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Victory in the Struggle for Telephone Justice

[Courtesy of our friends at the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice] Thank you for all your support and participation in the campaign thus far. We made significant headway in 2006, and today we had a big victory – Governor Spitzer Ended the Backdoor Tax on NY State’s Prison Phone Contract, effective April 1, 2007. This victory is the result of your dedication and participation in this campaign. Please see below for details about Governor Spitzer’s actions and upcoming meetings on how you can help us move forward to permanently stop the contract. We will keep you up-to-date on the developments from today’s events, and please contact Lauren Melodia at [email protected] or 212.614.6481 if you have questions and to stay involved at this critical moment. ********************************************************************************************** VICTORY – Gov. Spitzer Ended the Backdoor Tax on NY State’s Prison Phone Contract, effective April 1, 2007 January 9, 2007 - Court Action in Albany at Oral Argument in telephone justice case Walton v. NYSDOCS GET INVOLVED – Upcoming campaign meetings Recent Press – Albany Times Union, North Country Gazette, Staten Island Advance, NY Daily News, New York Times. ********************************************************************************************** 1. VICTORY – Gov. Spitzer Ended the Backdoor Tax on NY State’s Prison Phone Contract, effective April 1, 2007 January 8, 2007 Albany, New York – Families in New York with a loved one in prison won a long-awaited victory today when Governor Spitzer committed to end the burdensome, back door tax on collect calls to inmates’ families. Since 1996, families of inmates have had no choice but to pay phone rates 630% the normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones. And for the past 11 years, New York State has been collecting nearly 60 percent of the profits of these charges, $16 million in 2005. Family members have complained that the exorbitant phone rates forced them to choose between maintaining their relationship with a loved one and putting food on the table. Governor Spitzer declared that instead of raising funds via a backdoor tax imposed on the family members of inmates, the state will pay for mandated services in prisons using the State’s General Fund. Families should begin realizing savings in early April, when the General Fund will assume costs for these mandated services, including health care and family-based programs. “This is a victory for all New Yorkers because increased contact with family members is proven to reduce recidivism rates after release,” said Annette Dickerson coordinator for the NY Campaign for Telephone Justice on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “Everyone benefits when inmates stay connected to their families, and for most people this means contact over the phone. Governor Spitzer has demonstrated his commitment to civil rights. The unlawful tax was flatly unconstitutional.” “Thank you Governor Spitzer, you are righting a major wrong,” said Ivey Walton, a prison family member. “This contract was ridiculous and illegal. Soon, no one will be cut off from their family just so the Department of Corrections and some telephone company can make a profit.” “We commend Governor Spitzer for standing up for innocent family members and doing what’s fair for all New Yorkers,” said Alison Coleman, Director of Prison Families of New York, Inc. a partner in the campaign. “By halting this backdoor tax Governor Spitzer and his administration have effectively stalled the contract with Verizon from renewing automatically. We’re thankful that at last we have a Governor who is acting in the people’s interest, not defending corporate profiteering and the bureaucratic status quo.” 2. January 9, 2007 - Court Action in Albany at Oral Argument in telephone justice case Walton v. NYSDOCS On January 9, 2007 at 2:00pm, New York States’ highest court – the Court of Appeals – is set to hear arguments in Walton v. NYSDOCS, which argues that the current prison phone system illegally imposes an unlegislated tax on inmates’ families. The court could dissolve the contract and end the overcharging. If you are in or near Albany, join us as we show support during the Oral Arguments at: Walton v. NYSDOCS January 9th at 2pm State of New York Court of Appeals 20 Eagle Street Albany, NY 12207 Walton v. NYSDOCS was originally filed in 2004 by the Center for Constitutional Rights and seeks an order prohibiting the State and its contracted prison phone provider from charging exorbitant rates to the family members of prisoners to finance a 57.5% kickback to the State. Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of NY, Albany County, dismissed the suit in fall 2004, citing issues of timeliness. In August 2005, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed and won an appeal in this case. 3. GET INVOLVED – Upcoming campaign meetings We need to make sure that Spitzer’s efforts today remain part of NY State law and that the exploitative contract is replaced with one that is fair and provides options for families. Please join us this month – during our monthly conference call or our monthly meeting – as we discuss critical next steps in the campaign to permanently replace the contract with one that works for families and loved ones! Tuesday, January 16, 2007 at 7:00pm EST NYCTJ Family Member Conference Call Folks are invited to participate in the call at 7:00pm Eastern Standard Time. Call Alison at 518.453.6659 or email her at [email protected] for the Toll Free Number. The Family Member Conference Call occurs every month on the third Tuesday of the month. Tuesday, January 30, 2007 6:00pm – 8:00pm NYCTJ Monthly Meeting 666 Broadway, Room 602 between Bleecker and Bond Streets. Meetings are open to all friends and family members of people incarcerated in NYS prisons, ally organizations, and anyone concerned about this critical issue. Light refreshments served. Email Lauren Melodia at [email protected] or call 212.614.6481 to RSVP. Our monthly meetings are held the last Tuesday of every month.
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CCR Announcement: Five Key Amicus Briefs Filed in Prison Telephone Appeal

[An announcement from the Center for Constitutional Rights] Dear friends, We are happy to report that the Court of Appeals has accepted all the “friend of the court” briefs filed last week in support of our case. Thanks so much to all of you who signed on in support of this important fight. The briefs are all available at out website, at http://www.ccr-ny.org/v2/legal/justice/justiceArticle.asp?ObjID=pJCQ7otM... . We encourage you to read them and share them with others, as they present compelling evidence and argument against the State’s discriminatory and un-just actions. Peace in and out, Marion… The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is excited to report that 38 organizations, over 50 individuals, and 15 elected officials have moved for permission to file "friend of the court" briefs with the highest court of the State of New York in support of the pending appeal by the friends, family members, and attorneys of New York State Prisoners. CCR also filed the reply brief in the case, Walton v. New York State Department of Correctional Services, on Friday December 1st, completing the parties' briefing schedule before the high court. CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol said, "This brings us one step closer to ending the unlawful kickback contract between MCI/Verizon and the Department of Correctional Services. The amicus briefs filed show that support for ending the contract and creating just rates for prison families is broad and deep: we hope that the court will take notice, but also that the new Governor will do the right thing and put a stop to this unlegislated, backdoor tax as one of his first priorities." The lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting the State and MCI/Verizon from charging exorbitant rates to the family members of prisoners to finance a 57.5% kick back to the State. MCI is currently charging these family members a 630 percent markup over regular long distance consumer rates to receive a collect call from their loved ones, the only method of calling from a DOCS institution. Judge George Ceresia of the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, dismissed the suit last fall, citing issues of timeliness, and the Appellate Division affirmed the decision. In July 2006, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case. Oral argument is scheduled for January 9, 2007. The friend of the court briefs address the impact of the DOCS kickback on diverse segments of New York, and highlight the constitutional violations detailed in the complaint. Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate for the City of New York has filed a proposed brief on behalf of herself and 14 members of the New York City Council, including Gale Brewer, Yvette D. Clarke, Bill De Blasio, James Gennaro, Robert Jackson, Letitia James, G. Oliver Koppell, Miguel Martinez, Hiram Monserrate, Annabel Palma, Diana Reyna, Larry B. Seabrook, Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart supporting the appeal in light of the disproportionate impact the State's policy has on New York City residents. The brief focuses on the importance of prisoners maintaining contact with their loved ones to advance the rights of children growing up in New York with an incarcerated parent and to increase safety and decrease crime in New York City neighborhoods. The Innocence Project has moved to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of itself and the Incarcerated Mothers Program documenting the compelling situation of individuals falsely convicted of crimes, and the importance that phone calls to their loved ones played, and continues to play, in their ability to reconnect to their community upon their exoneration. The brief also analyzes the myriad constitutional deficiencies of the current system. The Law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel has written a proposed brief on behalf of The Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Women's Prison Project, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Fortune Society, the Center for Community Alternatives, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, the Justice Policy Institute, the Southern Tier Advocacy & Mitigation Project, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, the Parolee Human Rights Project of the New York City AIDS Housing Network, AdvoCare, Inc., Voice of the Ex-Offender, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, and the Real Cost of Prisons Project. The brief traces established social science research completed in the last century unequivocally establishing the critical role family and community ties plays in the rehabilitation and re-entry of former prisoners. Legal Aid Society has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of itself, The Center for Law and Social Justice and the Bronx Defenders, all organizations that are forced to pay the high rates of calls from New York State Prisoners in the course of their representation of advocacy efforts. Legal Aid's brief discusses the adverse impact the high rates has on provision of legal services and urges the Court to correct this continuing injustice. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, has requested leave to submit a brief on behalf of 16 organizations devoted to providing services and support for the family members of prisoners and prisoners themselves, including Bridge Street Prison Ministry Outreach, Bronx HIV Care Network, Citizens for Restorative Justice, Coalition of Families of New York State Lifers, Coalition for Parole Restoration, Ebenezer House of Deliverance Prison Ministry Outreach, Justice Now, Hour Children, New York Inmate Families, NewYorkPrisoners.com, Parents in Action, Prison Action Network, Prison Families Community Forum, Prison Families of New York, Inc., and Take Higher Ground, Inc. Over 50 family members, friends, and ministers of prisoners have also signed on. The brief includes accounts of the impact of the high cost of telephone rates on the loved ones of prisoners. The full text of each brief is available on CCR's website at http://www.ccr-ny.org/v2/reports/report.asp?ObjID=IDrEMbHq7p&Content=894
United States

Have You Warned Your Kids About Schwag?

Next time you get "amped out" on "sextasy" and wind up in a "k-hole" don't tell your mom. Forbes.com has published a new drug-slang quiz for parents that totally lets the "cat" out of the "bag".

If you're a parent, you might want to brush up on your drug slang to stay alert to possible drug use by your children, suggest addiction experts at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.

Slang terms for drugs constantly change and evolve, the researchers said. For example, while marijuana is still called weed or pot by some, it's also referred to by newer terms such as chronic or schwagg.

Are they serious? Dr. Dre’s marijuana-themed album "The Chronic" came out in 1992. And "schwag" of course is a derogatory term for really bad marijuana that’s been in use forever as far as I know.

More highlights:

2. The painkiller Oxycontin is also called: a) oxies; b) cotton.

They say only (b) is a correct answer. So if your child asks to borrow money so he can get some "oxies" go ahead and help out.

6. Combining the prescription drug Viagra with Ecstasy is called: a) 24-7 heaven; b) sextasy.

Answer: (b) Parents who’ve let their daughter go to "sextacy" parties will be shocked to learn the truth. But no, I don’t think we have to worry about Congress banning Viagra anytime soon.

8. Working Man's Cocaine is: a) crack cocaine; b) methamphetamine.

Answer: (b). Meth users have jobs? I heard all they did was rob gas stations and pluck out their eyebrows.

10. "Juice" is the slang term for: a) steroids; b) PCP.

Answer: both. So if you overhear your kid using the word "juice" they're either on steroids or PCP. The hard part is figuring out which.

This is the sort of useless information one can expect from "addiction experts" who regularly turn out to know less about drugs than everybody else.

United States

More Silliness from the Drug Czar

When the paranoid family values fanatics at Focus on the Family write news stories based on quotes from John Walters, you know what you’re gonna get:

Colorado ’s initiative would allow adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. That might not seem like much, but, in reality it makes between 30 and 60 joints.

Whatever. An ounce is the same amount regardless of how many joints you intend to roll, and it’s not that much. If you’re rolling 60 joints out of an ounce, try smoking two or three of them. But watch out; large joints are two to three times more dangerous than small ones.

US Drug Czar John Walters says legalization will inundate our drug treatment centers.

No, it won’t. Most marijuana users who enter treatment programs are forced to do so by the criminal justice system. Ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests will dramatically reduce the number of people entering treatment for marijuana. And to the extent that fear of arrest is a primary motivation for some who decide to quit, legalization could reduce voluntary admissions as well.

On the other hand, as my colleague Tom Angell pointed out in conversation, legalized marijuana will carry less stigma and could lead to more voluntary admissions from people who are finally comfortable admitting they’re having problems. If Tom is correct, we’ll end up with more people in treatment for marijuana who want and need it, and less people forced into treatment based on arbitrary criteria such as an arrest. Sounds good to me.

It’s an interesting discussion, but one that John Walters can’t participate in because he’s busy misinterpreting various data:

“We have more teens in treatment nationwide for marijuana dependency and abuse as teens than for all other illegal drugs combined. We have more teens seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcoholism.”

This one’s actually true, but it’s his fault. Thanks to prohibition, marijuana sellers don’t have to check ID, making it the easiest drug to get if you’re underage.

I just keep telling myself that this crap can’t go on forever. Whether we win in Nevada or Colorado next month, or somewhere else down the road, the war on marijuana is an ugly swelling pimple that’s almost ready to pop. Get it over with already. You know you want to.

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Drug Use Big Challenge for US Child Welfare: Study

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Surge in Heroin Deaths Leads Families of Victims to Speak Out

St. Louis, MO
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KSDK News Channel 5

First Annual Charity Dinner/Fundraiser for In Arms Reach: Parent Behind Bars: Children in Crisis

December 1, 6:30pm, New York, NY, First Annual Charity Dinner/Fundraiser for In Arms Reach: Parent Behind Bars: Children in Crisis, with former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks. At the Great Hall of City College, call (212) 650-5894 for further information.
Fri, 12/01/2006 - 6:30pm - 10:00pm
New York, NY
United States

Feature: Methamphetamine as Child Abuse Laws Gain Ground, But Do They Help or Hurt?

When Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) signed a package of anti-methamphetamine measures into law last Thursday, Michigan became at least the sixth state to define either the use or the production of meth where children are present as child abuse. The trend is part of an all-out offensive against methamphetamine use and manufacture by law enforcement and child welfare agencies, but child protection critics and maternal rights advocates say it is a destructive and unnecessary response.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia define some drug use, distribution, or sales as child abuse or neglect. Among the various laws:

  • Manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of child or on the premises occupied by a child (Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia).
  • Allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used or stored (Arizona and New Mexico).
  • Selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child (Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas).
  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver's ability to adequately care for the child (Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas).
  • Exposure of the child to drug paraphernalia, the criminal sale or distribution of drugs, or drug-related activity (North Dakota, Montana and Virginia, and the District of Columbia, respectively).

When it comes to methamphetamine in particular, Michigan joins Iowa and South Dakota as singling out that drug and its users for special opprobrium in their child abuse statutes. Meanwhile, in Georgia, Idaho, and Ohio, the manufacture or possession of methamphetamine in the presence of a child is a felony, and Washington state provides for enhanced penalties for any conviction for the manufacture of methamphetamine when a child was present.

controversial school meth cooking demo, Grays Harbor County, Washington, May 2005
Gov. Granholm sang a familiar tune as she announced the signing of the anti-meth package last week. "For the first time, we can now charge those who expose children to the dangers of methamphetamine production with child abuse – because that's what it is," Granholm said. "I'm proud to sign legislation that will help our law enforcement officers better protect children and give our communities additional tools to deal with the environmental damage caused by the production of this illegal drug."

But how big is the problem of meth-exposed children in Michigan? "I can't give you a specific answer as to numbers," said Michigan Department of Human Services Child Protection Services media relations specialist Maureen Sorbet. "We don't track that. We track child abuse cases by the type of abuse and the perpetrators," she told DRCNet.

The Michigan State Police were a bit more informed on the topic. Last year, 116 children were found in meth-related incidents, said Inspector Karen Halliday, who chaired a state meth task force subcommittee charged with dealing with children in homes with drugs present that drafted the meth child abuse law. "If you find one child in an environment like a meth home," that's a problem, she told DRCNet.

But even if every one of those 116 children were the subject of substantiated child abuse complaints, they would constitute less than one-tenth of one percent of substantiated child abuse complaints in the state. According to Child Protection Services, last year more than 128,000 child abuse or neglect complaints were filed last year in Michigan, more than 72,000 were investigated, and more than 18,000 substantiated.

Nationwide, similar results obtain. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, child protective services agencies removed 1.19 million children from their parents between 2000 and 2003. During that same period, some 10,580 children were found to be "affected" by meth manufacture, with 2,881 placed in foster care. As the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform notes, "In other words, of all the entries into foster care from 2000 to 2003, at least 99.1% of them had nothing to do with meth labs."

"If the idea is to help children, these kinds of laws are extremely ineffective," said Richard Wexler, head of the coalition and a harsh critic of the nation's child protection services. "If the idea is to drive women underground and leave the children far worse off, it's extremely effective. These laws hurt the children they are allegedly intended to help. Listen, you can't be a meth addict and be a good parent, but further criminalizing them doesn't help anything. The key is to offer treatment. If you simply confiscate the kids, then they wind up in America's dreadful foster care system, bounced from home to home, unable to form lasting bonds with anyone," he told DRCNet.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women generally concentrates on the distinct -- but closely related -- issue of the plight of drug using expectant mothers (12 states and DC charge drug using mothers as child abusers, and 12 more have specific reporting procedures for infants who test positive at birth), but the group is also concerned about the meth as child abuse laws. "This completely misses the boat if we're talking about the public health angle," said Wyndi Anderson, national educator for the group. "We try really hard to get a lot of women access to a whole range of public health services. They need addiction treatment. Automatically labeling them child abusers doesn't help them at all, it only helps get them into prison and their children into foster care," she told DRCNet.

"These laws are an exercise in showboating," said Wexler. "The legislators want to look like they're cracking down on drugs and child abuse, but since it is already child abuse to commit an act that actually harms a child, these laws are redundant. All they do is frighten people away and take away one way to reach out to addicted parents and get the help that will help -- not hurt -- their children."

"When you equate meth use with child abuse, you create the possibility of a witch hunt," Anderson warned. "We want to keep communities healthy and families intact, and these kinds of laws will just bust up both. If you believe in family values, I don't see how you could be for something like this. Is this what conservatives mean when they're talking about compassion, forgiveness, and helping the downtrodden?"

Anderson did not minimize the problem of methamphetamine abuse, but argued that the answer is not more laws but more treatment. "What we should be doing is figuring out what treatment works, what family interventions work, what prevention efforts work. We are willing to spend big money on the criminal justice side, and if we really care about people's and families' health, we should be willing to spend on the public health side. But instead we've been spending on guns and prisons."

But it's more than just a "drug problem," said Anderson. "This is all much more complicated than just drugs or treatment," she said. "We need a comprehensive approach. People need jobs to go to when they get out. It is the community's responsibility to meet these people halfway."

At least 21 states include drug offenses in their definitions of child abuse

Michigan is the latest, with Gov. Granholm signing a bill on Thursday that will make some meth offenses per se evidence of child abuse. I have a problem with these laws. I think child abuse is already well defined and people who fit the criteria should be punished for it. But saying that using or even cooking speed equals child abuse is just absurd on the face of it. I'll be talking to people through the week as I write a story on this to see if I'm wrong.
United States

Book Offer: Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went up in Smoke

Many DRCNet readers remember the heartbreaking tragedy of Rainbow Farm, the alternative campground and concert site outside Vandalia, Michigan, where marijuana activists Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm, driven to desperation by a relentless prosecutor, were killed by FBI and state police in fall 2001. Killed for no good reason -- as a local sympathizer expressed it to Drug War Chronicle's Phil Smith at the funeral, "[Prosecutor] Scott Teter said this was their choice, but it was his choice to hound them and try to take their land and their son. He's the one who chose to shoot and kill." Rohm and Crosslin before the end burned down their beloved buildings to keep the government from getting them.

Journalist Dean Kuipers of the Los Angeles CityBeat has now written "Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went up in Smoke," a 304-page book being released by Bloomsbury USA this June 13. DRCNet is offering "Burning Rainbow Farm" as our latest membership premium -- donate $35 or more to DRCNet, and we will send you a copy -- donate $45 or more and we will send you one signed by the author. Your donations will help our work to end drug prohibition, while raising awareness of the recklessness and excesses of drug enforcers like prosecutor Teter -- click here to donate and order your copy.

Publishers Weekly writes of Kuipers' book, "Drawing on extensive interviews, government documents and news coverage, the author [who grew up 20 miles from the shootings] verges on portraying the prosecutor as evil incarnate. But Kuipers doesn't cross the line from sound journalism into advocacy, while letting the story unfold through superbly detailed characterizations and skillful pacing."

We also continue to offer the DVD video Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the 5th edition of Drug War Facts. Add $5 to the minimum donation to add either of these to your request, or $10 to add both of them. Again, you can make your donation and place your order online, or send a check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock. (Also note that copies of Rainbow Farm will be mailed out from DRCNet during the third week of June.)

Thank you for your support. If you want to read more about Rainbow Farm in the meanwhile, please see Phil's articles in the Drug War Chronicle archive: Michigan Drug Warriors Drive Marijuana Activists to the Brink, Then Gun Them Down on 9/7/01; Rainbow Farm Marijuana Activists Laid to Rest, Friends Not Resting on 9/21; and Phil's book review last week.

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