Drug War tears

Tears of sorrow bleed upon my heart as the war on drugs continues. There appears to be little discrimination as the increasing casualties of this war are chosen. Four police officers died in a gun battle as they attempted to arrest a parole violator in the state of California. The parole violator was killed in the gun battle as well. Silhouetted faces of pain and grief are captured upon the viewers at the casualties’ funerals as they also are added to the endless still-framed volumes of sadness.

A young man, only nineteen years old, receives a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence for drug possession in a conspiracy ring. Whether or not this specific drug possession constitutes a crime against humanity, whether the young man is criminal in nature, or whether or not the sentence imposed equates to humane justice are questions the sentencing guidelines have conditioned us to overlook. After decades of severe mandatory minimum drug sentences, have the sentences accomplished the goals of diminishing the drug addict’s behavior or detouring the illegal activity?

The answers to the questions are revealed as the recidivism rate speaks loudly with staggering accuracy. While differences and variations occur in rehabilitation programs throughout the institutions of correction, the overall recidivism rate of 60 to 80 percent testifies of failure. The lengthy sentences have failed to be an adequate deterrent to the first time offender or the re-offender. And there is evidence to support that the fear of such lengthy prison terms has created or enhanced a propensity for violence in the offender.

The prison systems, the courts, law enforcement and the criminal codes themselves have become victimized and severely challenged due to the overloads brought about by the war on drugs. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia advocates the need to reform the criminal justice system and has stated that before the official declaration of the war on drugs the number of people locked up in the United States was proportionate to those in countries around the world; however, since the war began the increases are mindboggling. The United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, nevertheless, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated are imprisoned right here in America!!!

There are several states that have legalized, to some degree, the cultivation and use of marijuana, and a current poll states that 52 percent of the American public believes marijuana should be taxed and legalized. At the same time while legalization is contemplated, pondered and debated, there are thousands still serving sentences of 10, 20 and 30 years for marijuana offenses. There are others serving life sentences for drug related offenses and for the past 20 years federal law has abolished all possibilities of parole!!!

The disparity in sentencing between the States and the Federal, Government is at an extreme and unprecedented in history. A first time drug possession in the state may constitute a fine, probation, one year in jail or at the most 1-3 years in prison, while on the other hand a first time possession in the Feds is likely to bring 10 years in prison. A simple assault in the state may carry a 1-year sentence in jail or at the most 1-3 years in prison, but in the Feds the identical act, if prosecuted under the Rico Act may imprison the individual for 20 years. The Rico Act was originally brought into law in the early 1980s to assist prosecutors in the War on Drugs.

The psycho-social mechanics of life behind the walls of incarceration has not received accurate disclosure. Mass media focus and many popular prison documentaries continue to isolate the violence in our prisons. Nevertheless, despite this negative exposure the violence is not prevalent throughout all the correctional facilities and varies drastically from one institution to another. Many young men and women entering the institutions do not possess the criminal nature that social proclivity so easily assigns. And we rarely hear of the tens of thousands inside our prisons and correctional facilities who through diligent struggle have turned their lives around despite overwhelming odds. Unfortunately, the politics concerning rehabilitation, earned good time and parole remains a hot potato for many legislators and the honest endeavors to refine and rebuild character are left to the rewards of a cold and lonely cell. The bias of the media has wielded its two-edge sword as the successful marketing of the violence, although distorted, shall continue to restrict many as they remain reluctant to suspect good where so much evil has been depicted.

The fact of the matter is that many institutions have excellent programs with dedicated staff members who are willing and able to assist inmates with educational and rehabilitation concerns. Nevertheless, before the war on drugs there was valid incentive for inmates to rehabilitate with earned good time and parole. Without these incentives there is a decrease in those willing to participate in a program, and an increase in frustration, depression, anger and the contention of negative peer pressure. It is this negative peer pressure that continues to decrease moral and social values while increasing the factors responsible for recidivism.

Legislation has been drafted to review our criminal justice system. There is a bill that would abolish the mandatory minimums and the Federal Prison Work Incentive Act would restore the incentives of earned good time. The passage of this legislation is desperately needed.

From the Opium Wars to the current War on Drugs in the United States the lessons of history demand that the drug trade is inevitable. During the Opium Wars the Chinese attempted to close their ports to disallow the British merchants to dock with their cargos of opium. The British opened fire on the ports and the drug trade continued. The laws of Prohibition against alcohol actually proliferated organized crime in America by generating enormous profits from the sale of illegal alcohol. And with this proliferation came the violence that so often accompanies various avenues of criminal enterprise. Why would the War on Drugs be any different? Of course, the profits and the casualties testify that the only difference’ appears to be the magnitude! Tobacco is a powerful addicting drug, nevertheless, where is the violent criminal enterprise controlling the marketing? Disallow the public to purchase tobacco legally and the criminal enterprise will appear overnight.

Perhaps the War on Drugs with its challenges to the criminal justice system has created laws that impose restrictions too great for our civil liberties to bear; or do the millions that have traveled or will travel the road of correctional rehab belong in prison where many now reside. There are those in prison that most assuredly belong there. However, there are the tens of thousands that do not. And it is for these men and women that I pray as I ask for a moment of your time and consideration. These are not your enemies. These are your brothers and sisters. These are your sons and daughters. These deserve another chance.

May the honest review of the drug laws with their consequences bring forth a blessing of healing before the tear filled footprints documenting this war delivers a reckoning reward most grievous to bear.

Bradley Allen
Florence, Colorado