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ACLU REPORT: U.S. DRUG LAWS HARM WOMEN

By Alfa, Mar 26, 2005 | | |
  1. Alfa
    ACLU REPORT: U.S. DRUG LAWS HARM WOMEN


    NEW YORK (AP) -- America's war on drugs is inflicting deep and disproportionate harm on women - most of them mothers - who are filling prisons in ever-rising numbers despite their typically minor roles in drug rings, the American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups contend in a major new report.


    The report, "Caught in the Net," is being released Thursday as the focus of a two-day national conference in New York, bringing together criminal justice officials, sentence-reform activists and other experts to consider its package of proposed legislative and policy changes. The report recommends expansion of treatment programs geared toward women, says incarceration should be a last resort, and urges more vigorous efforts to maintain ties between imprisoned mothers and their children.


    "Drug convictions have caused the number of women behind bars to explode, leaving in the rubble displaced children and overburdened families," the document says.


    The number of imprisoned women is increasing at a much faster rate than the number of men, mostly because of tougher drug laws. There were 101,000 women in state and federal prisons in 2003, an eight-fold increase since 1980; roughly one-third were drug offenders, compared to about one-fifth of male inmates.


    "Many of the drug conspiracy and accomplice laws were created to go after the kingpins," said the ACLU women's rights project director, Lenora Lapidus, a lead author of the report. "But women who may simply be a girlfriend or wife are getting caught in the web as well, and sent to prison for very long times when all they may have done is answer the telephone."


    Lapidus acknowledged that legislation addressing the situation would probably need to be gender-neutral. But she and her fellow authors - from New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice and the advocacy group Break the Chains - make a detailed case that existing drug laws "have had specific, devastating and disparate effects on women."


    Among their contentions:


    -Many women are ensnared in drug investigations despite peripheral involvement, sometimes solely because they failed to turn in their partners to police. Sentencing laws fail to consider factors such as physical abuse or economic dependence that may draw women into drug abuse or deter them from notifying authorities of a partner's drug activity.


    -Treatment programs, to the extent they exist, often are tailored for men and prove relatively ineffective for women.


    -Black and Hispanic women are imprisoned for drug offenses at higher rates than white women even though their rates of illegal drug use are comparable. Factors include prosecutors' decisions, policing tactics and selective testing of pregnant minority women for drug use.


    -Most imprisoned women, and relatively few imprisoned men, leave behind children for whom they were the sole primary caretaker. The separation can be shattering for mothers, who may lose parental rights, and for children, thousands of whom are placed in foster care at state expense.


    The report makes an economic case for change, contending that the combined annual cost of imprisoning a mother and placing a child in foster care is seven times the cost of an intensive one-year drug treatment program.


    Several mothers jailed for drug offenses are attending the conference, including Dorothy Gaines, whose 19-year prison sentence for cocaine conspiracy was commuted by President Clinton in 2000 after she served six years. Gaines says her son, Phillip, now 20, was devastated by the separation.


    "He was an honor roll student, but when I went to prison, he just lost it,"


    Gaines said in a telephone interview from Alabama. "Even when I finally came home, he tried to kill himself. He's still bearing the scars."


    The issues raised in the report are difficult ones for criminal justice officials as their states debate building new prisons or diverting more nonviolent drug offenders into treatment.


    "When there's a woman defendant with children, we generally try everything we can to put her into rehab rather than prison," said Michael Arcuri, district attorney in New York's Oneida County and former president of the state DA's association.


    "On the other hand, we're supposed to treat everyone the same," he said.


    "You see more women in prison because you see more women selling drugs.


    Some of them feel that, because we were softer on women in the past, they'll get some sort of easier treatment."


    Bruce Bullington, a Florida State University criminologist, said drug-offending mothers may win sympathy from some activists but often are viewed harshly by lawmakers.


    "It's not just an issue of drugs, but of embedded moral values," he said.


    "We demonize these women, and it comes back to haunt us in a variety of ways."

Comments

  1. Alfa
    US WAR ON DRUGS A 'TRAGIC FAILURE'


    THE US War on Drugs that is run from Washington DC is a "tragic failure"


    and should be wrested away from the feds and devolved to state level. So says an influential coalition of lawyers, doctors and church leaders in Washington state that is pressing for radical changes in drug policy.


    Last week one of the coalition's members, the Seattle-based King County Bar Association, published a 146-page report recommending that the state should control production and distribution of psychoactive drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. It has long argued that drug problems should be seen primarily as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice problem - and hence a matter for state rather than federal government.


    The association is hoping that Washington state will pass a law to establish a commission on the problem. Around a dozen other states are working on similar proposals.


    Despite spending more than $45 billion over the past 25 years and increasing the numbers of people imprisoned for drug offences more than tenfold, the federal strategy has failed to curb drug use, the coalition says. Drugs are cheaper and easier to get than ever, it adds.
  2. elbow
    Check out www.lifeontheoutside.com



    It is the website for a heart-wrenching book that deals with this exact
    situation. "Life on the Outside" tells the real life story of a
    low-income woman with children to feed and no options, who was talked
    into a one-time, small-level cocaine delivery (worth just over $1,000),
    only to be caught and put in jail for well over a decade. Eventually
    she was pardoned by the governor of New York, but upon leaving prison
    her life has been just as difficult, as none of the problems that
    contributed to her committing the "crime" have been addressed by the
    social system, she is still poor and inadequately educated and living
    in a bad situation.



    In my opinion, the tragedy visited upon her family by the government is the real crime that has been committed.
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