Monday, April 23, 2012

More Cowbell . . .

courtesy of wikimedia - photo by Bart Everson
Some very interesting stories from unexpected sources:

First, the Wall Street Journal reports what most thoughtful observers know already which is that the War on Drugs has been a miserable failure and that we need to seriously consider alternatives to mass incarceration and the fueling prison-industrial complex. 
See Rethinking the War on Drugs

Second, again from the Wall Street Journal, a county court judge in North Carolina just reversed a death penalty conviction based on racially biased jury selection during the trail phase.  Judge Gregory Weeks applied a new North Carolina statute that requires death sentences to be changed to life without parole if a judge finds that racial bias played a role in jury selection. "Judge Weeks . . . said in court Friday that North Carolina 'prosecutors intentionally discriminated' against potential black jurors during jury selection historically and in the Robinson case."
See Bias Law Spurs Judge to Toss Out Death Sentence


  1. On the Wall Street Journal link for Rethinking the War on Drugs, there is a link "the Marijuana Exception." In reading both of those articles I find it interesting that marijuana has reached a level that it is being, more or less, reasonably debated as to whether it should be legalized.

    Perhaps this is because it is the largest black market drug or perhaps it is because it has so permeated our culture that even comedies are made about use of marijuana. I think it also has to do with the recognition that marijuana poses more of a threat to our society as a black market drug than it does in a semi-legal or completely legal status.

    However, there has been no real debate about other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. I think if that debate were held it would not, as some War on Drugs advocates (do any still exist?) fear, be a question of legality of highly addictive drugs, but would focus more on the penalty. Rehabilitation of repeat offenders should be more of a focus of the War on Drugs, not the militarization of policing efforts. Given how expensive and harsh drug laws have been and the inability to curb drug consumption, it is really necessary the U.S. start really thinking hard about it.

    Noah A. Barnes

  2. In reevaluating the war on drugs and looking to alternatives, just at first glance some methods seem to be promising and some to me just seem ineffective and perpetuate the problem they already create. The South Dakota 24/7 approach seems effective in deterring repeat offenders and lightening the load of the prison system. But I am not sold on the theory of marking IDs. Just as underage kids get others to buy them alcohol, so to can someone with a mark, thus not preventing the problem at all. In terms of drug use, the Hope program, similar to the 24/7 program, seems effective. There needs to be a constant fear of punishment to prevent drug use – something a warning fails to capture as described in the article. If one has to call in every day to find out if they will be tested forces them to consider and weigh their options of abuse every day, and instills the fear that they could immediately fall under continuous prison sanctions and sentencing. Lastly, the nonviolent dealer theory motive is promising, but the means to the end does not work in my opinion. Confronting nonviolent dealers with community members and the like to force transactions off the streets and into less socially damaging locals seems pointless. I understand the goal is to get drug crimes out of the inner city and youth neighborhoods, but this method is like licensing a continuing wrong. Without reducing the amount of drugs on teh streets, crime and incareration will eventually follow as long as the current drug laws are in place. I feel there still needs to be a continuous fear of punishment similar to the Hope program.
    -Jordan K.

  3. After reading the Wall Street Journal article, Bias Law Spurs Judge to Toss out Death Sentence, I think the NC Racial Justice Act is valiant effort at reforming death penalty litigation in NC. When death is on the line, it is frightening to think that North Carolina prosecutors were more than twice as likely to strike qualified blacks from the jury than whites in death penalty cases in the past ten years. This type of prosecutorial conduct happens throughout the country, and hopefully this decision will serve as a model and warning for other states struggling to eliminate racial bias in the jury selection. While death row inmates may have (supposedly) committed heinous crimes, they are still not entitled to a biased trial based upon prosecutorial misconduct in jury selection. This law evens the playing field, giving these inmates a chance to finally prove a phenomena that has been going on for years.

    However, it will be interesting to see how the NC Racial Justice Act plays out in the next few years. While it is a definately a step in the right direction, I think it shows potential for abuse. Inmates will see this as chance to stave off the death penalty, and may manipulate this law with frivilous claims costing the state and the judicial system hundreds of dollars to analyze the claim. These frivolous suits will hurt those that actually have a real claim of racial bias.

    While I wonder if it is possible to ever completely take race out of the courtroom in today's society, I think, if anything, this recent decision brings to light a serious problem that needs to be addressed in every state that has the death penalty.

    Caitlin Bailey

  4. I believe that the argument to end the War on Drugs is actually two separate arguments. One argument is to decriminalize marijuana laws. However, the other argument is about something else entirely. I do not think any citizens in the states that allow for medical marijuana and marijuana dispensaries would advocate that there should be dispensaries for other drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, narcotics). These other drugs are of major concern, especially to inner city minority populations that are considered at-risk. Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, while still controversial, is much different than allowing people to have access to other controlled substances. I believe that once the argument turns from marijuana to "other drugs" the "now what" factor really kicks in. Society, for the most part, has come to the conclusion that the war on marijuana is absurd. I believe it would be extremely difficult to convince people that other drugs should be just as tolerated as marijuana has started to become in some states. This country (especially right here in WV) also has a major problem with prescription drugs ending up on the streets. Perhaps the answer really does lie in these programs that attempt to prevent users from continuing to use drugs. These programs dont appear to be voluntary because there is still some sort of policing going on that places offenders in these programs. The drug problem is so systemic and such a rooted force in our country that at this point I see nothing but a band-aid solution approach to the problem. It is to the point that it is one of the social problems that we come to expect just as we expect there to be homeless people in cities and we expect there to be gang problems in cities. We expect there to be a war on drugs because at this point we are in too deep, so to speak. If you are interested in the opposite approach to the war on drugs I suggest a google search on Portugal's drug policy.

    -Seth P.

  5. Mr. Kleiman bases his argument largely off of Pareto’s Law, which says, “for any given activity, twenty percent of the participants typically account for eighty percent of the action." While the numbers may not necessarily be exact, the rule rings true, as demonstrated through the reoccurrence of criminal infractions with the smaller population of habitual problem drinkers and drug users, as opposed to the larger population of “non-problem users.”

    If the US were able to embrace an alternate method of accountability as opposed to continuing to fuel the prison industrial complex, the US is likely to experience a host of positive effects. As demonstrated by Judge Long, when given an alternative to prison time, while still enforcing accountability, both habitual problem and non-problem alcohol users demonstrate the ability to maintain sobriety. Developing an alternate system, such as the system implemented by Judge Long, whose goal is to keep people out of prison, is arguably the most effective way to fight the effects of the prison industrial complex.


  6. Throughout the war on drugs we have focused on hard time for drug crimes. However, we have learned over the years that this type of imprisonment/warning, all or nothing approach, has not effectively curbed the drug problem. It almost seems as though once someone commits a drug crime that we set them up for failure. We put them in prison or let them go, but we do not try to effectively rehabilitate them.

    I like the idea of the 24/7 approach mentioned in the article. The idea that maybe we hinge freedom to their becoming clean creates a powerful incentive to stop using drugs and stay clean. As the article states, the bright line legalize everything rule or put everyone in prison for the least of drug crimes just doesn't solve such a complex problem. One thing is for certain, we need a new approach. How about shifting the federal dollars spent on incarceration to an approach that rehabilitates drug users? -Jake Layne

  7. The article dealing with the War on Drugs illuminates the failure of the current U.S. policies on drug use and sales. The "get tough" on drugs has shown only to leave more people incarcerated for longer period of times - with no real deterrence. I think it is important to realize that for every drug user or dealer who is put behind bars, there will be another drug user or dealer to replace them. As such, policies similar to South Dakota's 24/7 sobriety program and the idea of external peer pressure to effectuate change seem more promising than the current. I think the key is to realize we need to try to deter people before we sentence them to lengthy periods in prison. By giving people the chance to stay out of jail by staying clean, or providing pressure on non-violent dealers to change their life - you give them a second chance BEFORE you place them in a known system which only perpetuates criminal behavior.

    It is has been said that if a person isn't a criminal when they go to prison they will be by the time they get out. By allowing people the chance to change before imprisonment we help prevent the creation of more criminals within the system, as well as reduce incarceration rates and drug use overall.

    While I feel these policies could be a win/win for all, I also am uneasy at the thought of legalized drugs- particularly hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. As the article points out, the legalization and accessibility to drugs will likely increase the market (similar to alcohol). I worry this increased market could adversely effect the number of drug users and counteract policies such as 24/7.


  8. As we considered before in class, the fueling of the prison industrial complex (PIC) is linked in many ways to the drug problem. For self-protection purposes while in prison, prisoners learn how to become criminals. What once may have been a low-scale seller of a drug that society is increasingly accepting as relatively as harmful as the legal drug alcohol, marijuana, may be transformed by the prison environment into a much more insidious offender. These two institutions of our society, the PIC and the war on drugs, are engines that repeatedly victimize minority offenders through the auspices of drug control. When the police have wide array of offenders, such as in the case of marijuana, they have an equally wide discretion about who to arrest. Thus, the potential for this abuse. When the abuse does occur, it is in part financially motivated. Police select the minorities who live in poor neighborhoods because these minorities are cheaper to prosecute and lucrative to have imprisoned. Applying systematic change to at least one of these institutions would affect the other, but both ultimately need drastic reform. I agree with Seth that the reform needed will depend on the adverse effect of the particular drug involved. Our laws would need to reflect how drugs are qualitatively different from one another. The methods of bringing about change may be debated, but I think it is clear that these two systems represent a failure for cultural minorities, including racial, sexual orientation, and gender minorities. For an informative look on how these different forms of discrimination work together, I strongly recommend the book Queer (In)Justice.

    R. O. Livingood