oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of January 3rd 2011

We lead this weeks report with news that CVS, the largest operator of pharmacies in the United States, agreed to pay the federal government a $75 million fine for narcotics violations, the largest cash money penalty in the 40-year history of the Controlled Substances Act ~ CS & MW

Did CVS Buy its way out of Meth Indictment?

Drug agents across the land pursue their endless war against methamphetamine with relentless vigor, busting tweakers daily and breathlessly trumpeting the seizure of yet another "meth lab," which these days often consists of no more than a couple of soda pop bottles and a few chemicals available from your general store. Yet in the relentless campaign against meth and its manufacturers, it seems some are more equal than others.

CVS, the largest operator of pharmacies in the United States, confessed back in October that it knowingly allowed crystal meth manufacturers to illegally buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine (PSE), an active ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. To avoid criminal prosecution, CVS officials agreed to pay the federal government a $75 million fine for narcotics violations, the largest cash money penalty in the 40-year history of the Controlled Substances Act.

Although pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in over the counter cold medications and is legal to purchase from drug stores in Canada and the US, because it can also be used to make methamphetamine, it is illegal for pharmacies to sell a person more than 3 1/2 grams of PSE per day. But DEA and state narcotic officers eventually learned that meth cooks were able to get around the law by employing "smurfs" -- people working with meth cooks who make repeated legal purchases of PSE at numerous different pharmacies.

As early as 2007, dealers targeted CVS, and according to the DEA, the top CVS officials were warned by employees of the illegal violations. DEA reported that the pharmacy's head honchos ignored the warnings and demanded the workers continue selling the large amounts of PSE in California and Nevada.

Authorities say CVS in effect assisted meth cookers by failing to provide adequate safeguards to monitor the legal amount of PSE that customers could buy. DEA said the violations occurred not only in California and Nevada, but in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and 23 other states currently under investigation. Between September 2007 and November 2008, CVS's illegal practice of overselling PSE products caused the DEA to tag them as the largest suppliers of pseudoephedrine to meth traffickers in Southern California.

US Assistant Attorney Shana Mintz said, "Rather than choosing to over-comply with the law like their competitors did, they knowingly under-complied with the law."

To read more of this Stop the Drug War feature, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Jail Size Matters

The State of Maryland has appropriated funds to build a new women’s jail in Baltimore City with twice as many beds as are currently being used. But a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) reveals that the State’s projections indicating a need for a larger facility were inaccurate, and that better use of non-jail options for people awaiting trial would produce better outcomes and further reduce costs and projected jail beds.
 
When More is Less: How a Larger Women's Jail in Baltimore City will Reduce Public Safety and Diminish Resources for Positive Social Investments recommends that Maryland officials put plans for a new women’s jail facility on hold until new population projections are generated and a more comprehensive approach to pretrial services is developed.
 
“Crime rates and arrests have fallen dramatically in Baltimore City,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “The State projected just the opposite, and plans for the new women’s pretrial facility reflect this inaccurate forecasting; the plans call for 800 beds when half that number are currently being used. Maryland taxpayers cannot afford to build this proposed $181 million behemoth of a jail, let alone staff and maintain it. Better, less expensive options are available to protect public safety and ensure people make their court dates.”

To learn more about the Report, please follow this link

Source: Justice Policy Institute

Tribune analysis: Drug-sniffing dogs in traffic stops often wrong

Drug-sniffing dogs can give police probable cause to root through cars by the roadside, but state data show the dogs have been wrong more often than they have been right about whether vehicles contain drugs or paraphernalia.

The dogs are trained to dig or sit when they smell drugs, which triggers automobile searches. But a Tribune analysis of three years of data for suburban departments found that only 44 percent of those alerts by the dogs led to the discovery of drugs or paraphernalia.

For Hispanic drivers, the success rate was just 27 percent.Dog-handling officers and trainers argue the canine teams' accuracy shouldn't be measured in the number of alerts that turn up drugs. They said the scent of drugs or paraphernalia can linger in a car after drugs are used or sold, and the dogs' noses are so sensitive they can pick up residue from drugs that can no longer be found in a car.

But even advocates for the use of drug-sniffing dogs agree with experts who say many dog-and-officer teams are poorly trained and prone to false alerts that lead to unjustified searches. Leading a dog around a car too many times or spending too long examining a vehicle, for example, can cause a dog to give a signal for drugs where there are none, experts said.

"If you don't train, you can't be confident in your dog," said Alex Rothacker, a trainer who works with dozens of local drug-sniffing dogs. "A lot of dogs don't train. A lot of dogs aren't good."

The dog teams are not held to any statutory standard of performance in Illinois or most other states, experts and dog handlers said, though private groups offer certification for the canines.

To learn more about this infringement of civil rights, please follow this link

Source: Chicago Tribune

Chicago’s Torture Cop Awaits His Sentence

G. Flint Taylor should be basking in the glow of vindication as he awaits the January 20 sentencing of Jon Burge, the retired Chicago police commander convicted for lying about a ring of torturing cops he led.

A federal jury found Burge guilty on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury last June. Taylor and the firm he co-founded, the Chicago-based Peoples Law Office, have represented several of the more than 100 black men victimized by Burge’s torture corps and have been trying to bring the rogue cop to justice for more than 20 years.

“Burges’ conviction was a significant victory for the community, particularly the African-American community,” Taylor says. “It was also an important win for the forces fighting for human rights and racial justice in this country.” However, the lack of attention to other aspects of the torture case frustrates the veteran attorney.

For many years, suspects and activists charged that Burge was operating a “black site” of torture at police district Area 2 on Chicago’s far South Side. In 1993, those charges gained enough credibility to get Burge fired, but that just allowed him to retire on a police pension in Florida.

Growing complaints forced a 2006 investigation of Burge by a Cook County special prosecutor that found evidence of systematic torture of black suspects through techniques like electro-shocks to the genitals, beatings, burning skin on radiators, Russian roulette, suffocations, and mock executions. Despite that, the prosecutor refused to indict Burge because the statute of limitation had run out on torture charges.

To learn more about the racial bias that is part of the institutional gene pool of the nation’s police departments, please follow this link

Source: In These Times

Another Texan joins Growing Club of Exonerees 

He could have been free six years ago. But he could not get past even the first of the sex offender treatment program's "four R’s" -- Recognition, Remorse, Restitution and Resolution.

Instead, Cornelius Dupree Jr. continued to stubbornly insist he was innocent of the robbery and rape for which he went to prison 30 years ago.

Today, Dupree finally won back his good name, becoming the latest in a flood of exonerated convicts in Dallas, Texas. District Attorney Craig Watkins, the first African American elected prosecutor of any county in the state, actively supports innocence projects. Like Dupree, the majority of the exonerated men are African American and were convicted of sexual assaults.

By local tradition, many of the other exonerated men attended Dupree's court hearing on Tuesday. Many said they too had been convicted based on eyewitness misidentification, the most common cause of wrongful convictions.

The moral: Do not assume that someone who has been convicted of a crime is lying, just because he or she is denying guilt. Every once in a while, it's true.

Source: In the News

$600,000 Grant Increases College Opportunities for Incarcerated Offenders

During an era of record budget shortfalls, the state has limited resources to provide offenders with post-secondary education opportunities during incarceration. But two nonprofit organizations see the benefit and are willing to do what is needed.

The RiverStyx Foundation gave University Behind Bars (UBB) a $600,000 grant to expand its five-year-old college program at the Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex and to start up similar programs in other Washington prisons. The foundation became interested in UBB when T. Cody Swift, Fund Director, visited the prison and learned about the program from offenders.

“I was stunned at what UBB had achieved with no funding whatsoever,” said Swift.  “They were running a small college with nothing but volunteers. That was nothing short of phenomenal.”

Carol Estes and Gary Idleburg formed UBB in 2005 after teaching classes at WSRU for about five years through an offender group called the Black Prisoners Caucus.  The UBB program grew quickly as local educators from the University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, Evergreen College, Shoreline Community College, and Seattle Public Schools began volunteering their time.

To learn more about the impact of the RiverStyx Foundation, please follow this link

Source: Department of Corrections

California Supreme Court Okays Text Message Searches in Drug Arrests

The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can search text messages on the cell phones of people they arrest without obtaining a search warrant. Citing US Supreme Court precedent from the 1970s, the court held that reviewing cell phone text messages was a valid search incidental to arrest.

The ruling came in California v. Diaz, in which Ventura County resident Gregory Diaz was arrested for selling Ecstasy to an undercover informant. Sheriff's deputies seized Diaz' cell phone along with six tabs of the drug. An hour and a half after the arrest, a detective without a search warrant looked at the phone' text message folders and found a coded message referring to Ecstasy sales.

When faced with the incriminating text message, Diaz admitted to doing the drug deal. He pleaded guilty to transporting a controlled substance, but reserved his right to appeal. He was sentenced to probation and did appeal the lawfulness of the cell phone search.

In a 5-2 decision, the state high court majority held that the search was allowable under US Supreme Court rulings that permitted the warrantless searches of personal property "immediately associated" with the arrested person, such as clothing or cigarette packs. Writing for the majority, Justice Ming Chin held that the cell phone was personal property, that it was immediately associated with Diaz, and that the search was therefore valid.

But in a dissenting opinion, Justice Kathryn Werdegar argued that searching the cell phone's text messages was "highly intrusive" and could have been carried out after police obtained a search warrant. Earlier US Supreme Court rulings should be reevaluated in light of technological innovations, she wrote.

To read more about this highly intrusive policy, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

Time to put politics aside and fix our prison system

The political campaign season is the worst time to make good policy. Now that Illinois’ elections are over, Governor Quinn and legislators need to fix a growing problem in the state’s prison system.

In December 2009, during the final weeks of a fiercely contested gubernatorial primary, the Associated Press reported that Illinois Department of Corrections was secretly releasing violent offenders. The story was inaccurate. The “secret” program was actually based on a 30 year-old law called Meritorious Good Time, often referred to as MGT.

Although untrue, the story that the Governor had released some violent offenders early became a fixture in the gubernatorial campaign. Reacting to negative press and accusations that he was soft on crime, Governor Quinn suspended MGT. Almost one year later, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is still dealing with the unintended consequences of that decision.

Similar to many programs throughout the country, MGT helped ensure that Illinois’s prison system would not exceed its capacity. Since MGT was suspended, Illinois’ prison population has leaped by more than 3,000 inmates with a current total population of more than 48,000, a record high.

This population increase comes at a particularly challenging time. Due to the state’s fiscal crisis, IDOC, like all state agencies, has operated under onerous budget cuts. More recently, the state comptroller has been unable to pay for goods and services, leaving prison administrators scrambling to secure essentials like clothing and ammunition.

With the prison system at 97 percent of bed-space capacity and an estimated annual cost of $25 thousand an inmate, the state cannot afford for this trend to continue.

While every facility has been affected by the suspension of MGT and the state’s fiscal crisis, the Northern Reception and Classification Center (NRC) has been hit particularly hard and provides a powerful example of Illinois’ need for significant prison reform.

To learn more, please follow this link

Source: JHA

SuperMax: Hell on Earth...Or Not as Bad as we Thought?

I thought everyone knew that being locked up alone in a tiny cell -- sometimes for years at a stretch -- is bad for one's psyche.

But I was wrong. Based on a one-year project with the Colorado Department of Corrections, a group of researchers says there is a dearth of evidence to support the popular notion that solitary confinement exacerbates psychiatric symptoms among mentally ill prisoners. Although the prisoners they studied did manifest problems, these were preexisting and so could not be attributed to the effects of administrative segregation confinement, the researchers contend.

I was dubious when I heard the researchers present their study, "One-Year Longitudinal Study of the Psychological Effects of Administrative Segregation," at the APA's annual convention last year. Having worked in a Segregated Housing Unit ("SHU") for mentally ill prisoners, I saw with my own eyes the rapid and profound mental deterioration of mentally ill prisoners assigned to the SHU.

Even prisoners who had no preexisting mental disorders fell apart when subjected to prolonged isolation. I will never forget one youngster, a first-timer incarcerated for violating probation in a minor stolen property case, who was sent to the SHU for protection after he reported being raped by his cellmate. They ended up taking him out on a stretcher following a serious suicide attempt. The last time I saw him, when I visited him on the medical ward of a maximum-security prison, he was completely changed from the happy-go-lucky kid I had known.

But he started out healthy. Maybe, contrary to popular wisdom, the mentally ill -- at least those in Colorado -- have more robust psyches than everyone else. Or maybe they are asocial or masochistic. Anyway, I'm just telling you my own personal anecdotes. That's not science.

To read more, please follow this link

Source: In the News

Pew Study: Many Cities and Counties are Taking Steps to Reduce Jail Populations

A new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that city and county officials throughout the country are taking steps to reduce jail populations in ways intended to save money, maintain public safety and make the criminal justice system more efficient.

The brief, Local Jails: Working to Reduce Populations and Costs, notes that the average daily local jail population in large jurisdictions declined in 2009—down 2.3 percent from the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics—after climbing 30 percent from 1999 to 2008. This decline is the first in three decades.

“While it is too soon to tell whether this one-year dip is the start of a new trend, some local governments now facing severe budget pressures seem intent on making it so,” said Claire Shubik-Richards, senior associate at Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative. “Reducing the jail population safely and in a sustained way requires the consensus of the criminal justice community, the support of elected officials and the acceptance of the public.”

The study includes analysis of jail populations and spending in 11 major urban jurisdictions: Allegheny County (which includes Pittsburgh), the city of Baltimore, Cook County (Chicago), Fulton County (Atlanta), Harris County (Houston), Los Angeles County, Maricopa County (Phoenix), New York City, Philadelphia, Suffolk County (Boston) and Wayne County (Detroit).

The drop in jail populations parallels a decrease in the total population of the nation’s state prisons, which was documented in March by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. The net decline was 0.3 percent. The Public Safety Performance Project works to help states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.

In its new study, Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative found that taxpayers and public officials in communities large and small are confronting the reality that more money for jails can mean less money for other government services, especially in these tough economic times.

In Cook County, which includes Chicago, a decline in arrests and changes in management practices have resulted in the closure of two jail units. In Tompkins County, New York, the creation of a day reporting center as an alternative to incarceration has helped officials make significant cuts in jail spending. In Spokane County, Washington, expedited plea agreements and new alternative sentences have reduced the average daily jail population by 36 percent in two years.

Over the past decade, county jails—facilities for defendants awaiting trial and sentenced offenders serving short-term sentences or awaiting transfer to state prisons—have consumed a greater and greater share of local tax dollars. Harris County, Texas, spends 14 percent of its entire budget on jails. Philadelphia, which is a combined city/county, spends more on jail than it spends on any other function besides police and human services—and as much as it spends on streets, sanitation and public health combined.

The recent decline in the jail population is particularly pronounced in Philadelphia. In the first week of November, the jail census there stood at about 8,000, down from a peak of 9,787 less than two years ago.

In the past decade, among the cities studied, the largest increases in jail population have been in Philadelphia and Allegheny County (both 49 percent) and Harris County (46 percent). The largest decreases have been in New York City (24 percent) and Fulton County (20 percent). The largest increases in jail spending, after inflation, have come in Maricopa County (106 percent), Philadelphia (52 percent) and Harris County (34 percent).

Source: PEW Charitable Trusts

The Cannabis Closet: First Hand Accounts of the Marijuana Mainstream (Book Review)

For the past 10 years, Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic magazine has run an extremely popular issues blog, the Daily Dish. Beginning in March 2009, one reader emailed in a comment about using marijuana, and since then, what has been known as the Cannabis Closet has become one of the most popular features on the blog and a cultural locus for discussion of marijuana use and the pot laws.

In The Cannabis Closet, Daily Dish executive editor Chris Bodenner has compiled illustrative examples of the reader-created content on that blog thread, and in so doing, he has allowed those readers to paint a portrait of marijuana and its hidden place in American culture. There are testimonials from wealthy entrepreneurs who like nothing better than a relaxing night hitting the bong and playing video games and from students for whom smoking pot proved problematic.

There are reports from responsible parents and, arguably, at least one irresponsible one. One parent wrote in to relate how he grew his own plants and allowed his four-year-old daughter to help trim the fan leave. That led at least one other reader to write in all aghast.

And so it goes in The Cannabis Closet. It is, after all, a reader-created thread, and there is sometimes interesting back and forth. One reader complains that he must forsake working for the FBI for fear of failing a drug test; another rakes him over the coals for his hubris in thinking he can pick and choose which laws to obey.

The Cannabis Closet is divided into chapters that reflect the manifold nature of the marijuana experience in contemporary America. It opens with readers' experiences of pot, cracking open the closet door, if not exactly coming out, since all of the contributors are anonymous and few of them were volunteering to go public with their pot use. The opening is followed by chapters on parenting, getting busted, forsaking certain careers, addiction, coping (medical use), and being an out user in places where it's safe to be one.

While most respondents found using marijuana pleasurable (at least for awhile), pot had ill effects on some people. Some users found themselves growing paranoid or anxious and quit, while for others, smoking dope was counterproductive. Marijuana missionaries notwithstanding, it only makes sense that pot isn't for everybody or, that as a psychoactive substance, it can cause problems for some people. But as for marijuana addiction, one reader hit it right on the nose: "Addiction is never about the drug," he wrote, "It's about people coming to grips with the pain of existence."

What is most striking about The Cannabis Closet is how deep in it most of the contributors are. Yes, they write anonymously about their experiences, but many of them continue to hide their use from friends, families, and employers. They are indeed still in the closet. While The Cannabis Closet allows readers to see just how achingly normal pot smoking is in this country, it also makes painfully clear how hidden it still remains.

And as a drug reform activist, that makes me impatient. The Cannabis Closet's contributors took the time to share their experiences and make the book possible. But have they taken other actions to change the status quo -- political actions like lobbying legislators or donating to groups that are working to change the laws? None mentioned doing so, though all acknowledge prohibition's absurdity. Perhaps they have and we just don't know; that isn't what they were asked about. What we do know is that extremely few, proportionally, of the millions inhabiting the world's larger cannabis closet, do more than enjoy their pot and bemoan its prohibition.

And why not? Perhaps because they are insulated from prohibition's worst consequences. As one Dish reader cogently observed, he feels perfectly safe smoking pot while walking down the street in Manhattan. But there is injustice in that too -- the same reader knows this is only because he's white and middle class. If the great silent majority who think pot is no big deal would actually arouse itself, change would come pretty quickly. But if they stay content to sit at home and sneak a puff or two, it's going to take all the longer.

In the meanwhile, the Daily Dish has moved things further by getting the good burghers of America to at least crack open the closet door and talk honestly about what we all know about marijuana -- on their widely-read web site, and now in Cannabis Closet the book. If we are going to get marijuana prohibition ended -- and we are -- that is part of the process. The Cannabis Closet thus has provided a real service, while also demonstrating how far we have to go.

Source: Stop the Drug War

 

 

 

 

 

About the authors

Charles Shaw is a writer and activist living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He is the author of Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality, and the Director of The Exile Nation Project. Charles serves as editor for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics and the oD Drug Policy Forum.

Mark Weiss edits the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum Front Line Report.

He has explored UK drug law for DrugScope and worked with Harm Reduction International,  providing support on UN / EU projects. He holds a Masters in Law from Birkbeck Law School and BA (Hons) in Politics from Queen Mary, University of London.