Archive for the ‘Drug War’ Category

ht to John Cole over at Balloon Juice for writing about the modern practice of punishing people for crimes they haven’t yet committed

From the source article they cite at the NY Times:

“…risk scores are not based on the defendant’s crime. They are primarily or wholly based on prior characteristics: criminal history (a legitimate criterion), but also factors unrelated to conduct. Specifics vary across states, but common factors include unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members’ criminal history.”

In a way we’ve been doing this kind of things for decades but now they’re calling it “evidenced based sentencing”.  I’m gonna call BS on this and here’s why.

20+ years ago when I was a probation officer for the state of FL, I did both pre and post conviction sentencing reports–basically risk assessments. Back then the two biggest factors in recidivism for those on community supervision were known to be employment and positive family support. The inclusion of these things was actually a reform, meant to help offenders by putting them in the situation that would most likely lead to more positive results. Unfortunately, the “why” of it got lost in the implementation. It became a factor in how they were punished instead of how they were helped. And this came about during the Reagan and Clinton years with the resurgence of conservative politics and the “get tough on crime” wave of nonsense that swept the nation.

So judges would often sentence someone with a job and/or a stable home to live in to serve their sentence under community supervision and of course that meant that the poor would be more likely to go to jail. And the ability of a person who has been incarcerated to recover their lives was and still is infinitely more difficult than that of a person who was lucky enough to serve their sentence in the community. Basically it was always unfair.

It did get better over time in some jurisdictions but this was due only to 1) the progressive nature and quality of the judges 2) the quality and quantity of community resources (e.g., semi-independent living for the mentally ill, advocacy organizations that helped people coming out of the system to find jobs and homes, drug treatment programs with living spaces, etc) and 3) the progressive nature and quality of the officers doing the risk assessment. An officer could shade and characterize things to suit their own bias against the offender or they could choose to help.

For instance when we did a psi report one of the things we had to do was investigate the home address they proposed to live in.  We also had to interview family members.  If they didn’t have a home to live in or if the one they listed fell through, the officer was not required to but could contact family members–often people who cared about the offender but were not informed as to what was going on in their case would want to help. I don’t know how many times I was able to find a family member who was willing to take an offender into their homes but it was only because I put forth extra effort. Or if they were mentally ill and their family wouldn’t or couldn’t take them, I’d try to find a bed in a group home for them somewhere*. 99% of officers just left it at “they’ve got no place” so they aren’t suitable for community supervision.

That bias is now being given steroids by adding in things that the offender has no control over whatsoever. If their parents or siblings are assholes, how is that their fault? If you were born and raised in the ghetto and that’s where your family lives, how the hell are you supposed to be able to control that?  You’re in jail awaiting sentencing and you’re supposed to just pull a nice apartment in SoHo out of your ass?

As I mentioned earlier, the problem is that these things should never have been a part of the sentencing equation in the first place. The ONLY thing they should have EVER been considered for was in how to treat and help offenders. Unfortunately this country is so wed to being “tough on crime” that they’ve lost sight of the ultimate goal which is not only equality before the law but also reducing recidivism not just for society’s sake but for the individual’s sake as well.

Add on to this trend of incarcerating the poor and disadvantaged for simply being so, the use of blatantly biased drug laws, three strikes laws and the push to incarcerate non-violent offenders and voila you have the clusterfuck that is the American Correctional System.  We incarcerate more people than China, which has a population four times larger than ours.  Next time you hear a stupid bumper sticker talking point from a politician about being tough on crime.  Tell him to STFU because you’re not buying it any more.  Tell them you want to hear a detailed plan for reducing prison overcrowding, increasing the fairness in our justice system AND reducing recidivism.  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it–You can’t reduce recidivism without treating the underlying causes and treating the underlying causes does not mean throwing everyone in prison.



* Thanks again Ronnie Reagan for destroying the nation’s mental health institutions….you screwed the mentally ill for many generations……

One of my pet peeves is the ongoing effort in this country to privatize aspects of the state’s inherent powers such as the responsibility to educate or to punish the convicted.  There is an ongoing assault by private corporations to take over these government responsibilities in order to use them as profit centers.  The Charter School movement is a great example of this trend.  I won’t dwell on it here, since others are much more informed about it than I.  I will say that I oppose allowing private schools to be funded with public monies.  Likewise, I vehemently oppose the privatizing of prisons and for similar reasons.

For-profit corporations don’t see people as people, they represent a profit or a loss.  To private prison operators, the more bodies, the more they make.  There is an economy of scale, dontchaknow.  Many on the right will say that the government is not accountable enough.  And in some cases I would agree.  But we do have a peaceful ultimate recourse (voting, which we use to infrequently IMHO) and there are legal mechanisms (recalls, constitutional legal challenges, etc) that we, the people, can use.  With government we can and do institutionalize our morality, a conscience of a sort.  For example, we have food stamps because at one time the people of this country felt that it was only we should help feed the hungry (although that value may be waning, see my post from yesterday).

So we DO legislate and then implement our values in our governmental structures and processes.  A corporation organizes as it sees fit.  It creates it’s own mission statement, goals and vision.  A government is created to provide services to the citizens of said government.  A corporation is created to provide profit for it’s shareholders.  Those are VASTLY different reasons for being and it affects not only WHO the stakeholders actually are but also how they and non-stakeholders are treated.    Corporations have no conscience and only the government, if and when it’s forced through enormous pressure, can force the country’s conscience on them.  And you see how well THAT worked with the banks and executives that crashed our economy recently.

All this is on my mind because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced and is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing reform that will drastically reduce the number of people that get sent to prison.  Under these reforms, people currently charged with certain drug offenses will no longer be sent to federal prisons (this is a simplification of the policy but you get the gist).   You may or may not know this but there has been in US sentencing a massive disparity between how the law treated Crack Cocaine versus powder cocaine–on the order of 100 to 1.  In other words, a person with a small amount of Crack would be sentenced the same as someone who had a buttload of Cocaine.  Why was this a problem?  Because the powdered stuff is more expensive and is more likely to be used by the upper economic classes.  Crack, cheap and plentiful, was most likely to be used by the lower economic classes.  And since race is still very much tied to economic class, these laws drastically affected minority communities.  The African American community has been decimated by such laws.  If we had, instead, allowed such people to go into supervised release instead of prison, their ability to earn for their family would have been a real possibility.  Instead we took generations of young men and threw them into prison to rot and fester.  Nothing makes a man into a criminal faster than incarceration will.  Believe me, I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes.

Of course, the right opposes these reforms because they believe everyone and anyone that has broken the law should go to prison.  Unfortunately, the fact that there are too many potheads taking up bed space so that the pedophiles are given community probation instead never seems to catch up with them come election time.  And believe me, this kind of thing has been happening for decades.  Violent thugs and child molesters were and are being given alternative sentences because the drug war with its mandatory minimum and three strikes laws filled up and overflowed both state and federal prisons.   We still have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Higher than communist China, plutocratic/oligarchic Russia, free-for-all Somalia, etc, etc, etc.  And we’re supposed to be the land of the free…pshaw.

In the meantime, while pushing for stricter and stricter laws, the same politicians have been calling for lower and lower taxes.  Exactly how we were supposed to pay for our behemoth of a corrections system, never seems to have occurred to them or the voters.  The light bulb never goes on for voters because they share a similar malady with conservative politicians called cognitive dissonance.  What the voters don’t usually see is what is going on behind the curtain.  There is a wizard and he has an agenda.

Funding the movement for lower taxes and higher imprisonment rates is the private prison industry.  Players like the Corrections Corporation of America, PRIDE (a FL company), ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)*, the Koch Foundation**, etc make sure that their agenda is pushed at the state and local level and that they blanket the media with their own marketing spin so that the opposing voices like mine are never heard.  It’s why you may not know that private prisons are booming and that the U.S. has a national slave labor force that fulfills your online shopping orders, sews the jeans that make your ass look oh so good, and processes the chicken patties that your child eats in school cafeteria.  The chain gangs of yesteryear were child’s play compared to what is going on now.  The cheap labor provided by inmates drives down wages for those of us on the outside. How long before people in large numbers decide that being incarcerated is better than trying to make it in our supposed free market paradise?  Maybe after the next Great Recession/Depression?

It boils down to this….incentivizing the loss of liberty is incentivizing tyranny.  Except now we don’t have to fear that the government will be the force that puts the chains on us.  It will be the private corporations beholden only to shareholders and owners.  They’ve seized the mainstream media and are busy waving red flags about guns and the scary brown immigrants in front of the voters while they pick our pockets and enslave us.  We need to keep our eye on the ball, people, otherwise Workhouses will be the new gray***.

from Matt Davies at



*This is a conservative group that drafts state-level legislation for laws opposing abortion, supporting mandatory minimum sentencing laws, supporting three strikes laws, preventing wage increases, criminalizing immigrants (SB1070), laws allowing for private prisons and profiting off of prisoner labor, loosening gun control regulation, etc.  They give these drafts to lawmakers in the various states and they in turn use those drafts to formulate policy–many of the laws are passed verbatim as originally written.  This group is behind the many execrable laws passed in recent years to include forced ultrasounds against a pregnant woman’s wishes, union busting efforts, attempts to enact personhood for fetuses, eliminating conceal carry permits, etc.  This is the group that is making our laws–not our legislators–and they do so based on their conservative agenda.  Their perspective has nothing to do with the constituents of the said state….which is what our legislators are supposed to listen to and represent.  

**This foundation formed by Koch brothers to push their extreme conservative agenda on the rest of the US.  The two brothers own the second largest private corporation in the country.  If you want to know who is behind the conservative juggernaut that has hijacked this country, follow the money to these two billionaires.  

***I’m sure they’ll pick a new Orwellian name for it, like “insource vacationing”–the new way to have a staycation that lasts forever.  

Update: Evidently the Gov. handed the President a letter demanding he visit the border with her whilst wagging her finger at him and declaring that she had “saved” the border. If any of this bears out, she purposely and publicly confronted him and then blamed HIM. Nice…very classy Gov. Brewer.

Arriving in Arizona yesterday, the President had what was characterized as a “tense” exchange with Gov. Brewer. Evidently it was about something in the Governor’s book that said he had “lectured her” back in 2009 about illegal immigration. The caption on the still of their conversation (see still capture below) used by the Today Show said “Obama Confronts Arizona Governor Over Book Claims”. Now look at the picture below, what do you see there? Who is giving off confrontational non-verbal body language? The Governor is the one who is pointing her finger, speaking with a lot of emotion in her face. The President on the other hand is leaning to the side, reaching out to the side, making himself vulnerable to her…it’s a sign of conciliation, not confrontation. Afterward, the Governor gave a statement where she said that SHE felt threatened by him because she was there to “welcome him”. Then I later read that the Governor said Obama told her “that he didn’t feel I had treated him cordially.” Wow, that’s really threatening isn’t it?! /snark (take a look at the raw footage at Huffington, not that revealing except that the President didn’t look threatening from the little that I could see, I couldn’t see her at all in that raw video).

Tense Exchange Still from the Today Show

Tense Exchange Still from the Today Show

I have a few thoughts about this. From the still the President actually looks conciliatory and slightly amused by her reaction. She looks like the aggressor. All I know is that if someone got in my face with their finger pointed like that I would feel threatened–and it’s not the President who is pointing there. However, a still is not the entire conversation so without a video I can’t say any more than that. Also, we don’t know who actually brought the topic up. It might not have been Obama, as the Today Show caption indicated, but maybe it was. If he did bring it up, his intention may not have been confrontation but a desire to clear up her misconception…we’ll never know unless we were a little birdy perched on their shoulder.

Yet we can still put it into some context. Ever since the President was elected, she has been ragging on him about illegal immigration, and that’s just one of a host of issues she vehemently disagrees with him about. The President, while also strongly disagreeing with her on those issues, has offerred time and time again to meet her halfway with a compromise solution. Here’s an example of that….Back in April of 2011, Sen. McCain and Sen. Kyl layed out a grand plan for border security requesting 3,000 National Guard soldiers in addition to the troops requested back in 2009. The Governor supported their plan. Indeed her own request around the same time for 250 additional National Guard soldiers paled in comparison. The Senators and the Governor expected the Federal Government to pay for those soldiers, which I believe would be the correct thing to do. This request would have been 12 times the number of troops sent to the border at the height of the Bush Admins push to secure the border back during a previous mission called Operation Jump Start back in 2006 to 2008. Although there has been an increase in crime in the U.S. it has almost been exclusively within the drug community–meaning that those involved were in the drug trade or closely related to someone in the drug trade. But that could begin to affect legitimate citizens so it is a real concern.

Pres. Obama approved sending 1200 additional troops to the border and requested additional funding from Congress to the tune of $500 million. Moreover the U.S. Border Patrol was in the process of recruiting and hiring more agents but that takes more time than just sending existing soliders. If the President had sent the number requested by the Senators, it would have probably cost around $1 billion. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it because it is expensive. I am saying that if Republicans, like Governor Brewer, Senators McCain and Kyl want the U.S. to deliver democracy around the world at the end of gun (i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan), then they had better expect that funding and troops for other needs like border security are going to get shortchanged. The U.S., while the most prosperous and productive country in the history of the world, does not have unlimited funding.

They refuse to accept that the President can’t give them all that they want because he has to deal with ALL the issues such as a two front war, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, etc. And this would have been the case even if it had been a Republican President in office–they wouldn’t have gotten everything they wanted. As evidence that they won’t accept that he’s doing all he can do, Gov. Brewer instigated a lawsuit in federal court accusing the President of failing to enforce immigration laws or maintaining control over the border (this was basically a countersuit to the DOJ challenge to SB1070). Her accusation was patently absurd as I will show you in a minute and the suit was dismissed in Oct. 2011.

Furthermore the President, from an overall viewpoint, has been tougher than any previous administrations. President Obama’s administration deported more illegal immigrants in the first three years of his administration than G.W. Bush did in all eight of his years in office. The President has increased the number of troops on the border (as noted above) even though we really couldn’t afford it AND he continued the expansion of the number of agents in the Border Patrol begun by G.W. Bush. As of 2011 there are twice as many Agents as there were in 2004, and the majority of them (about 17,000 agents out of the total of 21,000) are on the Mexican Border.

So that’s your context…The Republican Party, with people like Gov. Brewer and Senators McCain and Kyl, demanding that he not only give them everything they want on the Border in addition to demanding just some of the following from President Obama and his adminstration:

1. continue a war in Iraq that he did not originally want
2. continue nation building in Afghanistan which he did not think was feasible and which was so ignored by the former Republican President that it was not likely recoverable
3. continue indefinite detention of enemy combatants in Guantanomo in spite of the fact that he wanted to close it and even requested that Congress fund the closing….they said no
4. continue prosecuting people using military tribunes instead of criminal courts
5. accept whatever laws the states chose to pass regarding illegal immigration (like SB1070, in spite of the fact that they were more likley unconstitutional) which forced the DOJ to fight back

And those are just the highlights. All of these things have diverted manpower and funds from important domestic problems. So it’s no wonder the President doesn’t get all warm and tingly when dealing with Governor Brewer and, quite frankly, she knows this. That’s why I think she is being manipulative and disingenuous when she felt “threatened” by the President.  If anything, I would say it was the other way around.


Arizona will most likely have medical marijuana dispensaries by this summer!  The state (i.e., Gov. Brewer) decided not to fight it any more by appealing the most recent court ruling.  For those who are in extreme pain that no pill can touch, for those suffering from debilitating chronic anxiety, and those who cannot keep their food down due to chemo, etc, this is a godsend.

I heard on the radio today that gun sales were up 25% this holiday season in Arizona.  When interviewed a gun dealer said that customers “were anticipating a shortage in the near future” and the announcer summarized by saying customers feared pending gun legislation from the Obama Administration.

Let me say something very important…lean in close because you really need to hear this….THERE IS NO PENDING LEGISLATION TO RESTRICT GUN OWNERSHIP AND USE RIGHTS….NONE, NADA, NICHT, NESSUNO, NENHUM…..and there wasn’t any last year or the year before that or even the year Pres. Obama was elected.  None were discussed by the White House, none were proposed to Congress and none were debated.

In January 2011 the White House DID tell Congress about its intention to create a new ATF rule  that gun dealers in border states be required to report within 5 days of the sale of two or more semiautomatic rifles using greater than .22 caliber ammunition and that have detachable magazines.  Someone could buy ONE of these and nothing would happen.  If they bought a bunch of them, their info would be sent to the ATF.  How many people do you know that actually go out and buy such weapons in mass like that?  Does your neighbor who likes to go hunting buy Uzi’s, M-16’s, AK-47’s, etc to kill Bambi?  Regardless of what the customer wants to use the weapons for, there is nothing illegal in purchasing such items.

The idea was shot down in Congress and opposed by the NRA (no surprise here).   After about 6 months of input from the various stakeholders, the President authorized the ATF to issue the new rule on July 11, 2011.  The NRA planned to sue (and I would wager that there is a court case pending now).  So far the system is working as it should.  The judicial branch is being used to balance of the executive branch–that’s all the good and exactly how it is supposed to work.

The important question here is if the purchase of such weapons is not illegal, why would the ATF care?  The answer is because there is a major problem of guns originating in the U.S. ending up in Mexico and being used in a rash of violent crimes.  The ATF hoped to get possible investigatory leads into what is known as “straw man” buys.  Some studies indicate about 70% of all gun violence in Mexico is committed using a gun from Arizona.  That’s a hell of a lot of “straw man” buys and that’s what the White House was trying to gather information on in order to stop it.

However, the Administration’s willingness to alert all the stakeholders to the rule 6 to 7 months in advance of its implementation hardly seems like some vast conspiracy and cover-up to take away Billy Joe Bob’s hunting rifle.  Moreover, the rule is only to assist in the investigation of known illegal buys that are occurring every day and directly result in the deaths of both Mexican and U.S. citizens.  It does not say they can’t make those purchases or that they can’t use those weapons.  The state and local laws govern that kind of thing and that’s how the President has indicated he would like to keep it–locally, NOT federally, controlled.  Again, that doesn’t sound like some big federal government takeover, does it?

Ultimately I predict that the rule will be struck down in court, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m not arguing that it is right or wrong, I am saying it isn’t the big scary thing that many want to say it is.    The irony is that while many on the right are running around scared buying up every handgun they can get their hands on, those on the left think just the opposite–that President Obama isn’t doing enough to curb gun violence in the U.S.  The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, a left wing organization that grades politicians on their support and implementation of gun control laws, gave the President a failing grade.  The President can’t win for losing on this issue, can he?

Furthermore, I think it’s very convenient as we enter next year’s Presidential Election that these rumors are once again surfacing and that gun dealers are helping to spread those rumors–not to mention the MSM.  Not only will the Republican party benefit, so will all the legitimate and illegitimate gun dealers out there.

If you’re actually interested in the truth, here’s a link to what the President said in 2008 about gun control while running for election…..again, no bans….just better enforcement of laws that are already on the books, laws that have stood the test of time and many court challenges.