Pubdate: Wed, 02 Apr 2008
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2008 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano


Kudos to Kenneth Brooks for highlighting America's shameful addiction 
to punishing and incarcerating record numbers of its own citizens 
("How America can change its prison rate," March 10). Unfortunately, 
Mr. Brooks neglected to emphasize that the primary culprit 
responsible for the United State's startling prison population growth 
is the so-called 'war' on drugs.

For nearly 100 years, starting with the passage of America's first 
federal anti-drug law in 1914, lawmakers have relied on the mantra 
"Do drugs, do time." Today, America spends nearly $50 billion per 
year targeting, prosecuting, and incarcerating illicit-drug users. As 
a result, the population of illicit-drug offenders now behind bars is 
greater than the entire U.S. prison population in 1980. Since the 
mid-1990s, drug offenders have accounted for nearly 50 percent of the 
total federal prison population growth and some 40 percent of all 
state prison population growth.

Nevertheless, despite these unprecedented punitive efforts, illicit 
drugs remain cheaper and more plentiful than ever. (Who ever heard of 
crack, ice, Ecstasy or GHB 30 years ago?) Among children, the 
percentage using illicit drugs is little different than it was in 
1975, when the government first began monitoring teen drug use. 
Illicit-drug use among adults has also remained virtually unchanged; 
however, far more users are overdosing and dying from substance abuse 
than ever.

Americans are also dying in greater numbers as a result of drug-war 
enforcement. For example, members of Georgia's narcotics task force 
shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in November 2006, during 
a no-knock drug raid of her home. Two officers in the raid eventually 
pled guilty to man-slaughter and admitted that they planted drugs in 
Ms. Johnston's house as a cover story for their actions. A similar 
fate befell 44-year-old housewife Cheryl Noel of Baltimore, who was 
shot and killed by police in 2005 during a 5 a.m. "flash-bang" raid 
of her home. Noel's husband and 19-year-old son were later charged 
with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Despite the drug war's growing expense and civilian casualties, 
lawmakers continue to offer few, if any, strategies. In contrast to 
the growing calls for a review of the U.S. military's Middle East 
policies, few lawmakers are demanding a timetable to bring about a 
cease-fire to the war on drugs. If American lawmakers want to take a 
serious look at the U.S.' war strategies, let them begin by 
reassessing and ending their failed war here at home.

Paul Armentano, Vallejo
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