikowske. "In a time of tight budgets and fiscal restraint, these new investments are targeted at reducing Americans' drug use and the substantial costs associated with the health and social consequences of drug abuse."

Drug reformers tended to disagree with Kerlikowske's take on the budget. "This is certainly not change we can believe in," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's extremely similar to the Bush administration drug budgets, especially in terms of supply side versus demand side. In that respect, it's extremely disappointing. There's nothing innovative there."

"This budget reflects the same Bush-era priorities that led to the total failure of American drug policy during the last decade," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "One of the worst examples is $66 million requested for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign when every independent study has called it a failure. The president is throwing good money after bad when what we really need is a new direction."

Houston also took umbrage with the accounting legerdemain that continues to allow ONDCP to understate the real cost of federal drug policies. "It's disconcerting to see the Obama administration employ the same tactics in counting the drug budget that the Bush administration did," said Houston. "Congress told ONDCP in 2006 to stop excluding certain items from the budget, and we had a Democratic committee chairman excoriate John Walters over his cooking of the books, but it doesn't appear they've done anything to stop that. Maybe they have to cook the books to make this look like a successful program."

But reformers also noted that some good drug policy news had already come out of the Obama administration. They also suggested that the real test of Obama's direction in drug policy would come in March, when Kerlikowske releases the annual national drug control strategy.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "but I think there is a significant difference in the environment from the Bush years. Maybe not in this budget, but things like issuing those Department of Justice regulations on medical marijuana have made a major difference."

"They are unwilling or unable to change the drug war budget, but the true measure of their commitment to a shift in drug policy will be the national drug control strategy that comes out in a few weeks," said Piper. "The question is will their drug strategy look like Bush's and like their drug budget does, or will they articulate a new approach to drug policy more in line with the president's comments on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal justice one."

The Obama administration's decision to not interfere with medical marijuana in the states was one example of a paradigm shift, said Piper. So was its support for repealing the federal needle exchange funding ban and ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

"In a lot of ways, the budget trimming that comes out of the White House is a fraud because they know Congress won't make those cuts," said Piper. "I wonder if that's the game Obama is playing with the Byrne grants. That's the kind of thing they can articulate in the drug strategy if they wanted to. They should at least talk about the need to shift from the supply side to the demand side approach. They could even admit that this year's budget does not reflect that, but still call for it."

This is only the administration's budget request, of course. What it will look like by the time Congress gets through with it is anybody's guess. But it strongly suggests that, so far, there's not that much new under the sun in the Obama White House when it comes to the drug budget.

Congress: Bill to Do Top-to-Bottom Review of Criminal Justice System, Drug War Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 on a unanimous voice vote Thursday. The bill would create a commission to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of the country's criminal justice system and offer recommendations for reform at every level.
Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from
Webb has been a harsh critic of national drug policies, and has led at least two hearings on the costs associated with current policies. The bill could create an opportunity to shine a harsh light on the negative consequences of the current policies.

An amendment offered by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and accepted by the committee stripped out the original bill's lengthy list of negative drug policy "findings" and replaced them with blander language, but left the bill's purpose intact.

Passage out of committee was applauded by sentencing reform advocates. "Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for recognizing that the American criminal justice system needs an overhaul," said Jennifer Seltzer Stitt, FAMM federal legislative affairs director. "Any comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system must include eliminating mandatory minimum laws. One-size-fits-all mandatory drug sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s are responsible for filling prisons with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, wasting millions in taxpayer dollars, and destroying public trust in the criminal justice system. The National Criminal Justice Commission can help right these wrongs by recommending mandatory sentencing reform."

The bill's prospects are uncertain. It faces a crowded calendar in the Senate and has made little progress in the House.

If We're Gonna Incarcerate Millions of People, We Should Do More to Stop Prison Rape

 For a nation that leads the world in putting people behind bars, we're doing an absolutely horrible job of looking after the poor folks we keep tossing in there:

The Justice Department reported Thursday that 12 percent of incarcerated juveniles, or more than 3,200 young people, had been raped or sexually abused in the past year by fellow inmates or prison staff, quantifying for the first time a problem that has long troubled lawmakers and human rights advocates. [Washington Post]

So often, "protecting the children" is the knee-jerk justification for all sorts of draconian criminal justice policies. Yet, the youth who need the most help are routinely being sexually assaulted by the people who're supposed to be rehabilitating them.

The shameful – though not at all surprising – explanation for this seems to be that we just can't afford to do a better job than this:

Four former commissioners on a blue-ribbon prison rape panel that spent years studying the issue say they fear that authorities are deferring to concerns by corrections officials that reforms would cost too much, while not focusing enough on prison safety and the effects of abuse on inmates.  

We can afford to put them in prison, but we just can't afford to take very good care of them. That is literally what's happening here, and it illustrates perfectly what an unfathomable travesty our criminal justice system has become. Yet, lawmakers continue to cower before the mighty prison lobbies that fight tirelessly to build more and more prisons that are less and less safe.

It's amazing that drug policy and criminal justice reform could be considered even remotely controversial while our correctional institutions remain plagued by endemic patterns of violence and sexual abuse. This would be intolerable even if everyone ever sentenced to prison in America actually deserved to be there (imagine that).

It's not enough to just wish it wasn't like this. The bottom line is that anyone who lobbies for aggressive police tactics and harsh laws bears responsibility for the abuse and indignation that innocent (and guilty, though undeserving) people will inevitably suffer within our brutal prison system. If you understand what happens in there, then you have a moral obligation to consider that reality when forming and expressing opinions about who truly belongs behind those bars.

Drug War Issues

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