a bird and a bottle


Even “Tough” TX Judge Says Treatment Not Jail
November 24, 2006, 4:49 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, law, politics

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle featured an editorial calling for the end of the harsh “War on Drugs” sentencing for low-level drug offenders, an issue considered last week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (I wrote about it here and here; the American Constitution Society has followed the story here). The Editorial notes that even Judge Michael McSpadden, a “respected felony criminal judge known for his ‘lock-’em-up’ philosphy” has criticized these sentences, complaining that they are filling up the felony docket and taking time, energy, and other resources away from more dangerous and violent offenders. Neighborhoods are no safer than they were before this sentencing structure was put in place, and small-time drug users (who were charged with possession of as little contraband as residue in a crack pipe) are clogging local jails, necessitating new construction to alleviate the overcrowding. As I have noted before (in the second post linked above), jail overcrowding makes some people (the ones who run the private companies that build and provide for the jails) happy because it makes them rich.

(source)

What’s most notable about both the Editorial and the judge’s comments, though, is his proposed solution: treatment for people who are addicted to drugs, which would free up police and court resources to focus on major offenders and would be in keeping with the Supreme Court’s mandate in Robinson v. California that drug addiction be treated as an illness and not a crime. Incarcerating people who are addicted to drugs harms communities by separating families (since the “War on Drugs” began, the number of women and mothers in prison for low-level drug offenses has skyrocketed) and by stigmatizing addiction for a small segment of the population (mostly low-income people of color) while excusing addiction for another group (Rush Limbaugh, Mel Gibson). Yet the President and others who envision themselves as “tough on crime” continue to resist treatment, and then to punish people who have not been able to secure it (despite the fact that there are painfully few inpatient drug treatment beds in the U.S., particularly for pregnant or parenting women).

Maybe (just maybe) these Sentencing Commission hearings and Editorals like the Houston Chronicle’s can serve as a wake-up call that we as a country need to be funding treatment beds not jail cells. It’s this approach that will actually make communities safer and keep families together.

(Hat-tip: TalkLeft)

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3 Comments so far
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So good that you are posting on this important and neglected issue. It gets almost no media attention (except from the other side) and seems to be taboo even for progressive democrats. (The most disappointing of my very few interactions with politians was a short coversation with Howard Dean in which he expressed no interest at all in prison reform.) It is hard for me to envision a major shift in this country arising out of any concern for drug users. But nothing talks louder than money in America and prisons costs lots of it. The public may eventually realize that spending more on incarceration than education (as is now the case in California and other states, I believe) not only fails to make them safer, it’s actually making them dumber.

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