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Mothers Lead the Charge Against the Nation's War on Drugs

Sacramento, CA
United States
Mothers from across California rallied at the state capitol Wedneday to launch a national movement to end the nation's war on drugs. The group wants alternatives to jail time for drug offenses, such as addiction treatment. "While it may seem counter-intuitive that a group of mothers would say such a thing, it's because we love our children and we really feel the war on drugs is more harmful than the drugs themselves," Gretchen Burns Bergman, mother and rally leader said.

Incarceration Nation: Number of People in State Prisons Declines for First Time Since Nixon, New Report Finds

For the first time since President Richard Nixon won reelection in 1972, the number of people behind bars in state prisons declined last year, according to a new survey, Prison Count 2010, conducted by the Pew Center on the States. As of January 1, there were 1,403,091 people doing state prison time, a decline of 5,739, or 0.4%, from December 31, 2008.
prison population at turning point?
The state prison population has increased seven-fold since 1972, driven by harsher sentencing laws, including drug laws, and an ever larger number of people under correctional supervision, who are eligible to be sent to or back to prison for violating the conditions of their probation or parole. People sentenced for drug offenses typically account for somewhere between 20% and 25% of state prison populations.

The drop was driven was by significant declines in prison populations in states like California, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, and Texas, where sentencing and parole reforms passed in recent years are beginning to take hold. California saw the largest decline in absolute numbers, shedding 4,257 prisoners last year, followed by Michigan (down 3,260), New York (down 1,699), Maryland (down 1,315), Texas (down 1,257), and Mississippi (down 1,233).

But there was also wide variation among the states. Twenty-seven states saw declines, while 23 saw increases, some significant. In the 23 states where the state prison population grew, more than half of the increase occurred in just five states: Pennsylvania (2,122), Florida (1,527), Indiana (1,496), Louisiana (1,399) and Alabama (1,053).

"After so many years on the rise, any size drop is notable. What's really striking is the tremendous variation among the states," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project."These numbers highlight just how much the decisions by state policymakers impact the size and cost of prison systems."

States have gotten smarter -- as opposed to tougher -- on crime, Gelb said. "The decline is happening for several reasons, but an important contributor is that states began to realize there are research-based ways they can cut their prison populations while continuing to protect public safety," he said. "In the past few years, several states have enacted reforms designed to get taxpayers a better return on their public safety dollars."

The trend pre-dated the economic recession, he noted. "These types of policy changes are not simply a response to the economic downturn," said Gelb. "Before this recession began, states like Texas recognized that by strengthening their probation and reentry programs they could cut corrections spending, protect public safety and hold offenders accountable for their actions."

It's a different story with the federal prison population, the report found. The number of federal prisoners continued to grow, increasing by 3.4% in 2009 to an all-time record 208,118. More than 60% of federal prisons are doing time for drug offenses.

The increase in federal prisoners was enough to outweigh the decrease among state prisoners, and the combined state and federal prison population grew by 1,099 last year.

The state and federal prison numbers do not include jail inmates. When they are added in, said Pew, the nation's incarceration rate remains unchanged, with some 2.3 million people behind bars.

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.

Tell the President: Don't Just Say It. Do It!

You Can Make a Difference


Dear friends,

Tell the president:  We need a new direction for U.S. drug policy, not the status quo. 

Email the President

President Obama is saying all the right things when it comes to drug policy reform, but not enough has changed since he took office.

You and I need to show President Obama that we won't stand for the status quo on drug policy.

After a promising start on drug policy issues, the Obama administration has gone astray.  The president’s proposed drug war budget looks a whole lot like the Bush administration’s drug war budget, with funding for failed enforcement policies far outweighing funding for treatment.

Tell the Obama administration you’re tired of Bush-era drug policy and ready for some change you can believe in!

Last month, President Obama nominated an anti-reform Bush holdover to head the DEA.  Under the Bush administration, nominee Michele Leonhart coordinated numerous medical marijuana raids and stood in the way of scientific research.  A new drug policy requires new leadership, especially when the nominee was so closely associated with the failed policies of the past.

The president has repeatedly said that science, not politics, should guide drug policy, and his drug czar called for an end to the war on drugs.  The Obama administration isn’t spouting drug war rhetoric, but it hasn’t abandoned drug war policies either.

Write to the president and urge him to deliver on his promise to improve U.S. drug policy.


Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network


Feature: 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conferences Opens Amid Optimism in Albuquerque

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, people poured into the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Drug Policy Alliance's 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference got underway yesterday. Set to go on through Saturday, the conference is drawing attendees from around the country and the world to discuss dozens of different drug reform topics. (See the link above for a look at the program.)
screening of near-final version of the next Flex Your Rights film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police
This is the second time DPA has brought the conference to the distant deserts of the Southwest. In 2001, DPA rewarded libertarian-leaning New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) for becoming the highest ranking elected official in the US to call for ending drug prohibition by bringing the conference to his home state. Since then, the ties between DPA and New Mexico have only deepened.

As DPA New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski explained at the opening plenary session, the Land of Enchantment is fertile ground for drug reform. "Back in 1997, when drug policy reform was little more than a twinkle in the eye, New Mexico passed a harm reduction act mandating the Department of Health to give out clean syringes for people with HIV/AIDS," she noted. "Then, when Gov. Johnson said it was time to end the war on drugs, DPA very wisely immediately opened an office here. In 2001, we passed the overdose prevention act, allowing for the distribution of naloxone. Then we passed opting out on the federal welfare ban, we passed asset forfeiture reform, we passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act -- saving somebody's life is more important than busting them for small amounts of drugs."

But wait, there's more. "Thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson, we became the 12th state to have legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people," Szczepanski continued. "We're working on treatment instead of incarceration, we're working to end the war on drugs in New Mexico and this country. This is a very special place for drug policy reform."

New Mexico is also right next store to one of the drug war's bloodiest battlegrounds: the mean streets of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, which in turn in borders New Mexico. More than 2,200 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Juarez this year alone.

That violence just across the river inspired El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke to turn a motion expressing sympathy for El Paso's sister city into one that also asked for an open and honest debate on ending drug prohibition. The resolution passed the city council by a unanimous vote, only to be vetoed by the mayor. Then, as the council scheduled an override vote, the pressure came down.

"Each of us on the council got a call from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, our congressman and a very powerful figure," O'Rourke told the crowd Thursday. "He told us if we went forward with this, it will be very hard to get your district the federal funding you need. That's a powerful threat, since we rely on federal funding to deliver basic services. It was enough to get four members to change their votes."

While the resolution was defeated, the debacle opened the door for serious debate on drug policy in El Paso and generated support for ending prohibition as well, O'Rourke said. "Our local Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter came out very strongly and helped organize a global policy forum in El Paso. I received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails of support from around the country and the world," O'Rourke related to sustained applause.

If Councilman O'Rourke was a new face, Ira Glasser is a familiar one. Former executive director of the ACLU and president of the DPA board of directors, Glasser told the crowd he was more optimistic about the prospects for change than ever before.

"Today we stand on the brink of transformative progress," he said. "I have never said that before. We can almost touch the goals we have sought, the unraveling of the so-called war on drugs, which is really a war on fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights, on personal autonomy, on our sovereignty over our minds and bodies, a war against people of darker skin color."

Just as Jim Crow laws were the successor to the system of slavery, said Glasser, so the drug war has been the successor to Jim Crow. "It's no accident that after the civil rights revolution ended with the passage of the last federal civil right law in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on the southern strategy against progress on civil rights," he noted. "Within months of taking office, Nixon declared the modern war on drugs."

Glasser wasn't the only one feeling uplifted. "I am feeling good, better than ever before," said DPA executive director and plenary keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann. "The wind is at our back. We are making progress like never before. We have to move hard and fast. Historically speaking, there are moments when everything comes together," drawing a pointed comparison with the successful temperance movement that managed to get alcohol banned during Prohibition. But Prohibition generated its own counter-movement, he said, again drawing a pointed parallel.

"Now, we're in another moment," Nadelmann said. "We're hurting with the recession, state budgets are hemorrhaging. More and more people are realizing we can't afford to pay for our prejudices, we can't continue to be the world's largest incarcerator."

But it's not just the economy that is opening the window, he continued. "What's happening in Mexico and Afghanistan, where illicit drugs are ready sources of revenues for criminals and political terrorists, that has people thinking. We have two major national security problems causing people to think afresh."

Nadelmann had a suggestion: "Ending marijuana prohibition is a highly effective way of undermining that violence," he said. "Until we end it, buy American."

Just after the opening plenary session ended, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted."

The conference, of course, continued Thursday afternoon and will go through Saturday, but your reporter was busy getting this week's Drug War Chronicle ready to go. Come back next week for fuller reports on the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

Feature: Veterans Incarcerated and Ignored When They Could Be Getting Help, Report Finds

Roughly 200,000 US veterans are in prison or jail, many of them there because of substance abuse or mental health issues, according to a new report released Wednesday. The report outlines the problem and suggests reforms that could ease the plight of American soldiers returning from the war zone and trying to make the transition back to civilian society.
VA Medical Center, Columbia, MO
According to the report, 140,000 vets were in prison in 2004, with tens of thousands more serving time in jails. Nearly half (46%) of vets doing time in federal prison were incarcerated for drug offenses, while 15% of those in state prison were, including 5.6% doing time for simple possession. Three out five (61%) of incarcerated vets met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse.

The report, Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration, comes at a critical time. With hundreds of thousands of soldiers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US faces a mounting challenge in caring for returning vets.

Many are returning home damaged by their experiences. According to the report, 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, mental illness, or other cognitive disability. These medical conditions, if left untreated, can contribute to problematic drug use, addiction, and fatal overdoses, as well as homelessness, suicide, and criminality, particular violations of the drug laws.

While the study mentions 200,000 vets behind bars, the number is most likely much higher. That's because owing to problems in data collection -- a problem in itself -- the last year for which hard numbers on vets behind bars is available was 2004. Since then, more than a million more vets have returned from their deployments and mustered out.

The report had its genesis about a year and a half ago, when the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) teamed up with a classroom of law students at Northeastern University in Boston to investigate the obstacles veterans were facing in obtaining adequate access to mental health and substance abuse services. In addition to a series of surprising and dramatic findings, the report also includes a list of specific recommendations about how to improve services for vets suffering mental health and substance abuse issues.

"We learned that far too many returning vets are falling victim to the war on drugs because of barriers to effective treatment," said DPA's Dan Abrahamson at a Wednesday press conference. "There are nearly a quarter million vets behind bars right now for crimes motivated in part by mental health or drug addiction problems. One third of returning vets report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, vets suffer from traumatic brain injury, depression, and mental illness at higher rates than normal. All of those are contributory factors to substance abuse and drug addiction, as well as overdose, homelessness, suicide, and being arrested for a non-violent drug offense."

In the battle theater, soldiers are supposed to function despite high stress, and the military is more than willing to prescribe them whatever it takes to keep them fighting. But it's a different story when the vets come home.

"Service-related drug dependency is being talked about quite a bit in the veterans community, but is not well understood outside the military," said Tom Tarantino, an Iraq war veteran and now legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The ease of obtaining prescriptions in theater is staggering," he explained. "I know crack dealers who are more discriminating about issuing drugs than some of the medics I saw in Iraq. It's alarming how many people were just given anti-depressants instead of asking whether they were really fit for duty," said the veterans' lobbyist.

"Sometimes, it's just a matter of expediency and life in a combat zone, but then you have vets coming back from an environment where meds are very loosely prescribed and they are confronted with a medical system much more stringent about issuing drugs," Tarantino explained. "And that can cause problems."

"Let's be smarter than the problem," said veterans' advocate Guy Gambill. "We can't afford not to be. We arrest too many people and incarcerate them for too long. Then the mark of a criminal record keeps them from getting jobs, housing, and other services, and then the recidivism rate goes up."

There are things that can be done, Gambill said. States can change their incarceration policies. Localities can be more proactive.

"Chicago police and the LAPD are doing front-end interventions," Gambill noted. "In LA, trained peer specialists are doing ride-alongs with the LAPD so the officers will recognize Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. In Chicago, police are doing crisis intervention training, and the first hundred of them are all Iraq and Afghanistan vets. They'll try to grab these guys at first contact and get them into treatment instead of jail. These sorts of peer-led interventions work very well. We need to catch this on the front end, so we don't have 200,000 homeless vets on the streets like we do now."

Another stumbling block is the Department of Veterans Affairs current policy on drug treatment for vets. The VA is willing to offer treatment, but not for vets behind bars.

"We need the Department of Veterans Affairs to lift their ban on drug treatment of incarcerated vets," said Tarantino. "We're pleased that the department now has a justice coordinator at every VA hospital, but they're waiting outside the prison door, not inside, when the vets need it most. This is a regulation they can change with the stroke of a pen," he said.

Yet another problem for vets, especially those with substance abuse issues, is the lack of access to proven treatments. And because the insurance provided to soldiers by the armed forces also covers their families, lack of access to treatment affects them as well.

"Vets don't qualify for substance abuse treatment unless they are diagnosed with PTSD," said Abel Moreno, a former Army sergeant who saw service in both theaters and who now works with veterans through his organization Vets 4 Vets. "We are fighting two wars at once. It's obvious PTSD exists, and it's clear there are going to be substance abuse issues. We've created a subgenre among today's vets where there is a pain pill-popping mitigation ideal. We need quantified data so we can attack this situation head on," he said.

It's not only in failing to provide drug treatment absent a PTSD diagnosis where the DOD falls down, said Dr. Bob Newman, MD, director of the Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Tricare, the Department of Defense insurance plan refuses to pay for maintenance treatment of addiction with methadone or buprenorphine," he noted. "Maintenance therapy is not a new idea. It's endorsed by agencies such as NIDA, SAMHSA, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization. The US government supports this, yet DOD has an insurance plan that excludes maintenance treatment without explanation. That's outrageous," he said.

Tricare insures not only military personnel, but also their families. Tricare's refusal to pay for maintenance therapy nearly cost Teresa Bridges her daughter. Teresa's daughter, Amanda, married a soldier, Sgt. Shawn Dressler. Dressler was killed in combat shortly after the couple were wed, and Amanda retreated into a haze of Lortab and Tramitol. Tricare paid for her treatment, but after a year, her doctor noted on her records that she was being subscribed maintenance doses of Suboxone.

"Suddenly, Tricare dropped her like a hot potato," Bridges said. "Tricare believes taking Suboxone is just substituting one addictive drug for another -- at least that's what they told me. Amanda has done well on Suboxone, and if she stops taking it, she will eventually relapse. Fortunately, she is now in a temporary assistance program, but that will end after a year."

There are potential reforms that could ease the plight of returning vets, the report said. Among them are:

  • Changes in state and federal statutes to focus on treatment instead of incarceration for veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related offenses.
  • Adoption by government agencies of overdose prevention programs and policies targeting veterans who misuse substances or take prescription medications.
  • Significantly expanded access for veterans to medication-assisted therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence.

"The care and feeding and support of vets is a national concern and responsibility," said Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for Staff, Warrior & Family Support . "We are looking to knit together all the various services and institutions so that the soldier who has served and come home and ends up having problems or maybe ended up incarcerated gets treatment from all the sources available."

One of the big problems, said Tarantino, is lack of hard information. He noted that the Justice Department numbers in the report are from 2004. "In 2004, there were over one million fewer vets than there are today," he said. "We don't know how many vets are behind bars right now. We have no method for tracking vets unless they interact with some social services. We need to have DOD and DOJ compare lists. We need data," he said.

Lack of coordination among agencies dealing with vets is part of the problem, said Xenakis. "We need to better configure what we're doing," he said. "Records are not shared. The Department of Justice doesn't have access to Department of Defense records. We need to get organized so we can track people over time."

That effort has the support of the Pentagon, Xenakis said. "Our leadership heartily endorses this," he said. "It is really important that this information that this information is out there now, and that we follow it with the best action plans we can create. As a country, we have a responsibility to support our vets."

Sentencing: New York's Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Now in Effect

As many as 1,500 low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will be able to apply for release or shorter sentences under reforms to New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws that went into effect Wednesday. The partial reforms also mean increased judicial discretion in sentencing, allowing judges to send some offenders to treatment instead of prison.
June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally, NYC (
The reforms were signed into law in April by Gov. David Paterson (D) after he and the state legislature came to agreement on the issue. They build on earlier partial reforms passed in 2004 that addressed the lengthy sentences assigned to more serious drug offenders.

"Under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, we did not treat the people who were addicted. We locked them up," Paterson said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Court House. "Families were broken, money was wasted, and we continued to wrestle with a statewide drug problem. The reforms that take effect today address those problems. By returning judicial discretion to the courtroom, we are reuniting families and fighting criminal activity and addiction in our communities," he said.

Because the reforms eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges to order eligible defendants to treatment or diversion over prosecutorial objections, the State District Attorneys Association opposed the reforms. But they were championed by a formidable Drop the Rock coalition of drug policy, criminal justice, social justice, and other groups calling for repeal of the Rockefeller laws, as well as by the now Democrat-controlled legislature and statehouse.

"As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed," said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. "But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell."

"New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, and we finally succeeded this year," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform."

"Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme," said Shreya Mandal, mitigation specialist for the Legal Aid Society. "These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning." The Legal Aid Society is already working on 270 cases that should qualify for early release, according to the Associated Press.

But there is still work to be done getting drug offenders out of prison. While as many as 1,500 could get out early, they will leave behind another 12,000 or so, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Corrections. That's more than 20% of all New York state prisoners.

Drug Treatment: California's Prop. 36 Funding Takes Massive Hit

With California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the state legislature desperate to eliminate a $26 billion budget deficit, the state's voter-approved Proposition 36, which mandates that low-level drug offenders be ordered to treatment instead of jail, is not immune from the budget axe. Under the budget agreement just hammered out, Prop. 36 funding will take a massive 83% cut in funding, from $108 million last year to just $18 million next year.

That means thousands of California drug offenders will get neither jail nor treatment. State law forbids jailing them, and there will be nowhere near enough money to treat them.

"The courts are still obligated to push the people into treatment, knowing that the funds, the programs, the services aren't there," said Haven Fearn, director of the Contra Costa County Health Services Department's Alcohol and Other Drug Services Division. "That's the craziness that everyone is having to deal with. What's the answer to that?" she told the Oakland Tribune.

"It's sort of silly, it's awfully close to having just eliminated the program. You get down to such a core level that it's of very little use to most people," said Gary Spicer, management services director at the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. "What you wind up with is a treatment delivery system that's monopolized by judicial referrals and no longer available at the community level," he said. "It's a harm that keeps on hurting," he told the Tribune.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the slashed funding will result in "very long waiting lists" and drug offenders walking free while waiting for treatment.

Under Proposition 36, which was approved by 61% of voters in 2000, first- and second-time drug offenders must be sent to treatment, not jail. A UCLA study found that every dollar spent on Prop. 36 drug treatment would save the state between $2.50 and $4. The study estimated the program needs about $230 million a year to meet the judicially-referred treatment demand.

Prop. 36 mandated $120 million a year in state funding through the 2005-06 fiscal year, but since then the program has had to compete for funding with other state priorities. The legislature increased funding to $145 million in 2006-07, then cut it to $120 million in 2007-08, and cut it again to $108 million last year.

Tough Times: California Protests Over HIV/AIDS Budget Cuts -- Needle Exchange Funding at Risk, Prop. 36 Funding to Vanish

California's $24 billion budget deficit and the steep cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to reduce it provoked demonstrations by HIV/AIDS activists and harm reductionists last Friday in Los Angeles, Monday in Fresno, and Wednesday in Sacramento calling for the restoration of funding. Late last month, Schwarzenegger announced plans to slice $80.1 million in funding for critical HIV/AIDS services, including totally eliminating general fund support for all State Office of AIDS programs except the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which will lose $12.3 million in general fund support.

The cuts would zero out state funding for harm reduction services through the AIDS office, as well as most of the HIV/AIDS prevention funds that California cities use to provide grants for needle exchange programs. For most of the 40 needle exchanges in the state, those grants provided between 60% and 90% of their total funding.

HIV/AIDS and harm reduction groups have organized a coalition known as Stop the HIV Cuts in a bid to reverse the proposed cuts. In addition to the demonstration in Sacramento, protests were also held Wednesday in San Diego and Palm Springs.

Funding for Proposition 36, the voter-approved 2001 law that requires that low-level drug offenders be sent to treatment instead of jail or prison, is also on the line. Gov. Schwarzenegger wants the legislature to eliminate the $108 million line-item for the program, which enrolls some 36,000 drug offenders in the state.

But that would leave California in a strange bind. Prop. 36 is not a program, but a state law, approved by the voters, who mandated that the legislature fund the program through 2006. It prevents judges from sending Prop. 36-eligible offenders to prison, instead of requiring that they receive treatment. If the state does not provide funding, the burden will shift to counties and municipalities, which will not be able to make up the difference. That means that Prop. 36-eligible offenders may, in the near future, receive neither jail sentences nor treatment.

Spring 2009 Issue of NewsNotes

IN THIS ISSUE Ignoma Foundation reaches out to those left behind Baltimore City residents share experience and wisdom on criminal justice Drug Policy Alliance fighting ban on Salvia in Maryland Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-offenders: Helping formerly incarcerated individuals reach their future potential Reforming parole and probation in Maryland could save the state milliions, says new research. PARTNERS AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF MARYLAND AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS CAMPAIGN FOR CLEAN AIR AND POLITICS CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY FOUNDATION DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE DRUG REFORM COALITION NETWORK INTERFAITH DRUG POLICY INITIATIVE JUSTICE MARYLAND JUSTICE POLICY INSTITUTE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION MARYLAND NOW NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN DRUG POLICY COALITION NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS NATIONAL COUNCIL ON ALCOHOLISM AND DRUG DEPENDENCE OF MARYLAND POWER INSIDE STUDENTS FOR SENSIBLE DRUG POLICY-UMD newsQUOTABLES "When I finally got caught, I told the probation officer, 'I'm not a criminal, I'm an addict and I need some help! I don't believe me going to prison is going to solve my problem. If I go to prison, when I come out I will have even more reason to get high and never get help for my addictions." -Marlo Hargrove, in Bearing Witness. NewsNotes Issue VI: Spring 2009 Welcome to NewsNotes, the quarterly newsletter of The Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration. This issue contains the latest information involving sentencing reform, public health and harm reduction, including actions you can take to support legislation and programs that promote alternatives to incarceration in Maryland. We welcome your input, stories and opinions. If you would like to contribute to this newsletter, please contact NewsNotes Editor LaWanda Johnson at [email protected] Sincerely, The Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration Ignoma Foundation reaches out to those left behind As the economy struggles, unemployment increases, and many people take jobs that hardly pay a living wage, a new organization in Baltimore is reaching out to individuals whose experiences make it especially difficult for them to find a job. The Ignoma Foundation focuses its resources on people who have a particulary difficult time obtaining employment. Through intense training and leadership, Ignoma allows people who have experienced hardships that may create barriers to employment to be able to re-enter the job market with positions that lead to careers and opportunities for advancement and not dead ends. "Our target is to introduce jobs that demand a skill base," said Paulo Harris, director of the Ignoma Foundation. "We're focusing on arts-related employment--things that are produced and created-and positions with a career ladder instead of a minimum wage with no opportunity for development." In order to prepare people for skilled employment, the Foundation has developed an eight-week, multi-faceted program that helps participants assess their personal strengths. Ignoma then uses an "asset-based approach" where each person is encouraged to take inventory of their lives, including personal relationships, the challenges they face, their attitudes and the skills they feel they need to enhance. As their skills development, groups of at least three participants are placed at workshop sites. Harris believes the group dynamics encourage employers to develop ways to engage the participants and hone in on their unique skill sets. "When you're in poverty, you have to develop a whole set of strategies for survival that you don't have to develop if you're not a poor person," explained Harris. "Ancillary skills that you get from the drug trade are business skills, but they don't follow traditional patterns--they have a more creative, problem-solving approach." While the Ignoma Foundation primarily focuses on individual professional growth, Harris feels that the program will add to community sustainability as well. "We look at poor communities in isolation of the society as a whole, and that creates an unsustainable community. If you go into [these neighborhoods], there are no locally-owned businesses [or structures] for, say, retail, in those environments," said Harris."Once we've completed the apprenticeship program and built a core group of individuals in manufacturing jobs, we hope to build a plant in East Baltimore and get people to work there, reversing the disappearance of resources and putting them back in the community." To develop job training and employment programs, the Ignoma Foundation has established partnerships with other organizations in the area, such as Genesis Jobs, which is part of Goodwill Industries, and STRIVE Baltimore. The foundation is also looking to identify other opportunities to expand their work program through similar partnerships with small businesses and creative industries. For more information about the Ignoma Foundation contact Paulo Harris at [email protected]. Baltimore City residents share experience and wisdom on criminal justice Teens spending their free time comforting parents who have lost their own children to violence; a woman fighting to break the cycle of addiction while trying to keep her family together; a man struggling to keep his job while trying to comply with parole reporting requirements; a formerly incarcerated single mother making her daughter proud by getting her degree; and a woman grappling with the murder of her son and forgiving his assailant. These are some of the people who share their experiences in a new report, "Bearing Witness: Baltimore City's residents give voice to what's needed to fix the criminal justice system," supported by the Open Society Institute. Bearing Witness lays bare the facts around crime and punishment in Maryland's largest city, while shining a light on the hope and resiliency of those most affected by decades of failed policies. Compared to the rest of Maryland, Baltimore City faces a concentrated impact of the criminal justice system. Although home to roughly 600,000 people, in 2006 the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center processed nearly 100,000 arrests and detained 44,825 individuals. In 2008, 61 percent of newly-incarcerated people in Maryland prisons were from Baltimore City. This intense involvement has taken its toll over the years on people, families, and neighborhoods. Drug Policy Alliance fighting ban on Salvia in Maryland The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is fighting to prevent Maryland Senate Bill 9 from becoming a reality. The bill looks to classify Salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb currently legal in Maryland, as a Schedule I substance, imposing misdemeanor and felony penalties including prison terms up to 20 years for selling the herb. Recent studies indicate that Salvia may be useful in treating addiction, chronic pain, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, many policymakers and law enforcement officers are concerned by the ease with which recreational users can get Salvia, describing a trend of young people buying the herb on the boardwalk in Ocean City and then coming into contact with law enforcement while under the influence. DPA warns that banning Salvia will not prevent these young people from using it, and has the potential to drive usage underground. Currently, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, Senate Bill 9 has not moved out of committee, and its counterpart, House Bill 8 has received an unfavorable report and is unlikely to be voted on before the legislature adjourns on April 13. Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-offenders: Helping formerly incarcerated individuals reach their fullest potential Individuals that have been touched by the criminal justice system often need a support system upon their re-entry into society. Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-offenders (FACE) recognizes this need and is committed to improving the circumstances of formerly incarcerated men and women. Through faith-based support, re-entry prison ministries, treatment and employment training referrals, FACE provides both the setting and the tools to help people who are about to be released. "We're discovering that a lot of people are coming out [of prison] and they're discouraged, because the barriers are already set up," said Marlo Hargrove, co-founder and president of FACE. "The goal of FACE is to help people who were previously incarcerated restore, redirect and replenish their lives by referring them to reliable resources." The organization has two major goals for 2009; to develop an Offenders Anonymous group to provide a forum to discuss experiences while incarcerated and how these experiences make it difficult for individuals to re-integrate into society, and to open a structured center within the West Baltimore community. The center will be a one-stop resource center that will help people with things like transitional housing and make it easier to access a variety of other resources. Many of those involved with FACE have previously struggled with substance abuse. They hold weekly meetings to coordinate their efforts and direct those who need treatment, job training, mental health care, or help reconnecting with their families. The meetings are open to anyone who wishes to join. For more information about FACE, contact Marlo Hargrove at (410) 523-3223. Reforming parole and probation in Maryland could save the state millions, new research says A new report released this month by the Justice Policy Institute indicates that Maryland could save millions of dollars by releasing many low risk individuals onto parole--like some of the oldest members of the prison population--and by expanding parole eligibility and improving supervision. The report, The Release Valve: Parole in Maryland, notes that in 2007 the state spent approximately $1,422 per person on parole or probation, and $33,310 per person in prison. Just by paroling an additional 100 people, the report concludes, the state could potentially save approximately $3 million over the course of one year while maintaining public safety. According to Release Valve, the state has made real progress in its efforts to increase drug treatment and change some parole practices. Maryland already uses effective programs like diminution or "good-time" credits to allow people in prison to earn earlier parole, and has a policy for medical parole, but these and other proven initiatives are not being used to the fullest extent possible. However, research shows that since most people "age out" of crime, moving older people who pose little risk from prison to parole could safely result in significant savings. For example, by placing even half of the roughly 465 people in Maryland's prisons that are over the age of 60 on parole, the state could save over $13 million in the first year. The report also found that programs which focus on support and services instead of the strict supervision modality are more effective and decrease the chances a participant will return to prison. Maryland's Proactive Community Supervision project (PCS), in particular, provides tailored supervision to those in the program and participants have had fewer rearrests or drug test failures than those not in the program. Research indicates that PCS is significantly more likely to keep people out of prison than people who are released under traditional parole terms; however, to date, the state has only used PCS on a limited basis. Bringing PCS to scale would reduce the number of people returning to prison from parole, resulting in a potential savings of approximately $19 million, which includes the cost of enrolling everyone on probation or parole in PCS. The Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration of Maryland is a state-based campaign to promote public health approaches and effective public safety strategies for nonviolent drug offenders. The Partnership supports efforts that reduce Maryland's over-reliance on incarceration by diverting nonviolent offenders from prison. Funds currently used for incarceration can then be used for community-based treatment services that have proven to be more effective at changing criminal behavior and reducing recidivism.
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