Thursday, February 16, 2006
Social Justice Issues - The "War" on Drugs
I wanted to start this blog to talk about issues of social justice. For this month's topic - I'd like to see what some of you have to say about drug addiction and how our society is set up to handle or not handle it.
Working as a Public Defender I can tell you I'm on the front lines of the so called "War on Drugs" and we are losing this war in a big way. We as a society have criminalized the addiction of drugs to such a point I believe we are creating more criminals instead of good citizens. We swoop them up and charge them with a felony for any type of drug possession (other than >35 grams of marijuana). So, what that means is that you can have one little grain of an illegal substance in your purse or pocket and be charged with a felony offense. So, you get arrested and then charged with a crime where you are facing up to 7 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. Chances are you may get a felony conviction first time out - but likely with some kind of probation.
In this probation you will be supervised by very cynical people who hate their jobs and hate the people they supervise. The one goal they have will be to get you off their caseload which means getting you sent off to the Department of Corrections. You will have to get a job as a condition of your probation. Because you have a felony conviction, it will be very difficult to find any job. Not even Wal-Mart will hire a person with a felony conviction now - so good luck on that. You cannot enter a bar or drink alcohol while on probation supervision. You must waive basically all your rights. You are poor and with no insurance, so you can't afford any drug treatment program. The state has cut almost all funding for them - so you can't go to a free one anymore. If you do manage to find one who will take you - it is only for 21 - 28 days - not nearly enough time to kick an addiction to a serious drug much less deal with relapse prevention issues. You will have to meet with your probation officer anytime they demand it - and it is usually during working hours - so if you have managed somehow to find someone who will hire you - they probably won't want to put up with these many absences from work. Then you've got the wonderful probation officer breathing down your neck for that. You probably have to move from location to location because you can't afford to get a place of your own. If you don't report any (and I mean any) change of address within 48 hours - that is a violation of your probation. Because of your probation officer's diligence in reporting your every little infraction, you will likely be revoked and serve some time in prison. You will then get out and try to get a job after being in prison.....good luck on that too.
It doesn't work !!! My solution is to set up a diversion program in every city and county where a person undergoes a very intensive 1-2 year long treatment program with school and/or job training. If you successfully complete all this - your criminal charge will be dropped. They have this in a very few jurisdictions in Missouri. It is called Drug Court. Sadly, it is too few and the treatment options in some that do exist are very limited. If we spend as much money on treatment as we do to house drug addicts in prison - we would have the best and longest treatment available for everyone who needs it.
The cynic in me says,"these people chose to possess even a minute amount of an illegal substance, so they chose the consequences." However, if every time I screwed up in my life somebody was on the other side of the bench with that attitude, I'd be in a world of hurt. (And, jail.) I agree the war on drugs is a joke, as is the war on poverty, the war on terrorism, the war on...basically anything we declare war on, we lose.
And surprisingly, making drugs illegal doesn’t keep people from using them. I know, what a shocker! Did prohibition keep people from drinking? Nope. However Nancy Regan's "Just Say No" campaigns did have a palpable impact on juvenile alcohol and drug use.
We waste so much time and resources prosecuting people for the result of the issue rather than addressing the cause. Especially in kids, studies have shown that after-school programs (especially those in the arts) are amazingly effective at preventing drug use. Kids are engaged and feel appreciated, and it fills some of the void that is usually filled by drugs or other poor choices. These types of programs have also proven to be helpful in decreasing gang participation. Let’s let the industry support it!