There seems to be all sorts of momentum to reform drug sentencing, to reduce mass incarceration, and to make it easier for ex-offenders to make it on the outside.
There was a full-page article in my favorite magazine, The Week, entitled “Opening the prison door: A new, bi-partisan movement is challenging the notion that jailing millions of Americans makes the U.S. safer.” You have to be logged in to see it, otherwise I’d share it. It cites the stats: taxpayers spend $80 billion a year to keep 2.4 million prisoners locked up. It examines what’s going on in various states, including the reddest of red states, Texas. I never thought I would admiringly quote Texas Governor Rick Perry, but he said, “The idea that we lock people up, throw them away forever, never give them a second chance at redemption, isn’t what America is about.”
Current affairs geek that I am, I enjoy watching 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings. I hate it when it is delayed for some stupid sporting event, like football. ANYway, a few weeks ago they did a story on TED Talks, and one of the TED talkers they featured was Bryan Stevenson, a public-interest lawyer and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune is full of related articles. One is about a couple of drug reform bills that failed to pass. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is quoted: “Those people who possess large amounts [of drugs] for sale suffer from the disease of greed, and the answer to their problems isn’t treatment, but the big house.” The big house? Is he living in a Jimmy Cagney movie or what? Regardless, most people in prison on drugs charges, including Vince, were busted with small amounts of drugs. Sigh.
There an article about how the DOC has succeeded in banning journalists from taking photos or video inside prisons. To me, this sounds very much like the DOC has something to hide, and also like a slippery slope toward becoming more like North Korea or Iran. I mean, freedom of the press is a pretty fundamental part of democracy, and nowadays visuals are so much more vital to reporting than ever.
There’s an editorial, “Restore voting rights to former felons.” This is a hot button issue for me. Because Vince was convicted of his first felony shortly after he turned 18, he wasn’t allowed to vote until he’d cleared his record–when he was 30. It so happened that this was the year Barak Obama was elected, and Vince was jubilant. “My team won!” he exclaimed. I was so happy for him. Now he’ll start from square one.
At work, I see all sorts of funding opportunities for studies of addiction. These are just two that I saw in the same day: “Second Chance Act Strengthening Families and Children of Incarcerated Parents” from the Department of Justice, and “Human Studies to Evaluate Promising Medications to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder” from the National Institutes of Health.
So there really does seem to be a movement to end mass incarceration, and there is promising research being conducted to get at the root causes of addiction. Someday maybe, when you take your 10-year-old kid in for his annual exam, the doctor will run some routine genetic tests. “Mr. and Ms. Jones, I’m afraid your son has inherited your family’s gene for addiction. The good news is, we can tweak is DNA, or put him on a course of Nodrinkalotine. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each….”