New ideas

The “war on drugs” has failed – we have managed to become the world’s leader in number of citizens that we keep locked up in prison, in the process destroying families and perpetuating the culture and conditions that lead to drug abuse and drug-related violence.  I think that we need to stop locking people up for drug offenses and instead focus resources on violent crimes and, as relates to drugs, focus resources on education, prevention, and treatment.  Regardless, once we have realized that the mass incarceration approach is not working, we are insane to keep doing it.

in 2010, soon after being nominated as our district’s U.S. Attorney, Bill Nettles was willing to try something new and looked to a program that had been successful over the long term in High Point, N.C., called the “Drug Market Intervention Initiative.”  He began the program in North Charleston, but has continued the experiment in other towns, now including Conway, S.C.  Although high level drug dealers are still prosecuted and sent to prison, the program identifies lower level dealers, and, rather than putting them in jail, offers them an alternative: steady employment, drug treatment, education, even help with transportation.

The targets of the program are confronted with the evidence against them at an “intervention” with police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, and given a choice between prison or participating in the program.  The participants are not arrested but are monitored – if they go back to dealing, pre-signed warrants are served on them and they are prosecuted.  If they take advantage of the help that is offered, they stay out of prison, their record stays clean, and they have a new chance at life.

“When you declare a ‘war on drugs,’ the community sees the cops as the occupiers, and the cops see the people in the community as enemy combatants,” Nettles said. “Well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Our leaders need to be willing to try new ideas – the public needs to understand that the “War on Drugs” is a war on people, and that it has failed.  When the public understands that being “tough on crime” is not working, at least as applied to drug crimes, and that our communities are torn apart not only by the drug trade, but by the government’s approach to the drug trade, then our legislators may become more willing to make changes.  Elected Solicitors and elected representatives in the legislature are only going to go as far as the public lets them, if they want to keep their jobs.

Programs like this just seem like common sense to me – why would we put someone in a cage, hardening them and tearing apart their family, when instead we could provide them with a job, health insurance, education, treatment, a chance?  Is it about money?  Which costs more?

I applaud our U.S. Attorney for pushing through this program, and Jimmy Richardson, our circuit solicitor, for supporting it.  I may be pessimistic, but I predict it will be short lived regardless of its success, and we won’t see many more innovative programs like it, unless the voting public learns about it and gets behind it.



Religious indoctrination in S.C.’s jails

A lawsuit has been filed against the Berkeley County jail (in Monck’s Corner, S.C.), alleging that the jail denies inmates access to any religious texts or literature other than the King James version of the bible. The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of Prison Legal News, and now the U.S. Attorney has requested to join the lawsuit, agreeing that the policy violates the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws. The complaint can be found here, and the DOJ’s motion to intervene can be found here. From the DOJ’s motion to intervene:

Defendants enacted and enforce BCDC’s prohibition on inmates’ receipt and possession of virtually all forms of expressive materials. According to BCDC policies and practices, inmates may not receive books, magazines, newspapers or other expressive materials through the mail, regardless of whether the materials are routed directly from commercial publishers or sent by friends or family members. Defendants have repeatedly denied inmate requests for a variety of publications, including educational materials needed for a correspondence education course, more than a dozen legal newsletters, and copies of religious texts such as the Koran and Torah. Defendants exacerbate these restrictions by not operating a library or providing any other resource for inmates seeking access to expressive material at BCDC.
Indeed, the only book, magazine or newspaper that Defendants consistently permit inmates to possess is the Bible.

Lack of access to reading material in jails across S.C. is a problem – it has bothered me for some time that I cannot provide Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous texts to inmates who ask for them, considering the number of people who are arrested on drug charges or who are arrested for conduct that stems from drug use and addiction.

The “war on drugs” has failed, enough already

The failure of the war on drugs is a recurring topic on many criminal defense and political blogs, to the point where those of us who read blogs were probably bored with the news long ago. But the madness continues, the insane government spending, the mandatory minimum sentences that fill our prisons and destroy lives, the drug task forces who seem to become the most corrupt across the country, our nation’s/ government’s/ law enforcement’s addiction to drugs is not slowing down one bit. Politicians are not going to change their “hard on crime” stance until the voting public is educated on the failure of the war on drugs, so we need to keep blogging and keep talking about it until change happens.
In an article from the AP this week (H/T Grits for Breakfast), Martha Mendoza highlights the failure of the United States’ drug policies over the past 40 years culminating in the current administration. Obama’s government recognizes that it is not working, but can’t help themselves – we are getting more of the same when it comes to drug policy. Despite promises of a new national policy that would treat drug use as a public health issue, focusing on prevention and treatment, spending on interdiction and law enforcement has been increased instead.
The AP has compiled the costs of the war on drugs over the past 40 years, which has not stemmed the flow of drugs one bit, finding:

_ $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 U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

That is not a complete list of the costs of the war on drugs, and it doesn’t begin to account for the human costs over the past 40 years – the families ripped apart, the people who were subjected to long prison sentences for drug offenses. I’m impressed that this story came from the AP – let’s keep people talking about this country’s drug policies and why they don’t work.

Criminalizing addiction

CNN has a story about the dilemma of pregnant mothers who are addicted, spotlight on South Carolina – of course, the only state supreme court to uphold the prosecution of pregnant addicts for the damage done to their babies by drug use.

South Carolina’s state supreme court is alone in upholding the prosecution of pregnant women for the damage drugs might do to their unborn children.
Across the country, local and state agencies have found ways to prosecute pregnant women for drug use, but the cases are often rejected by the courts. And judges in more than two dozen states have overturned decisions that criminalize pregnant addicts. In recent years, Missouri and North Dakota have ruled against charging pregnant women with neglect and endangerment.

The article says that since 1989 at least 126 women have been arrested in South Carolina for using drugs during their pregnancy. It’s a problem that was brought to the public’s attention again during Regina McKnight’s prosecution – Regina was charged with homicide by child abuse after cocaine was found in her system when her baby was stillborn. Her trial resulted in a mistrial, she was tried a second time and found guilty in 2001, lost on direct appeal, but her conviction was overturned last year on PCR based on her trial attorney’s failure to retain an expert to testify at her second trial.
From an earlier post:

The prosecution of mothers who test positive for cocaine has been fraught with problems and controversial from the beginning. The idea of a pregnant woman using cocaine is offensive and the knee jerk response is that there is no doubt this is child abuse. But this view ignores the nature of cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction is powerful enough that many who are addicted cannot make a conscious decision to stop using. When a person is under a compulsion to continue using drugs, there is no intent to harm the child – there is no “conscious act of disregarding a risk which a person’s conduct has created.” State v. McKnight (2003).
Prosecution of pregnant women who are addicted to drugs is counterproductive, and it is not a deterrence. It discourages addicted women who discover they are pregnant from seeking help. It discourages them from seeking prenatal care at hospitals or treatment for their addiction, for fear they will be arrested and prosecuted. It creates an incentive for women to seek abortions, to avoid detection and prosecution.
It would make more sense to make it known that if an addicted and pregnant woman comes to a hospital for help, they will receive not only prenatal care but confidential referrals to treatment programs. It makes sense to invest more resources in long-term treatment programs that are equipped to deal with the specialized needs of pregnant women, and women with very young children.
It is always a popular political move to prosecute and punish any given class of “criminal.” Treatment, prevention, understanding, compassion does not win votes.

When we are the only state in the country to allow the prosecution of these women, that alone should tell our supreme court and our legislature something is wrong here.
“These are addicts who become pregnant,” says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “They aren’t women who chose to use drugs after becoming pregnant.”