oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of June 14, 2010

A weekly summary of what's going on in drug policy and criminal justice reform in the US & UK.
Charles Shaw
15 June 2010
  • The Global Post begins this week's stories with a glaring headline, "Can Britain avert a binge-drinking crisis?" According to the story, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence , has called for minimum alcohol pricing, a ban on alcohol advertising, restrictions on so-called “booze cruises” — where travelers bring bulk quantities of  cheap wine, beer and liquor back from Europe — and compulsory questioning of all NHS patients over their drinking habits. NICE says 8,000 people die from alcohol-related conditions annually in the U.K., a figure that has doubled over the past 16 years, and drinking now costs the NHS 2.7 billion pounds annually. A recent study by health watchdog Drinkaware estimates 520,000 British people every day go to work with a hangover. 
  • Over at The Independent, Johann Hari is asking, "How Can America's 'War on Drugs' Succeed If Their Prohibition Laws Failed?" Hari: "In every generation, there are moralists why try to douse this natural impulse in moral condemnation and burn it away. They believe that humans, stripped of their intoxicants, will become more rational or ethical or good...The story of the War on Alcohol has never needed to be told more urgently - because its grandchild, the War on Drugs, shares the same DNA... [it] proves yet again Mark Twain's dictum: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
  • Evan Wood of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy has published a blistering repudiation of American drug policy on CNN in which he states plainly, the "'War on drugs' behind endless misery." Wood: "In more than four decades since former U.S. President Nixon first declared America's "war on drugs," the battles against spreading disease, increasing violence and the ongoing destruction of families and neighborhoods have been lost...From a scientific perspective, we must accept that law enforcement will never meaningfully reduce the flow of drugs...The laws of supply and demand have simply overwhelmed police efforts. With young people reporting that obtaining illicit drugs is easier than getting alcohol or tobacco, the situation could not get much worse."
  • On a much more dire note, after a series of three high-profile botched SWAT drug raids on innocent people, one which killed a 7-year old girl in Detroit, Alternet and the Drug War Chronicle investigate how, "Paramilitary Policing Is Out Of Control": "Botched (wrong address or wrong person) raids or raids where it appears excessive force has been used are certainly not a new phenomenon, as journalist Radley Balko documented in his 2006 study, 'Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America.' But most raids gone bad do not get such wide public or media attention. The victims often are poor, or non-white, or both. Or -- worse yet -- they are criminal suspects, who generally generate little sympathy, even when they are abused."
  • Big American mainstream outlets like Time and the New York Times are arguing for more sane approaches to our prison policy. In an excellent feature in the New York Times Magazine, Emily Bazelon argues against "Three Strikes" laws which have choked our prisons. Bazelon: "Twenty-five other states have passed three-strikes laws, but only California punishes minor crimes with the penalty of a life sentence. About 3,700 prisoners in the state are serving life for a third strike that was neither violent nor serious, according to the legal definition. That’s more than 40 percent of the total third-strike population of about 8,500." Time's "Detroit Blog" is saying,"Let Ex-Cons Move On." Detroit is considering stronger measures to help former convicts integrate back into society. "The City Council is weighing a proposal to eliminate questions about convictions from job applications for city jobs and contracts. Numerous cities nationwide already have done so, and advocates say moving the question later into the hiring process would help provide second chances to as many as 10,000 felons who are released from prison each year and return to Detroit."
  • The Crime Report's Jessica Pupovac recently published a piece on "The Crunch in Federal Prisons": "More prisoners are doing federal time than ever, but Congress isn’t allocating enough funds to pay for them. Prison officials and reformers say a rethink of the system is long overdue. While cash-strapped states are responding to the nation’s economic crisis by looking for ways to reduce their prison populations, the federal prison system is heading in the opposite direction. Last year, the 115 federal prisons added 7,000 inmates to their rolls, making a total of 211,000 inmates in federal facilities as of early June—and the figure is expected to grow. The number of federal criminal cases filed annually has increased from 69,575 in fiscal year 2005 to 76,655 in FY 2009. To make matters more difficult, federal funding isn’t keeping up with the extra burden." 
  • On the plus side, the Justice Policy Institute just released their new report, For Immediate Release: How to Safely Reduce Prison Populations and Support People Returning to Their Communities, in which they make the case that reducing prison populations and maintaining public safety can both be accomplished while allowing state taxpayers to save money with more effective programs. "Some states are using innovative methods of supervision that are yielding positive results. As spending more time in prison does not equate to more public safety, releasing people early with appropriate supervision can be an effective way of reducing prison populations."
  • There is a powerful new web documentary by David Dufresne & Philippe Brault making the rounds called Prison Valley: The Prison Industry. "Welcome to Cañon City, Colorado, A town in the middle of nowhere with 36,000 souls and 13 prisons, one of which is Supermax, the new 'Alcatraz' of America. A prison town where even those living on the outside live on the inside. A journey into what the future might hold."
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