This week negative critique of the War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex goes mainstream (and, dare we say, lurches rightward) with a scathing indictment by Fareed Zakaria in Time, a man is shot dead by police for smoking marijuana as authorities try to take his son away, Chicago under new mayor Rahm Emmanuel finds itself mired in a never ending "war" against the street trade, and a 15 year old in Mississippi faces life in prison for a miscarriage. Also, we begin a deeper look into the private prison industry with a number of reports as well as a Special Series from The Exile Nation Project.
Televangelist Pat Robertson recently made a gaffe. A gaffe, as journalist Michael Kinsley defined it, occurs when a political figure accidentally tells the truth. Robertson’s truth is that America’s drug war has failed and that the country should legalize marijuana. This view goes against the deepest political, moral and religious positions Robertson has held for decades, so imagine the blinding evidence that he has had to confront—and that has been mounting for years—on this topic.
Robertson drew attention to one of the great scandals of American life. “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today,” writes the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik. “Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America—more than 6 million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.”
Is this hyperbole? Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain—with a rate among the highest—has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As Robertson pointed out on his TV show, The 700 Club, “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population but we make up 25% of the [world’s] jailed prisoners.”
There is a temptation to look at this staggering difference in numbers and chalk it up to one more aspect of American exceptionalism. America is different, so the view goes, and it has always had a Wild West culture and a tough legal system. But the facts don’t support the conventional wisdom. This wide gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is relatively recent. In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.
That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.
Three Central American presidents meeting in Guatemala to discuss overhauling drug laws to curb gang violence fail to arrive at a consensus. A follow-up will be held soon in Honduras.
Reporting from Bogota, Colombia, and San Salvador—A conclave ofCentral American presidents meeting in Guatemala to discuss a major overhaul of their drug laws — including legalization or decriminalization — failed to arrive at a consensus Saturday and agreed to meet again soon in Honduras.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina had invited five counterparts to discuss what he described as growing frustration with Washington's anti-drug policy, which many in the region say is exacting too high a price in crime and corruption.Some sort of policy declaration was expected after the meeting, yet at day's end there was no reason given for its absence.
Source: Los Angeles Times
A prosecutor in northern Michigan has cleared the police officer who shot and killed a Grayling man as police and Child Protective Services (CPS) employees attempted to seize his three-year-old. The attempted removal of the minor child came after a police officer who came to the scene on a call earlier that same day reported that he smelled marijuana and reported the incident to CPS authorities, who decided the child needed to be removed. The dead man, William Reddie, 32, becomes the 17th person killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.Reddie's killing took place on February 3, but we only became aware of it when news broke this week that prosecutors had decided that the police officer's use of deadly force in the incident was justified
[DRC Editor's Note: This case illustrates the difficulties that arise in determining which deaths qualify as being a direct result of drug law enforcement. Police here were enforcing child protections laws, not drug laws, but the only reason CPS was called in was because of the allegation of marijuana use. There was no allegation of crazed behavior due to marijuana use; only the allegation of use. For Michigan CPS authorities, that was enough to remove the child. Bottom line: This guy died because the state tried to take his kid because he was accused of smoking pot, so he merits inclusion. That doesn't mean his own actions didn't contribute to his death.]
Source: Drug War Chronicle
It’s been widely reported today that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy corporate front group that unites state lawmakers with corporations to pass state laws favorable to corporate interests, helped pass the law that might allow Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, to escape prosecution. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” the law that might help Zimmerman to claim self-defense (despite evidence to the contrary) is just one of many state laws that is nearly identical to ALEC’s model Castle Doctrine Act. The Florida senator who introduced the law, Durell Peadon, was also a member of ALEC. The law passed in 2005.
Source: The Nation
The American Legislative Exchange Council is "...a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on.", and it has been pushing "...privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations.", one consequence of which is that the prison system has been turned into a profit center for private companies which have a financial stake in keeping the drugs going.
Source: New York Times
And its connection to the war on drugs:
"The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is active in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in part, as a way to sell lawmakers on the virtues of prison privatization; it just happens that ALEC also pushes tough sentencing laws that create demand for companies like CCA. Many cops believe they're fighting a just war against the trade and consider asset forfeiture an essential weapon - and a key revenue source. Leaders of the California guards union may sincerely think Three Strikes makes society safer even as it preserves guards' jobs and union power."
Source: American Radio Works
The creeping criminalization of pregnant women is a new front in the culture wars over abortion.
Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
Source: The Guardian/Alternet
Kenyatta Leal - inmate San Quentin State Prison.
One aspect of incarceration that couldn’t be guessed is the degree to which our physical absence disrupts our interpersonal relationships. Prior to entering the prison system, I had a robust social network. I knew a lot of people and I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, going to parties and getting involved in activities that most young people experience. At the time, I believed my relationships were stable and that somehow we’d always be connected. I thought I had a lot of real friends and people I could count on no matter what, but today I know differently.
Remember the phrase, “Outta sight, outta mind?” It alludes to the idea that once visual/physical contact is broken, the relationship itself is broken. This is precisely what many of us in prison experience during our incarceration. Of course, this outta sight, outta mind dynamic is not unique to prison but there’s something about experiencing it while incarcerated that makes it’s impact so much more dramatic.
After years of reporting on marginalized Americans - and, recently, the swelling numbers of mentally ill prisoners - I and some colleagues at American RadioWorks were keenly interested in the explosive growth of the nation's prison population. For a couple of decades the country has been intensely concerned about crime. But it seemed to us that society's response during this period - an unprecedented experiment in mass-incarceration - was under-reported and poorly understood. What were the costs and benefits of the prison boom? Why did it happen?
In researching those questions and listening to commentary on them, I kept coming across the notion of the "prison-industrial complex," a phrase meant to evoke the more familiar "military-industrial complex." The idea is that forces with a financial interest in a big prison population have helped to cause, and perpetuate, the prison boom. We're locking up 2 million people on any given day - four times the number in 1980 - because there's money in it, the argument goes. Some even point to the disproportionate imprisonment of blacks and Latinos and declare prisons a modern form of slavery: profit earned off the bodies of racial minorities.
I found that those who made the accusation rarely cited concrete examples. Companies making millions from the prison expansion lobby for tough sentencing laws, activists would say. Which companies? Lobbying how? Few had answers. And while journalists had pointed out the growth of the corrections industry, I could find little reporting that looked head-on for a specific kind of link: groups with monetary interests taking action to influence who gets locked up and for how long. So I set out to find such stories and pull them together.
Source: American Radio Works
If you’re looking to make a buck but gambling isn’t your cup of tea, a billion-dollar business opportunity awaits you still. The largest for-profit private prison operators in America have a sales pitch, and boy should you hear it.
The Corrections Corporation of America is the largest private prison company in the US and has only grown in recent years. With over 60 facilities across the United States, the corporation has thousands of detained prisoners within its walls from coast-to-coast. Why should you care, though? Because an investment in the inhumane caging of convicted criminals means more money for you!
The US needs all the cash it can get just now, and reducing the prison population would save billions of dollars. However, some have a vested interested in keeping as many people as possible behind bars.
America’s financial crisis has been something of an insatiable monster, swallowing up millions of jobs, homes and businesses across the nation. Yet amid this ongoing economic Armageddon, the private prison industry has remained recession-proof.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States trumps China, Russia and the rest of the world in both the number and percentage of people doing time. Where it falls short, though, is being capable of containing such a large population. It is a political dilemma turned cash cow for dozens of corporations creaming off profit from punishment.
WASHINGTON — Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to effective lawyers during plea negotiations, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a pair of 5-to-4 decisions that vastly expanded judges’ supervision of the criminal justice system.
The decisions mean that what used to be informal and unregulated deal making is now subject to new constraints when bad legal advice leads defendants to reject favorable plea offers.
“Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining takes in securing convictions and determining sentences.”
Source: New York Times
The first time I heard a police officer argue that the war on drugs wasn’t working was in 1994....“You can already get anything you want out on the street.”
The war on drugs had succeeded at one thing, the officer argued: turning street gangs into multimillion-dollar enterprises that felt emboldened to battle over turf and market share, even when innocents were in the way. At the time South Shore, like many other neighborhoods, was reeling from nearly daily outbreaks of gang- and drug-related violence—we would regularly hear gunshots during the school day, and the citywide murder tally that year would end up being 930, one of the highest in Chicago history.
Eighteen years later the violence remains ugly and frightening. Chicago finished 2011 with 435 murders, the lowest total in decades, but the bloodshed is up this year, and yesterday Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Garry McCarthy held the latest in a series of press conferences to assure the city that they’ve got a strategy for coping with it: they're going to wage a “ground war” on gangs and drug markets.
Source: Chicago Reader
What all this shows is that the demonizers of drug use are sneaky. Everything about their language is loaded. As another example, one repeatedly hears of 'drug misuse'. This is a crafty corruption of language. There are even well funded departments within the UK government concerned with studying 'drug misuse'. Because the language is skewed and biased, this will likely affect any governmental recommendations that might be forthcoming. For most users of currently illicit drugs, such substances are not misused or abused -- in just the same way that most drinkers around the world use alcohol and do not 'misuse' it. Also, one repeatedly hears of 'drugs and alcohol'. And yet alcohol itself is a drug! So in order to move this debate forward, one has to be wary of all this bad language that can cause subconscious bias.
Source: Reality Sandwich
Sobriety stories tend to start in the gutter and end in glory. But what happens in the middle?
A few weeks ago, however, I was speaking at an event on a Native American reservation just a few miles outside of Saginaw, Michigan when an older man from the community stood up and asked me a question that made me have to re-think my entire presentation.
He was shouting and I could see that he was angry. Not with me, exactly, but with addiction in general. He spoke about watching his kids and then his grandkids struggle with this disease. And then he went on to say that he listens to people like me speaking about how bad things were and how the drugs destroyed our lives but then suddenly we seem to jump to talking about how we’re sober now and how we are all happy and everything. What he wanted to know was: how did we get from being strung out and miserable to being happy and sober? How did we get from A to B?
Source: The Fix
Across America many cities and police forces are eyeing new ways to crack down on protesters. The First Amendment right to assemble and protest is going to get a black eye in 2012—as it has every time there has been an upsurge in America’s social justice movements.
Already in city after city, protesters and civil rights lawyers are troubled by proposed and newly enacted anti-protest rules, many of which are likely to be found unconstitutional if they have their day in court. In the meantime mayors, police and in some cases federal agencies are making detailed plans to thwart protests at local and national events.
The Jungle Prescription is a documentary film created for a global television (including the CBC’s Nature of Things with David Suzuki) and cinema audience. It introduces ayahuasca and its encounter with the West - as played out through the story of two doctors, their patients, a team of scientists, and group of indigenous shamans.
Incorporating user-generated content, interactive personality profiling techniques, the latest HMTL5 video technologies, social networks, and more, The Online Experience will attempt to give a creative response to the question: What is ayahuasca like?
The Ayahuasca Project is a labour of love developed over the course of ten years of research, incorporating long periods of travel in the Amazon region. We have gathered an outstanding and unique collection of footage, stories, experiences and contacts in the complex and multifaceted ayahuasca world.
Source: The Jungle Prescription
This weekend IBORadio takes an indepth look into the life of musician, harm reduction activist, and Bwiti practicioner, Dimitri Mobengo Mugianis. Peter will be asking Dimitri about his early days as a frontman of "Leisure Class" to his views on Harm Reduction to his practice of Bwiti and the use of Iboga as the central Bwiti sacrament to his documentary, I am Dangerous with Love.
EXILE NATION SPECIAL SERIES: "EXAMINING JUSTICE"
"The man who murdered my grandchild got probation, and my son, who didn't hurt anyone, got 30 years. How can that be?"
Janet Maddox Goree is an activist/lobbyist living in the small town of Camilla, Georgia.
In 1993, while living in Florida, life changed forever for Janet and her family when her newborn granddaughter, Kimberlin, was shaken violently by the father and suffered injuries that eventually proved fatal.
Despite being the cause of his daughter's death, Kimberlin's father (Janet's son-in-law) received only five years of probation as punishment. The shock and trauma of the whole ordeal shattered Janet, her daughter Nicole (Kimberlin's mother), and her son Bobby. Bobby and Nicole lost themselves in depression and substance abuse, and Janet threw herself into advocacy for "Shaken Baby Syndrome," eventually passing legislation in Florida under Governor Jeb Bush.
Sadly, Bobby never did recover. After years battling a heroin addiction, he eventually tried to kick his habit with methadone, and found that he was even more addicted than before.
Five years ago, after nearly dying while improperly detoxing, Bobby became deranged and fled the hospital, robbed a pharmacy of some pills, and tried to commit suicide by overdosing.
He was quickly caught and, incredulously, sentenced to 30 years in prison, where he currently resides.
anet would soon discover the hard way that justice is elusive and society is fickle. The sympathy she garnered as a victim's advocate quickly disappeared when she became known as the mother of a drug addict and convict.
Week I - Janet Maddox Goree
Week II - Robert "Bobby" Halstead, from the CCA Graceville Correctional Facility in Graceville, FL.
Robert "Bobby" Halstead, Janet Goree's son.