September 2016 – The War on Drugs is a war on All of Us

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Jeff Mizanskey, finally released in 2015 after
21 years in prison for possession of marijuana

The release of Brock Turner after his serving a mere three months for the sexual assault of an unconscious girl – behind a dumpster outside a frat party – has freshly highlighted serious concerns about equity in US jurisprudence. The disparities of treatment between white Americans and Latinos and African-Americans for crimes of this kind are once again dramatized in the lenient and respectful treatment afforded Brock Turner.

Aaron Persky, Santa Clara County superior court judge, said that the light sentence would help mitigate the anxiety that the media attention had caused Brock Turner. Judge Persky is alumnus of the same school as Turner – Stanford – on whose campus the sexual assult took place. Turner has now been given early release from his six month sentence after serving only three months “for good behaviour” – which I presume means not raping an unconscious girl while he was in prison?!

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Brock Turner, released in 2016 after three months served
for the sexual assault of an unconscious girl behind a dumpster.

Similarly in 2016 John R K Howard was released without having to serve any jail time at all after he pleaded guilty to “injury to a child”. What he had actually done was to force a disabled African American student to sing a KKK song while being brutally sodomized with a wire coat hanger wielded and kicked by John R K Howard.

John R K Howard is a sporting hero at his school and comes from a well-connected family and so was deemed worthy of 300 days of community service. Howard was allowed to plea bargain the lighter charge because the prosecutor of the case – Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer – did not regard Howard’s actions as either a “sex crime” nor “racially motivated” and told the judge that the accused should not have to be saddled with the designation of a “sexual offender.”

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John R K Howard – no jail time needed for violent sexual assault against a disabled African-American student. Click here for a report and discussion of this incident.

The astonishing leniency shown towards the perpetrators of these violent crimes shows complete contempt for the victim of the crime. It also puts into stark relief the disproportionately harsh punishment of American citizens found in possession of narcotics.

Because while Brock Turner was being released three months early, having served just three months for sexual assault, and while John R K Howard walked away with no custodial sentence at all, by stark contrast just a few months prior Jeff Mizanskey was finally released after serving out his sentence for the non-violent crime of possession of marijuana. For that crime Jeff Mizanskey had been kept in prison for 21 years – a third of his life. That maths is indefensable.

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The comparison of Brock Turner’s and Jeff Mizanskey’s respective cases is just one of countless many comparisons which would illustrate that America’s laws and sentencing powers are being used by the dominant elite for something other than justice.

In the U.S. private interests profit from a system of mandatory sentencing laws. These are designed to take from the courts any power to assess and respond on the facts of each case, and add automatically to the country’s incarceration rate. Mandatory sentencing laws are a way of preventing the courts from slowing the incarceration rate. The higher the incarceration rate the greater the profitability of the prison-detention industry as it syphons public money into private pockets.

These distortions keep more than half a million Americans imprisoned for drug offences. When released their criminal record denies them the vote and often employment. What options are then open to these disfranchised and unemployed ex-cons? It is not difficult to see that mandatory drug sentencing is a highly significant factor determining incarceration and crime rates in America because while the U.S. is home to just 1/20 of the world’s population, it incarcerates 1/4 of the world’s prisoners.

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Looking at this you might wonder what happened in the mid 80’s to create the incredible rise in incarceration rates. The answer: the “Sentencing Reform Act” of 1984 under Ronald Reagan, brought in a swathe of mandatory sentences for drug offences, with the result shown in the graph.

The seemingly arbitrary illegalization of various drugs in the C20th reflects what was in fact a non-arbitrary response to how different racial demographics “self-medicate”.

I mention this on my website because this is not just a problem in America. The UN has raised concerns about the rate of incarceration of Indigenous Australians on this kind of basis.

Without in any way wanting to minimize the tragedy of addiction, in my view the so-called “war on drugs” attacks only the end symptom of a far more serious public health problem. It completely trivializes the causes, criminalizing the victims while, incidentally, making a lot of money for the private interests purchasing our prison and detention sector. For those interests an endemic drug problem is profit. We need to seriously consider whether we want such an incentive built in to our justice system. As soon as we subcontract our prison and detention sector to private interests we build that incentive in. A genuine war on drugs, making a full-spectrum response, would take private prisons out of the picture immediately.

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I hate what drugs do to individuals and to families. We need public policies that respond to the tragedy of it. We need to recognise drug addiction for what it is – a serious and profound health problem and social problem. Instead in the C20th we progressively criminalised it, as if nothing had been learned from alcohol prohibition, and thereby empowered a new global black ops industry.

Take a look at how people tend to become addicted – from every social background. The loss of a job, the lack of job prospects, the consequent loss of a home, the breakdown of a family, the breakdown of a community, mental ill health or the mental ill health of a parent, the addiction of a parent, chronic physical health problems, chronic abuse, social isolation, anything that robs people of security and hope; these are all factors that move healthy people from every demographic into patterns of addiction.

In 2017 in Australia our government is following the American example to impose random drug testing of all those dependent on welfare payments. This is done with a view to stopping benefits to those suffering addictions. Picture the children struggling in a home headed by an addicted parent, with any of the causes listed above. The loss of benefits will mean the loss of their home. It is not difficult to picture what comes next. In our state the plight of families living in cars has been dramatically on the rise. The “war on drugs” has been stepped up in the latest budget in a way that will only add to those numbers.

Once we unpack all the causes and the context of addiction it is easy to see that any “war on drugs” that targets the addict is in reality a studied decision to ignore the root of the problems and punish the most vulnerable. Frankly, if I am “my brother’s keeper” then in my humble opinion a war on drugs is really a war on all of us.

 

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