Posts Tagged ‘law’

I have experienced something today that I’m not altogether sure how to articulate, largely because I have yet to fully wade through & identify all that I’m feeling as a direct result of this news and the implications it carries with it. I can identify one thing I’m not feeling, however: anger. For the first time in nearly three years, I don’t have this overwhelming, smothering cloud of rage and indignance surrounding my conscious mind. I had forgotten what this feels like.
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This is another paper I wrote for my English composition class. I share now because the topic of recidivism and addiction came up today. This paper was also written in MLA format.

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A disease, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “an illness that affects a person, animal, or plant; a condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally” (p1). Additionally, addiction, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” (“The Essence of Drug Addiction.” p7). The link between the two words is plain to see. Yet America, as a nation, does not treat addiction as a disease. Instead, it is punished, swiftly and indiscriminately, as a crime. The symptoms of the disease are simply suppressed by the system. Drug offences alone were accountable for over half of the population in federal prisons in this country in 2013, per the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics Bulletin (15). For the sake of perspective, the Federal Correctional system housed 193,775 prisoners, serving sentences longer than one year, and 98,200 of those were for drug convictions alone. (16).

How does that look at the state level? According to the same source, of the 1,314,900 inmates sentenced at the state level in 2013, only 16% of those were sentenced for drug convictions. (Table 13, page 15.) The stark contrast here has to do with some states softening the penalties for low-level drug offenses, while others are somewhat more lenient with regards to parole violations (i.e. they do not necessarily get sent straight back to prison upon their first violation, depending on the nature of it.) Nevertheless, it is incredibly alarming as to why there is such a massive difference between the federal correctional system and the state systems within the same country. How can this be explained?

The nature of drug crimes insofar as convictions are concerned, can be broken down into subcategories: possession, delivery/trafficking and manufacturing. Each carries varying degrees of severity, depending on the specific details of each case. What the typical census fails to consider is the drug related element of non-drug convictions. As mentioned earlier, addiction describes compulsive need for a substance. Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse within the National Institute of Health describes it perfectly:

“Drug craving and the other compulsive behaviors are the essence of addiction. They are extremely difficult to control, much more difficult than any physical dependence. They are the principal target symptoms for most drug treatment programs. For an addict, there is no motivation more powerful than a drug craving. As the movie “Trainspotting” showed us so well, the addict’s entire life becomes centered on getting and using the drug. Virtually nothing seems to outweigh drug craving as a motivator. People have committed all kinds of crimes and even abandoned their children just to get drugs.” (“The Essence of Drug Addiction.” p8.)

The science behind this has been performed. It is a widely accepted fact that addiction is a disease. Upon further consideration, it is clear to see that if America as a country was more widely inclined to address the illness itself, rather than the current method of staunching the symptoms, there is a very real and attainable possibility that crime of all kinds will decrease.

America is certainly on the trailing edge of implementing these findings. The Netherlands, for example, has systems in place where soft drugs such as marijuana are accessible in a safe, legal environment, where the users of such substances (young or infrequent especially) are not necessarily exposed to the harder, more volatile drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Furthermore, in various European countries, there are safe rooms in place where addicts of hard drugs are free to go and use their drugs in peace, with medical supervision and clean needles. (“Denmark’s ‘Fix Rooms’ Give Drug Users a Safe Haven. P6.” This carries multiple social benefits: these addicts are not littering public streets with refuse and dirty needles, and the Netherlands has all but eliminated HIV transmission through drug injection while also boasting the lowest rate of problem drug use in all of Europe. (“…Look to the Dutch. P11.) There is more to it still: the coffee shops where the marijuana can be purchased, generate a staggering amount of revenue annually while the citizens are not strapped with criminal records for non-violent, minor drug offences, since fewer arrests are made. . (“…Look to the Dutch. P4.) The end result is a much cleaner, much more prosperous society. Some believe more lenient law enforcement would lead to an increase in drug use. For the Netherlands, this was not the case. . (“…Look to the Dutch. P5.)

Ultimately, the mentality behind policy in the Netherlands is that different substances carry different risks, the contrary of America’s stance, wherein all drugs are equally as hazardous and criminal. The pros most certainly outweigh the cons, and there are so many examples made overseas that America should follow. More leniency with low level offences has the potential to reduce recidivism, in that minor offenders would not be subject to felonies that make it exponentially more difficult to attain gainful employment, which contributes in and of itself to the alarming prison overcrowding issue in the United States. If we were to delve further into the issue, and take steps to identify those in the ranks of America’s incarcerated, who are addicted to hard drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and all the incarnations thereof, and take steps to treat their conditions as the disease it is, crime rates would drop exponentially. The addict mind drives otherwise good and decent people to alarming lengths to feed their addiction. Breaking and entering, theft, robbery, grand theft, and even some of the more violent crimes, are examples of some of the radical lengths an addict will go to in order to pacify his or her demons.

Imagine then if, as a society, we took steps to exorcise those particular demons. What, then, is left? The human condition dictates that there will always be some crime. The alarming numbers of men and women that fill both state and federal penitentiaries would dramatically decrease if, as a people, we took one of the more common variables off the table. Progress is progress. Consider as well, how many families living below the poverty line might have a fighting chance if their finances were not dictated by the need for a fix. Though times are still hard, in light of the recession, the black mark of a felony conviction on the background of non-violent men and women make it that much more difficult to find gainful employment. It is a vicious cycle: addiction, crime, incarceration, release without treatment for the disease, struggle to reintegrate back into the free world, inability to find work, relapse under stress or necessity of subsidizing income, crime, incarceration. This is the reality for an unacceptably large number of Americans.

The system is broken, but it is not beyond repair. The United States of America should follow the lead of more progressive countries like The Netherlands and treat the disease. Without the disease rampant and out of control, the symptoms will become irrelevant. Treat the disease; stop suppressing the symptoms.

Works Cited:

Carson, E. Ann, Ph.D. “Prisoners in 2013.” U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. Sept. 2014. Web PDF. 12 Oct. 2014.

Leshner, Alan I. Ph.D. “The Essence of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. March, 2001. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Malinowska-Sempruch, Kasia. “For Safe and Effective Drug Policy, Look to the Dutch.” Global Drug Policy Program. Open Society Foundations. July 16, 2013. Web.

Merriam-Webster. An Encyclopedia Britannica Company. Web. 12 Oct 2014.

Overgaard, Sidsel. “Denmark’s ‘Fix Rooms’ Give Drug Users A Safe Haven.” Parrallels: Many Stories, One World. 16 Dec 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

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It’s not typically my nature to try and throw myself into the middle of a very heated, very volatile topic such as this one, but based on conversations I’ve had over the last couple of days, I truly feel the need to speak up here. Whether anyone chooses to hear what I have to say or not is completely up to them.

For the sake of context, I was raised in Canada. I was raised in a community that was basically colorblind. I was raised in a virtual multicultural mosaic. I was taught that ethnicity did not define a person; action did. Composure did. Character did. In 2012, I moved to Texas. While the social values may be different down here, mine are not. I am still the same person I was. I still judge people based on what they do and what they say, not on how they look or who they love.

Furthermore, I must also point out, again for the sake of context, that I am white. I am a pretty average North American. I’m not privileged. I live in what some would call a ghetto on the road to recovery. I interact with all manner of people on a daily basis.

In July 2013, I was the victim of a violent crime. I was kidnapped, raped and beaten. Following those 4 days I spent in hell, it took me seven weeks to file a police report. I systematically went to six different police agencies with my case, photographs of my injuries, copies of the medical records from when I took myself to the ER, as well as a clear paper trail and pictures identifying my assailant. In the first two weeks of this effort, you could still clearly see the trauma on my body. My face was bruised, I had burns on my neck and finger print bruising on my bicep. Those are just the marks that were visible at a glance. There was significantly more marks of my trauma covered by my clothing. But again, I had photographs of them all. Five independent police agencies basically told me “Not my jurisdiction, not my problem, sorry about your luck.” One officer did his due diligence and made the effort to at least provide me with GPS coordinates to take with me to the next agency. The rest of them couldn’t be bothered with the prospect of paperwork that wasn’t even in their jurisdiction for sure.

At the end of the seven weeks, and at the sixth law enforcement agency, I finally got a police report filed. The deputy was really kind to me, and praised the effort I went to to assemble what appeared to be a solid case. He said that I had made his job too easy. I felt relief, and cautious optimism that I would see some semblance of justice. A couple of months after that, I found out that my assailant had been picked up in a neighboring county and was being held on charges separate from mine. I thought that a little strange, but was just relieved to know he was off the street.

Fast forward another 3 months, into spring 2014. I was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in the county that had filed my police report to testify against my assailant. I didn’t know what to expect, but was once again feeling a sense of relief that maybe now was the time for justice. Maybe now was the time for someone to say that what had been done to me was not okay. How wrong I was.

I appeared before the grand jury, as per my subpoena. I was dressed professionally, and though nervous, I did my best to answer their questions. I had sustained a head injury in my trauma, and a lot of the specific details were blurry, but it wasn’t those details they seemed interested in anyway. These people attacked me. They spoke to me as if I was the criminal. They asked me things like ‘why didn’t you call out for help?’ ‘why didn’t any of the officers you spoke to ask for your financial records?’ ‘why didn’t you run away?’ These are all ridiculous questions. When a man twice your size has a weapon on you, and is threatening people you love, and takes you places away from where you are familiar, your survival depends on not doing anything to further antagonize him. Furthermore, how would I know why the police didn’t ask for my records? If memory serves, I am not the detective. I am not the one trained to build cases against bad guys. I realize it is the prosecutor’s job to find holes in the case that the defense could take advantage of, but nevertheless. I left that hearing feeling like I had once again been violated. I felt like these people were angry at me, and blaming me for what had been done to me. I was hysterical, and in tears. Surprisingly, or really not so much after what I had endured, I called up to the court house the following day to find out that the grand jury had no billed the charges of Aggravated Kidnapping and Aggravated Sexual Assault, citing insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. I was distraught as I could be. Ultimately though, my assailant ended up in federal prison on unrelated charges, and will not be a threat to me until fall 2017. While it isn’t justice, at least it’s something.

You might be asking yourself why I bring this up now. What does this have to do with current events? It has everything to do with current events. My point is, I’m tired of seeing the race card used constantly. I’m tired of minorities segregating themselves and then getting angry that they are segregated. I don’t have a racist bone in my body, so please don’t jump to that conclusion. As I said before, I am colorblind.

The moral of my story overall, however, is this: the justice system is fractured and broken. It is thoroughly, completely and totally screwed up. I’m a young white female and I was dropped through the cracks of justice the exact same way Brown was. People choose to see prejudice everywhere, and choose to use it to justify their actions. There is no context in which that is acceptable. If we are truly going to progress as a nation, everyone has got to stop pointing fingers, drawing lines, and playing the blame game. We are all at the mercy of the law that governs us all. That law is completely and totally twisted from what it was originally intended to be. We have a far better chance of changing that, of fixing that, by standing united in a cause than we do of lashing out and acting so shamefully as to riot and loot. Is that any way to honor that young man’s memory? Is that any way to honor his family? Surely not. That kind of behavior will bring about change, but it is not the progressive change this country, the system, and the people need. It will bring about regressive, backwards change.

I don’t know about any of you, but I have no desire to go backwards, potentially to a time mirroring some of those shameful marks on world history. I have no desire to live in an ugly world fitting ugly statistics. I have no desire to be an element of a statistic. Surely I am not alone in this.