Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eric Sterling on Canadian TV news

I was interviewed on CTV news from Canada regarding mandatory minimum sentencing. Click on the video viewer in the middle of the screen.

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Canada is repeating U.S. mistakes on drug sentencing

The Ottawa Citizen has published my op-ed this morning (Feb. 29, 2012) that warns, "Canada is repeating U.S. mistakes on drug sentencing." This prestigious newspaper is Canada's equivalent to The Washington Post.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alternatives to drug prohibition move onto international agenda

In mid-April, Western Hemisphere leaders will gather in Cartagena, Colombia for another Summit of the Americas.

Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue, notes that hemispheric leaders, such as host President Santos, Guatemala's new President Molina, and Mexico's President Calderon have been critical of the U.S. approach and may try to push some discussion of drug prohibition policy onto the agenda.

Calderon, of course, is from the right-center PAN. Santos, a former Defense Minister, was the candidate of the right-center National Unity party. And Molina is also from a conservative party. His drug policy critique was profiled in Mary Anastasia O'Grady's weekly column in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 27, 2012.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Justice driven by robots -- Suicidal Vet who called "confidential" helpline being prosecuted based on call

A 45-year old homeless, suicidal veteran, Sean Duvall, called a confidential Veterans Affairs helpline in June 2011. He got help: he now has an apartment, a job and seeing a counselor and a psychiatrist. But based on what he said in that call, The Washington Post reports on its front page on Feb. 21, 2012, federal prosecutors have indicted him on firearms charges and he is facing 40 years in federal prison. The Washington Post reports he is charged with "manufacturing and possessing a homemade gun," but does not explain how what Duvall said or did. There is no report that Duvall threatened anyone. The implication is that after Duvall's call, responders found him in possession of a firearm that he may have been planning to use to commit suicide.

The U.S. Attorney submitted papers that say, according to the Washington Post, "as much as we, as a society, appreciate the efforts and sacrifices made by war veterans such as Duvall, their status as veterans does not make them above the law. The law must be applied with equal force to all in this country, and Duvall must face the pending charges just as anybody else would."

(1) A "confidential" help-line that leads a veteran to a federal indictment is not confidential. "As a society" -- the one for whom the U.S. Attorney claims to speak -- a promise of help if you call in confidence is a pretty important promise. I hesitate to call it a "sacred" promise, but offering help to those who are ashamed, in trouble and desperate is an important tool of a compassionate society. As a society we have long recognized the confidential nature of a confession to clergy or to a doctor that leads to help.

That a government confidential help line will lead a desperate veteran to prison is a shocking fraud and a betrayal of trust. The government should obey its own pledge of confidentiality as faithfully it would expect any person who has confidential information to protect it. Breaching government protected confidentialities is, in many instances, actually a criminal offense. It is worth noting that the Obama Administration has been prosecuting more "leaks" of confidential information than all previous administrations combined according to the National Security Archive, the Washington Post reported on Feb. 15.

(2) This story illustrates the deeply flawed understanding of justice held by many prosecutors: all offenses must be punished. This inflexible approach to upholding the inviolable majesty of law is in many respects the same as that of gangs believe they must respond to every sign of disrespect with the beating or death of the offender. This is the same nonsensical rigidity that we find when a traditional, patriarchal family determines that a woman must be killed for dishonoring the family name.

Justice is not the prosecution of all offenders. No part of our society works that way. For as long as there has been an America, most actions that technically were crimes have not been prosecuted. Whether in the low crime 1950s, the high crime 1970s, or the low crime period we are now enjoying, most crimes are not prosecuted.

More importantly, no crime should be prosecuted unless there is a determination that the sanction and punishment will serve the public need for justice.

Who is clamoring for the punishment of a once suicidal homeless veteran who actually got the help he needed and called for? No one, except the robotically programmed drivers of the prosecution machine.

This is prosecution unmoored from compassion, from practicality, indeed from reason itself.

The U.S. Attorney is dropping the charges if Mr. Duvall agrees to counseling, The Washington Post reported on Feb. 28, 2012! Veterans were outraged at this prosecution, and about a dozen veterans came to his court hearing to support him.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Pre-Grammys, Tony Bennett calls for drug legalization

At a pre-Grammy gala, noting the deaths of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Whitney Houston, singer Tony Bennett appealed for drug legalization. What strikes me is that in this context the argument is implicitly a public health claim, not an argument grounded in opposition to legal injustice, favoring individual liberty, saving taxpayer's money, or fighting crime. Given the very different circumstances of the deaths of Jackson, Winehouse and Houston, it seems to me Bennett seems to have an understanding of the negative ways drug prohibition abuse affects so many features of drug use patterns and treatment.

It is also striking that on the occasion of Whitney Houston's death, instead of simply lamenting drugs or substance abuse, or endorsing the importance of treatment, Bennett felt moved to endorse a policy change, namely, drug legalization. Bravo Tony Bennett!


Katharine Celentano of SSDP Columbia University and Neill Franklin of LEAP have a terrific discussion of Bennett's comments in Huffington Post.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Women: The invisible victims of the drug war in Mexico

Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, a liberal reform organization, writes about the terrible impact of the current drug war on women in Mexico.

Her report on a recent conference of women stresses that the greatest number of those killed -- now more than 50,000, and those who have disappeared in the course of the Mexican government's assault on the power of the drug trafficking organizations are civilians who were not involved in the drug trade.

She says murder of women has increased dramatically. When the military comes to a town, rape and sexual assault increase dramatically. Women who seek investigations into the murder, disappearance or rapes of family members are subjected to harassment, threats, violence and sexual assault, according to the report.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Cuts in the Obama anti-drug budget under sequestration

Brad Schlesinger writing at has the scoop on John Carnevale's analysis of December 2011 on the Federal anti-drug budget for FY 2012 if the broad cuts take effect that Congress ordered in the event Deficit Supercommittee reached no agreement. (And you recall there was no agreement.)

Relying on highly experienced assumptions about the federal budget process, Carnevale's fear is that prevention will get much bigger cuts ( -40%) than interdiction ( -6%). Treatment could be cut by - 16%, domestic law enforcement by -18% and international programs by -21%. These are guesses, just informed guesses.

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