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Sunday, October 23, 2016

There’s nothing theoretical about the civil liberties crisis of our time.

While it may take a bit of imagination to figure out what we should be worried about when it comes to government surveillance, you have to deny reality to ignore the devastation of the so-called War on Drugs, which has left America with the largest prison population in the world by far.

“Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, said. “There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.”

Federal funding creates perverse incentives for local authorities to prioritize drug arrests. Harsh sentencing requirements and the social stigma of a drug conviction combine to create what Alexander calls a “caste system.”

But in the last few years some progress has been made in reshaping a debate that has been calcified since the 1970s. A bipartisan consensus lasting three decades seems to be finally cracking, thanks to collaboration between a willing president and Republicans who pride themselves on an independent civil libertarian streak.

Even journalist David Dayen — who often chronicles governmental reform with a cynical eye — is impressed by the latest developments coming out of Washington:

The Guardian article Dayen links to begins like this:

America’s war on drugs took a major step toward ceasefire on Thursday, as a bipartisan group of senators voted to move forward with the first substantial cut in mandatory minimum sentences, and as the Justice Department made it known that President Obama is looking to commute the sentences of more existing prisoners.

Legislation proposing dramatic reductions in federal prison terms for non-violent drug offenders, and an end to the hundred-fold disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing advanced through the Senate judiciary committee by a vote of 13 to five.

The support of a number of right-wing Republicans, including Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz – who joined as a last-minute co-sponsor – gives significant momentum to a full Senate vote on the bill, which is mirrored by a House proposal from Republican Raul Labrador and Democrat Bobby Scott.

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  • Buford2k11

    And the real criminals still operate with impunity on Wall St…

    • daniel bostdorf

      Jason sums it up best:

      Obama’s argument for reforming drug policy is firmly rooted in the same critique Michelle Alexander makes against the War on Drugs.

      “But as I said in the interview, my concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly, and in some cases, with a racial disparity,” he explained.

      While a willingness to experiment with marijuana policy represents some hope for larger reforms, journalist-turned-creator of The Wire David Simon fears it’s a dead end for reform.

      “The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans,” he wrote on his blog last year.

      “One in three African-American boys born today will be imprisoned at some point not because of marijuana enforcement, but because of the entirety of the drug war — and only by dealing with all of drug enforcement and its subtext of racial and class control will that trend ever abate, much less be reversed,” he wrote. “Only by addressing political reform to the use or trafficking of those drugs that drive the majority of prison sentences for drug crimes will the country begin to address itself to the mechanism that has put 2.3 million Americans behind bars and made us the jailingest society in human history.”

      Pot legalization and sentencing reform once seemed untenable. Now they’re low-hanging fruit.

      But for the War on Drugs to truly end and its devastation to be reversed, far more needs to be done.

  • leadvillexp

    We need to end “The War on Drugs” it’s a sad failure. I don’t care what color your skin is if we lock you up under this guise of the war on drugs it is wrong. Legalize drugs and tax them. Same as prohibition the drug lords time will end. The cost to incarcerate all the users could be spent on people that want help. Free rehab! How many would love that! The problem is prison is big business, government jobs. No politician wants to lose government jobs.

    • stcroixcarp

      But don’t worry about organized crime going out of business, they are smart and will find other ways to make out laws harm us.

      • leadvillexp

        You are correct. There will always be criminals but the time could be better spent on the international identity thieves that are now untouchable. You would still have the smugglers to deal with that try to beat the tax. Still plenty of crime to go around. The point is the victims of drug use would not be rotting in jails.

  • Dominick Vila

    The only people/organizations that will oppose the legalization of marijuana are the for-profit prison system and the Mexican drug cartels. The time to reflect on what we have been doing on this subject is now. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are serving time in prison because they were caught with a few ounces of marijuana, most of them young minorities, while people buy alcohol, drive while intoxicated, and kill people. The super rich satisfy their cravings for placebos using cocaine and heroin…while we pretend to be concerned about substance abuse by putting kids in the slammer for smoking pot.
    I don’t use any of this stuff, and don’t have too much respect for those who do, but our current policy does not make sense. Instead of putting you people in jail we should show them the way to become productive citizens, we should make higher education available to all, and we should pay livable wages to those who don’t plan to look for a high paying job.

  • DirkVanden

    how much $$$ would we save if Obama pardoned all those in jails for non-violent use or sales? They could balance the budget! But that would make Greedy Old Patriarchs mad and they don’t like that.

  • Allan Richardson

    The problem is that we as a society are dope addicts. We are addicted to electing too many dopes to Congress and the state houses, and we are addicted to cruel and discriminatory drug policies.