Thursday, January 03, 2008

Neglected Issues, Neglected Candidates

Dana Goldstein from the American Prospect has a column highlighting some issues and candidates who haven't gotten much attention from the Village Press.

I was particularly pleased to see this item on criminal justice and The War on Drugs:


Criminal Justice, Prison Reform, and the Drug War

Mention these issues and you risk sounding more like a stoner college activist than a reasoned progressive adult. But a look at the numbers of our criminal justice system is sobering: Our prisons suck up $40 billion annually and the U.S. drug war costs approximately $20 billion each year. Over half of American inmates are incarcerated on non-violent drug charges. A young black man is more likely to have been in prison than to have graduated from college. And lest you believe our harsh system is stamping out crime, two-thirds of prisoners are eventually re-arrested. All of this is not to mention the inhumane conditions behind bars, including the high incidence of sexual assault and other violent crimes.

Dennis Kucinich is undoubtedly the only member of Congress to devote a section of his website to the "link between animal cruelty and violence against humans." But if you can stop snickering at his earnestness, big ears, and funny voice, you'll find he's right on target when it comes to reforming criminal justice. Kucinich loudly opposes a death penalty that isolates the United States from its developed-world peers and disproportionately targets the poor and the non-white. He tackles police brutality head on and opposes prison terms for nonviolence drug offenders, preferring rehabilitative treatment. He writes on his website:

Only the best and brightest should wear badges and carry guns. There are many, many great law enforcement officers, but low pay and terrible working conditions allow some to slip into the long blue line that should not be there. For example, the 'War on Drugs' has made many in the black community feel as though they live in an occupied territory. Greater minority representation on police forces would help, but a new national policy on nonviolent drug users would also help tremendously.

Progressive crime reform is a tough sell for mainstream candidates. Polls consistently show that about two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty, and although large majorities of Americans would like to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, being "tough on crime" and "tough on drugs" are perennially winning stances in American elections. Just look at Rudy Giuliani.

A good place to start moving in a more reasoned direction could be for at least one brave front-runner to note the absurdity that, under our current federal laws, one minor drug offense can cost a student federal financial aid forever. And of course, such restrictions are biased against less privileged college students with fewer legal recourses. Discussion of substance abuse should also move out from under the crime umbrella and into our robust debate on universal health care. The amount of money we're spending incarcerating non-violent criminals with drug problems speaks for itself. All Americans deserve medical and psychological support in kicking an addiction.


I ventured over to Dennis Kucinich's website and found this further statement about the Drug War:


Drug War

My position on this issue is to face it directly, though other politicians run away from it.

I agree with the many law enforcement officials and experts in the field that we must find a new way of dealing with illegal drugs.

I have studied the issue for decades and recognize that our "War on Drugs" has failed.

In fact, because our War on Drugs drives up the price, it encourages violence.

Prohibition simply doesn't work. It only creates thousands and thousands of Al Capones.

Prison should be for people who hurt other people, not themselves. We don't jail people for merely drinking. We jail people when they drink and drive or hurt another human.

Drug use can and should be reduced. But a continuation of our current War on Drugs will not do it. Instead, the current policies have only helped increase drug use and foster violence across the country. California was able to cut teenage tobacco use in half with a straightforward ad campaign that was financed by a tax on cigarettes. Not a shot was fired.

The supporters of the drug war have only one solution to this debacle -- more money for law enforcement, more people, more power, more prisons -- with no end in sight. Of course, these happy drug warriors who justify their living hunting down drug users come on TV and promise us that they see light at the end of the tunnel. They promised us a drug-free America by 1995, and instead we see new and more exotic drugs constantly being added to the mix.

I know that proponents of the Drug War will say that I am pro-drugs. I am not. As mayor of Cleveland, I saw first-hand the damage done by addiction to drugs, including alcohol. I also witnessed that the wasted resources and collateral damage did not promote a safe society. It is unconscionable that only one bed exists for every ten people that apply for drug treatment. Our priorities and our resources are being put in the wrong place. The primary job of law enforcement should be protecting our country and its citizens -- not protecting people from themselves.

The shredding of our rights to privacy and property promoted by the Drug War is inconsistent with a free society. Criminalization of private or self-destructive behavior is not acceptable in a free nation.

The racism evident in the Drug War, and the clearly preferential treatment for offenders with connections, undermine our concept of a just society. Draconian prison sentences that dwarf those for violent crimes, like murder and rape, destroy respect for our laws.

The rampant corruption of the criminal justice system spawned by the $400 billion-a-year black market could be ended with the stroke of a pen. So also would be the wholesale devastation we have brought to other countries. Countries like Colombia, where we send billions of dollars of military aid and spray hundreds of thousands of acres of populated land with dangerous herbicides in a country with nearly a million displaced people. And each military campaign or spraying is like squeezing a balloon; production merely shifts to another site or goes into a temporary hiatus.

Drug addiction is a medical and moral problem that should be treated by professionals, not dumped on the criminal justice system. Setting up a national commission of medical professionals to develop an intelligent program, based on the experience of drug experts from around the world, would be a first step. Allowing doctors to treat drug addiction humanely and intelligently, including the prescription of maintenance doses, would allow us to quickly eliminate most of the black market and much of the damage to a safe, free, and just America.

It is time for an honest dialogue on this issue.

Time to stop the documented lies, halftruths, and propaganda that got us into this mess in the first place. It is time to face the facts.


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