FEBRUARY 2, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

The following is from the Los Angeles Times: "Dennis Peron, an activist who was among the first people to argue for the benefits of marijuana for AIDS patients, and helped legalize medical pot in California, has died in San Francisco. Peron was 72. His death was announced on his official Facebook page. He had been battling cancer."

We all learned recently of the death of Mister Dennis Peron, many have called him the godfather of medical marijuana. I'm privileged to be speaking with one of his friends who has known him over the decades, who has worked with him, Mister Jeff Jones. How are you, sir?

JEFF JONES: I'm doing good, and I would have to admit that it is quite a sad time in California, to see the passing of Dennis. Really, at the age of 72, I thought he would live into his 80s. The only thing I'm glad about is that he made it long enough to see the transition from medical into adult and kind of the fruition of what he always wanted, which is for it to be treated much more like a tobacco or alcohol product than it is to be treated like plutonium, where it came from.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and you know, there are certainly ups and downs and setbacks along the way. Can you give us just kind of a summary of the early history, what you guys went through to get -- get it going?

JEFF JONES: Well, I think part of the medical cannabis community wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Dennis and others like him in the early days, that came out of the HIV, gay community, which saw a no hope kind of scenario or path forward for their folks that were dying and wasting away without much help from the government's research and the small amount of drugs they were releasing.

And cannabis, therapeutically, gave them relief, gave them the ability to keep down some of the hazardous cocktail HIV drugs that they were taking, and gave them some of their quality of life back. Once Dennis found out that this helped the community, he supported folks that were a broad range, from people that were growing it to people that were dispensing it inside of SF General Hospital, which, one of that comes to mind that passed away some time ago is Brownie Mary. Brownie Mary and Dennis were the reasons why I moved here.

DEAN BECKER: Right. And, I think it was an attraction to our friend, Richard Lee, as well, just the fact that it was getting traction there, and it was a --

JEFF JONES: Well, Richard -- Richard came to the bay area and interacted with me through another friend that also since passed away, and I helped Richard move from Texas, Houston area, to here, because of his gardening ability and his wanting to help out this community.

They definitely were generals in the midst of the war against us. I looked at Dennis as a very smart, articulate, compassionate go-getter. He saw what needed to be done, he put his life on the line, and decided that he didn't want to see a future without cannabis being made available in a therapeutic context immediately.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and your mention earlier that it's, it's wonderful that he got to see the transition, to see the move towards adult use, and your thought.

JEFF JONES: I think that -- I think it's tongue in cheek, because he didn't like the way that the law was developed. He thought that it needed to be more available, less restricted, less treated like a restricted product like tobacco, and more like a tomato model. But I think he sufficed that it was at least a baby step in the right direction, that we're destigmatizing the overall use of the plant, making it more available for medical patients, and in the end, less costly, even though right now the cost has slight went up with the new regulation taxes.

Long term, the price of cannabis in California is going to drop through the floor. I expect by this time next year that we're going to be talking about $200 outdoor pounds.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's where, look, this Texan has grown it. I know how easy it can be to grow that plant, that outdoor plant, to a massive size, and, yes, $200 a pound sounds about right. Well, I know you're busy today, you're working with the Oaksterdam University, horticultural department, I believe, but, closing thoughts that you might want to share?

JEFF JONES: Just, without Dennis and his ability to see the future of medical cannabis, to see the future of a different path forward, we wouldn't be here, and that I owe both the ability for what I'm doing today, teaching at Oaksterdam University and the students that are coming in from out of state. I think we all Dennis a debt of gratitude that we can never repay him now for, because he saw something in this plant that many others poo-pooed, or rejected, that this was too dangerous or that it was not made for what was going to be transpiring into a therapeutic use.

He said, ah, pooey, and just went ahead and did it anyways, and I think that without his courageness, his level of leadership back then, we would have never been able to move this, and having come from a state like South Dakota, where you go to jail for cultivation for six years, possession for six months, still kind of in that same reflective criminal category.

Coming to California in 1994 and meeting Dennis the first week I was here, and going into his first dispensary at the corner of Church and Market and seeing a very open, a very caring and compassionate community that was willing to support people having access to this, even though it was criminal, and then within the year, having that location move to, down to his major facility at 1444 Market Street, and happening to be at the grand opening and the ribbon cutting, having one of the Board of Supervisors there to cut the ribbon of a facility that was going to dispense a substance that still wasn't even legal in our state.

It just moved me, it made me feel like Dennis was not only a hero, but he was a superhero.

DEAN BECKER: I would tend to very much agree with you. I was privileged to meet him just a couple of times over the years, but he always impressed me as just being spot on.

JEFF JONES: That, and being a hero. He just knew what he had to do and he went and did it, he didn't care if people were going to shoot at him, which had happened, he didn't care if people were going to put him in prison, which had happened. He thought that this plant should be made available to everybody.

And I don't think he agreed with the age limit, I don't think he agreed with some of the restrictions that were set in the regulations, but to have him alive to the point where we saw legal use, and legal sales in California, I think was at least a silver lining of him passing this month.

DEAN BECKER: The following courtesy Fox Five out of Cartersville, Georgia.

DEJA HEARD: Literally jerked off the bench, drug out of my cell, with a foot lifted to my head like I was going to get stomped on. Drug away, taser to my head again.

RUSS SPENCER: A Cartersville woman reveals terrifying details after being jailed at her own birthday party. Deja Heard was just one of nearly 70 of the young people arrested at that party. The group has come to be known as the Cartersville 70.

MARISSA MITCHELL: And you'll recall, they were all arrested back in late December after police found less than an ounce of marijuana at that house party, and tonight, the group met with an attorney to discuss their next steps.

RUSS SPENCER: Well, Fox Five's Denise Dillon is live in Cartersville tonight, and Denise, the parents were there as well.

DENISE DILLON: Yes, some of them were, including the mom of that woman who threw the party, and they talked about how that party, and all the arrests, have dramatically changed their lives, all, for as you said, less than an ounce of marijuana. And they talked about what they're going to do now.

DEJA HEARD: All of that, over less than an ounce of marijuana.

DENISE DILLON: A month ago, Deja Heard and others in this room were sitting in a jail cell. They were at a house party celebrating Heard's 21st birthday.

DEJA HEARD: We all were just trying to have a good night.

DENISE DILLON: Until Cartersville police showed up, saying they were responding to a call of shots fired in the area. According to the police report, they saw marijuana in plain sight. Everyone at the party was arrested. Heard says she was in jail three days.

DEJA HEARD: And, everything that we went through in jail over these past weeks has been hard, it's crucial, people are mean. I lost my job, I was without my son, and I'm still just in the motions of bouncing back when it comes to my personal life.

DENISE DILLON: Eventually, the DA dropped the charges against all but one of them, but Nija Guider says, it doesn't erase what happened.

NIJA GUIDER: When it comes down to it, you can't undo the arrest, you can't undo the domino effect that's been happening. You can't undo it.

DENISE DILLON: Attorney Gerald Griggs says dropping the charges was step one. But it's not enough. He says the civil rights of those arrested, who are now being called the Cartersville 70, were violated.

GERALD GRIGGS: And we're probably going to have to file a legal action, because we know that what happened was improper.

DEJA HEARD: I want to push forward anything that we can. We're not going to stand still, we're not going to be quiet.

DEAN BECKER: The following courtesy of Fox 29 out of Philadelphia.

MIKE JERRICK: Honestly, at least 1,200 people died from overdosing in the city of Philadelphia in 2017, last year. Now, in an effort to, you know, fight the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, we're looking to become the very first city in America to allow safe injection sites. We're going to explain what that means in a second. Something that is fraught with controversy.

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA HEALTH COMMISSIONER THOMAS FARLEY, MD: Facing an epidemic of historic proportions, the people of the city of Philadelphia, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our children, are dying, and they don't need to die.

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER RICHARD ROSS, JR: A lot of lives are being lost, and that is something that in the world of public safety, that we certainly, much like everybody else up here, cannot just throw our hands up, but, to be clear, I never said that I am ....

MIKE JERRICK: Well, and here to debate this right now in the double boxes here, Devin Reaves, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition. On the other side, Dom Giordano. Dom, good to see you.

DOM GIORDANO: Same here, Mike, thanks.

MIKE JERRICK: Our big radio friend. All right, so, Devin, let me start with you because you were on this task force that put this whole thing together now. I guess you've been very open about the addiction problem you had in your life.

DEVIN REAVES: Absolutely.

MIKE JERRICK: Okeh. So, just real quickly here, I want to figure out how this works. Would this be a store? We keep calling it injection site, is it, do you take a needle, a syringe or whatever, and you go there, and you stick it in your arm, injection sites. So, would I bring my own drugs to this place, and who would be there to meet me?

DEVIN REAVES: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I don't think it necessarily has to be a storefront. It could be a storefront, it could be a pop-up kind of tent set up in a park or something like that. And yes, somebody would bring their own substances to this site. There would be some kind of medical staff there, looking to oversee, if there was an overdose, they'd be there to intervene.

But they're also would be case workers, peer recovery coaches, there to say, when you're ready for a change, we're here to help, and to link people to treatment.

MIKE JERRICK: Man, we're all going to have to learn all the details of it before we can make a clear decision, but --


MIKE JERRICK: Dom, it seems like you're ready to go already with your opinion.

DOM GIORDANO: Yeah, Mike, I agree, and, you know, with all due respect to the police commissioner, who I really like, he's throwing his hands up here. There's a reason why Philadelphia's the first in the nation to do this, because this is out of bounds. It is fraught with all kinds of perils. The state attorney general says it's illegal to start with, this is illegal, federal law, probably state law. You can't just go and make up your own laws.

So I support anything in this crisis, Narcan, the proliferation of that, all the other things the city's doing.

MIKE JERRICK: Well, we're --

DOM GIORDANO: Philadelphia's out of control with an attitude on this things, Mike, that it's a sanctuary for every idea that they don't even have the slightest idea, with all due respect, of where this will be and how they'll do it.

MIKE JERRICK: Okeh, but, let's, let's talk about the legalities, real quickly, because we asked our new DA, Larry Krasner about it. Is it illegal? Here he is.

LARRY KRASNER: Other people, who are trying to stop the spread of disease, don't get busted. We will do so not just because it is the right thing to do and the moral thing to do, but we will do it because the law of justification in Pennsylvania, which is what self-defense is, and what the defense of others is, says that sometimes you can commit a minor violation in the interest of preventing a greater harm, and that's exactly what's happening here: harm reduction.

MIKE JERRICK: Dom, what do you say to that?

DOM GIORDANO: You, listen to how convoluted that is, Mike, and again, this guy Larry Krasner is a part of the problem, this new DA, he's one of the most radical guys in the country. He doesn't get to write federal law. He can cite self defense, I wonder how many lawyers it took to come up with that? Let's face it, Philadelphia is saying they're going to do this, and Philadelphia, Mike, is not even involved, they're going to call upon people out there in the communities to set this up. They don't want their fingerprints on it, in fact, the mayor was not there yesterday, he was at a WWF [sic: WWE] event.


DOM GIORDANO: And I think the reason is he doesn't want to be associated with this, while also endorsing it.

MIKE JERRICK: Well, I got word that he just, he didn't know about it and he's kind of upset that he wasn't involved and it's such a big decision.


MIKE JERRICK: Well, real quickly, here, we're talking about legal and taxes and all that stuff. Is it the right thing to do, Devin? Why?

DEVIN REAVES: Absolutely it's the right thing to do. If we look back to the height of the AIDS epidemic, 25 years ago, people in Philadelphia had the crazy idea of providing clean syringes and connecting people to services, and it was our current district attorney, Larry Krasner, that went to the legal system and said, here's the reason why we need to do this, and we've had syringe service programs in Philadelphia for over 25 years because of his leadership.

And now, in 2018, it's time for a new leadership. We've had a 30 percent increase in overdose deaths between 2017 and 2018, how can we say anything is off the table? Now is the time to embrace what countries all over the world have done. This is not fringe.

MIKE JERRICK: That's true. It's true.

DEVIN REAVES: This is what progressive nations are doing to address a problem that's killing far too many people.

MIKE JERRICK: But. Uh, you know what's going to be said. Aren't you just encouraging drug use? Devin.

DEVIN REAVES: Not at all. People are already using drugs, and now they're using drugs in abandoned houses and in alleys, and what's happening is they're dying and they're nobody there to help them, and every person that dies is a broken family, it's a daughter without a father. And that is something we need to talk about, the humanity.

MIKE JERRICK: If I'm hooked on heroin and I go down to Allegheny and Kensington under the L or whatever and I shoot up, I'm probably going to get arrested if a cop sees me doing it, but if a cop sees me doing it inside of one of these injection sites, I won't be arrested?

DEVIN REAVES: No. That's the idea. And here's the thing. We cannot incarcerate our way out of the opioid problem. We shouldn't be arresting people. We should be connecting them with services, and that would -- is what this is all about.


DOM GIORDANO: Mike, this is clearly normalizing it. I've been to Prevention Point, it's outrageous if you actually go there and see what's going on, and to Devin's point, that didn't work, now they're doing this? What will they do in the future? Why have people overdosed, and I would ask Devin, why don't we provide the heroin then, so we'll know what the level is of tolerance and we won't have overdoses and we won't need medical people there. How far does it go?

MIKE JERRICK: Yeah, why is there a responsibility to take care of somebody else's problem, that's, there's all sorts of different arguments that we'll argue for the next year, probably, here in Philly. Thank you both very much.

DEVIN REAVES: Thanks, Mike.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Swelling of the tongue, increased bone marrow, fever, chills, infection, nervous system degeneration, confusion, loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, seizures, speech disturbance, cancer, and death. Time's up! The answer: Levamisole, a dog dewormer that has become America's number one cutting agent for cocaine, because it's just so sparkly.

The following was recorded at Columbia University Justice Lab. The moderator is Gabriel Sayegh.

GABRIELL SAYEGH: We're going to hear from each of our speakers today. We'll hear from Van Jones from #Cut50, from Vinny Schiraldi at the Justice Lab, from Topeka Sam with Hope House, Donna Hilton, From Life to Life, and Jessica Jackson from #Cut50. We're going to try to keep the presentation portion of this relatively short. Vinny will go over the research and the reports today, which you can find out at the sign in table if you haven't picked up a copy. He'll do that through this powerpoint. And then we're going to open this to Q and A from the audience.

So with that, let me bring up our first speaker, Van Jones, from #Cut50. Van will speak and again, please hold your questions until the end of the speakers. This portion, the presentations will run roughly 21 minutes and then we'll move to Q and A.

VAN JONES: I want to say a couple of things about the situation in which we find ourselves. I have been working on criminal justice issues since I got out of law school in 1993, so I was woke before woke was woke. We didn't even have the term mass incarceration, we called it the prison-industrial complex, which lets you know it was only about six of us working on it, because who would come up with a term like that?

But, this is not something that's now, for me, it's something that I have been shocked about my whole life. That, when you talk about liberty and justice for all, conservatives care about liberty, individual rights, limited government, that principle is -- being completely violated. Conservative, Republican principles of liberty are being completely violated by this mass incarceration crisis that we're in.

Justice, liberals talk about justice. We need to make sure that the little folks aren't run over by the big folks, and the weak folks aren't mistreated by the strong folk. That principle is being violated every day by the way the court system crushes people because they don't have enough money for a good lawyer, or because they come from the wrong neighborhood or their skin color is different.

So, it's a bipartisan crisis. It took both political parties abandoning their core principles to get us into this mess, and it will take both political parties returning to their core principles to get us out. And that is the reason that I'm proud to work with Jessica Jackson at #Cut50. I've known -- Vinny was my first mentor, when I got out of law school and moved to the bay area back in the early '90s, and we're still fighting, we'll continue to fight.

But I want to just talk about something that happened to me this weekend. I thought this weekend, after my show, the Van Jones Show, debuted, 7 o'clock on CNN. Saturday. I thought the next morning I would be able to get up, you know, go to the gym, then go violate the gym by getting some danishes, you know, and have a Sunday.

But I woke up and the president of the United States was tweeting about the interview I did with Jay Z. And I want to say something about that. It's not just that the president missed the point of Jay Z's remarks, and went all off script talking about, you know, jobs he hasn't really created.

The problem with the president's tweet about the Jay Z interview is that the core of the Jay Z interview was about criminal justice. The core of the Jay Z interview was about Kalief Browder, who Jay Z had created a documentary for. The core of the Jay Z interview, the heart and soul of it, was him talking about a friend of his who died in jail, and talking about why he's fighting so hard, why he's standing up against the abuse of people who are being trapped in the bail system and trapped in the probation system.

We talked about Meek Mill. Jay Z talked about Meek Mill and the fact that this young, promising rapper's life has been taken off course, being sent to prison for two years for popping a wheelie. Jay Z, one of the biggest stars in the world, who could be talking about anything and doing anything, is putting his time and his energy into trying to fix this criminal justice system.

And he's not by himself. #Cut50 has worked with 30 plus A-list celebrities, from Steph Curry all the way down, who are passionate about this, and who care about this. The world is watching this issue. The eyes of the world are on this issue, and frankly the eyes of the world are on this state.

We have a Democratic governor in this state who has a tremendous opportunity to show real leadership. There are things that just don't make any sense in New York state, and it's, sometimes it's the little things. We talk about the big things, but there are little things, like this Rule Seven, which says that two people, both of whom have been incarcerated, can't talk to each other.

Well, that's just stupid. That, I mean, there are some things, that's not left or right, that's just dumb. People have been incarcerated talk to each other all the time, they have to in different programs, in the courts. Why can't they talk to each other to help each other? Who could help you better than your peer who's a step ahead of you in life?

So you're literally cutting people off from help, cutting people off from each other, cutting people off from the solidarity that you need. So, when you have dumb rules like that in place, and a Democratic governor who can make a difference, I call on Cuomo to do everything that he can, to read these reports.

You know, when Vinny Schiraldi writes a report, you can believe every word and semicolon and comma in that report, because Vinny knows if he gets one thing wrong, they're going to take him to task.

So, these reports, you can rely on, and I call on the governor to rely on it, and I leave you with this: Even though the president tweeted all off script, tomorrow night, at the state of the union, I believe you're going to hear the president say something positive about this issue.

I know for a fact that Jared Kushner, whose father went to prison, is passionate about this issue. The news media didn't cover it as much as we should have, but conservatives who care about this issue have been meeting with this president, thanks to Jared Kushner. So, I hope that even though the president's tweet missed the mark and took us away from criminal justice, that his remarks tomorrow night will get us back on track.

If there's one issue that can bring us all back together, it's getting both political parties to deal with both of our core principles and end this American tragedy of mass incarceration, together. Thank you very much.

GABRIEL SAYEGH: Thank you, Van. Van mentioned, brought into the room the name of Kalief Browder, and I just wanted to mention that Kalief's brother Akeem Browder, who's the president of the Kalief Browder Foundation, is here today, and just thank him for being here with us, and thank you, Van, for raising that story.

I'd like to ask Vinny Schiraldi, he's the senior research scientist at the Columbia University Justice Lab to come up and walk us through these reports.

VINCENT SCHIRALDI: Thanks, Van, for that great opening, and just sort of remind everybody, one of the particular things he said is, which is the world is watching us on this, and I think that, unless we get our act together on it, posterity's going to treat us very poorly. We can't say we didn't know. That's for sure.

And also, fellow participants today, Topeka, Gabriel for MCing, and Donna and Jessica. I want to thank my report co-author, Jennifer Arzu, are you out there, Jennifer? Well, she's out there, doing her work, but Jennifer co-authored the New York report, and then 20 probation and parole commissioners signed on to the national report, some of the leading folks in the field. So I want to thank all of those folks.

I'm going to start with a person that Van mentioned, Meek Mill. I'm going to hit you with a lot of graphs and charts shortly, and sometimes numbers can be numbing, but prisons and jails and probation and parole are not full of numbers, they're full of real people.

I ran the probation department for New York City, I ran the juvenile justice system for Washington, DC, which meant I was in charge of juvenile parole. There were no numbers on my case load, there were people. There were young people, there were old people, they feel real pain, they really suffer, they live real lives, they have hopes and aspirations. We need to remember that as we go through this.

Meek Mill is not a number. Meek Mill is not a metaphor, and unfortunately, Meek Mill is not alone.

So now to the numbers. You can see the really enormous number of people on probation. This is, this high chart here is the number of people and the growth of the number of people on probation since 1980. It's been about a four-fold growth on probation. When you add probation and parole together, parole is this gray line down here, that comes up to around five million, 4.7 million to be exact.

Just to put 4.7 million people into context, that's one out of every 53 adults in America. It's more people than live in half of the states in the United States, half the United States don't have 4.7 million people in them.

It's not distributed equally across the population, of course, like so much else in the criminal justice system, it falls disproportionately on people of color. So one out of 12 African American men is under probation or parole. One out of five African American, who are young and who have finished high school, is on probation and parole.

The call to reduce the number of people on probation and parole, the call to reduce technical violations, to eliminate fines and fees for people on probation and parole, that our report is coming out with today, we're not alone in that. This is mainstream thought in the community corrections field, which is really unusual.

The community corrections field is saying, we should have half as many people in our system. It's not just some crazy guy like Van Jones, right, it's not just Jay Z, it's not just basketball players and celebrities who know somebody who just got locked up. The field is saying there's too many people on probation and parole.

As these numbers occurred, as this growth occurred, nine out of every ten dollars went to prisons, even though twice as many people are on probation and parole. So now what you have is you have folks who are supposed to supervise people and help them, probation and parole officers, who worked for me, who are, they have hundreds of people on their case loads, some of whom are homeless, some of whom have mental health problems, some of them have substance abuse problems, need jobs, and they're overwhelmed, because there's no resources to help those people with.

So, they may not have enough time to help an individual, but what they have enough time to do is write a violation report and send the person back to prison. And in a risk averse environment, a politically risk averse environment, far too many of them do that. So what happens now is that four out of every ten people locked up in jail and prison in America were on probation and parole at the time they got locked up.

So, as I said, back to here, this is mainstream thought now. The Harvard executive session on community corrections, that was chaired by my colleague Bruce Western over there -- Bruce, raise your hand, there's Bruce -- had brought together 29 experts, scholars, probation and parole commissioners, law enforcement, legal experts, formerly incarcerated people, and they said, shrink probation, make it better, get rid of the fines, stop violating so many people.

In August, a statement on the future of community corrections was issued, it was signed onto by 35 probation and parole commissioners from around the country, and every major probation and parole association, the American Probation and Parole Association, National Association of Parole Executives, on and on and on, signed on and it said, probation and parole used to be the solution, it used to be, as Van said, alternatives to incarceration. Now they are major feeders to incarceration, violating people for ticky-tack fouls, and contribution to mass incarceration.

It should be shrunk. We should stop fining people. We should stop revoking them. And then Too Big To Succeed, the report we're releasing today, is signed onto by 20 probation and parole commissioners around the country. It says cut the population of people on probation and parole in half.

So that was the national study. We also did a New York study, and we'll soon be rolling out studies in other states, Pennsylvania will probably be next, because of the Meek Mill case. And the great thing about New York is that, as Van pointed out, state and city leaders agree that Riker's Island should be closed, and state and city leaders agree that the parole violation population is part of that equation.

So for example, in his 2018 state of the state address, Governor Cuomo said, quote, "33 percent of individuals released in 2012 were returned to prison within three years due to technical parole violations. New York jails and prisons should not be filled with people who may have violated the conditions of their parole but present no danger to our communities." That was Governor Cuomo.

Likewise, Governor -- Mayor DeBlasio said, quote, "Let's do the fair thing and allow community supervision when appropriate, while detaining only the high risk people who have violated parole in one of three state facilities right here in the five boroughs. That fix alone would allow us to close another jail on Riker's Island right now."

Despite the fact that there's agreement at the state and city level, the only population increasing in Riker's Island are people in on parole violations. So you can see this is statewide. This was a 10 percent increase in people in jail in New York state on parole violations. There's almost 20 percent in New York City, and about five percent in the rest of the state.

And then this graph is the most telling graph in the paper. Every population in New York City's jails, including Riker's Island, is declining by double digits. You can see it's an overall 21 percent decline, sentenced, pre-trial people in on violent felonies, on nonviolent felonies, and on misdemeanors, all down by double digits. The only population up, and up by 15 percent, are technical parole violators.

If you look at the whole population of people in Riker's Island, that makes up almost one in six of the folks in Riker's Island, and they're not in on terribly serious offenses. Eighty-one percent of them, four out of five, are either in on a technical violation, a misdemeanor arrest, or nonviolent arrest. Only 19 percent are in on violent felony arrests.

So, what are we going to do about this? We put out a variety of recommendations in our New York state report, Less Is More.

Shorten parole terms and incentivise good behavior. Parole and probation were never meant to be eleven years, like they were for Meek Mill. That's crazy to be supervised by, for that amount of time. Anybody who's supervised for that amount of time, if you look hard enough at any of you, at any of us, you'd find stuff over an 11 year period of time, and supervision, the impact of supervision wanes after about a year or two, and after that, it's just a waste of money and a waste of time, and it serves as an unnecessary tripwire back to incarceration.

Require a hearing before you jail somebody on a technical violation. You shouldn't be able to just put the handcuffs on somebody and take them straight to jail, it's too easy, and when you make things easy for risk averse, over burdened bureaucracies, they do bad stuff with that. Not because they're bad people, but because they're just managing too many people with too many problems, and they know that the, they'll never get in trouble for putting somebody in jail, but if they take a chance on somebody and it doesn't work out, that's when they get called on the carpet.

Create a high legal threshold for jailing people on parole. There are a lot of calls, rightly, for bail reform. Stop locking people up who haven't been convicted of a new crime, who are too poor to get out. We need to extend that to people on parole.

And in problem solving terms, it shouldn't just be about guilt or innocence. It shouldn't just be about did you come up with a dirty urinalysis, it should be, what are we going to do about this? You have a drug problem, you don't have a place to live. It's not just you did it or you didn't do it. It's what can we as a society do to help you make it through this transitional period.

Require graduated responses and cap violation terms, these are both sort of the same theme. There's tons of evidence that it's the certainty of holding people accountable that effects their behavior the best, not the severity. So a one week return to jail gives you as much of a jolt to somebody and a wake up call as a two year one, except a two year one uproots people from all of the things they have supporting them, so if you have graduated responses including graduated incentives, that incentivise good behavior, and more supervision, or more programming, those kinds of things will help nudge people in the right direction way better than a two to four year sentence back in jail.

And then finally, this is going to save a lot of money. And the folks on probation and parole very often need expensive help, like housing. Housing's a huge issue for people on probation and parole. We should be able to help with supportive housing for folks that are out there not making it and living in cardboard boxes, not expensive and debilitating reincarceration.

Here's how to read the reports. Here's a bunch of hashtags I don't fully understand. I'm done.

GABRIEL SAYEGH: Thank you, Vinny. So for folks who, if there's any empty seats where folks are sitting, will you please raise your hand. There may not be. So, if people could scoot in, because we do have some folks that want to enter the room, since we've got a packed house today.

With that, we're going to hear a couple of brief remarks from three other speakers here, and then we're going to move into the Q and A. I'd like to invite up Topeka Sam. She's the founder and director of Hope House, which is a reentry home that's launched in the Bronx, but she is also an Open Society Foundation Fellow for a project called the Probation and Parole Accountability Project, which is doing a national survey, looking at a lot of these issues. Ms. Sam?

TOPEKA SAM: Well, first I want to thank Katal, #Cut50, Vinny, the Columbia Justice Lab, for having us here, Donna, my co-panelists, to understand the importance of directly impacted people speaking from our lived experience, and also shaping policy recommendations.

I'm here supporting this release today, and the work that is beginning to happen and be done by the authors, who expose the way the systems of probation and parole cause harm and drive people back into prison, other than helping them, helping us, transition back into society, and to be full, productive citizens.

I'm presently on federal supervision, or probation, and I've applied for early termination of sentence, which I'm presently waiting for a judicial response on. But in my experience on probation, right now, it's been so challenging, and as Vinny pointed out, the 4.7 million people who are currently on probation, or parole, have experienced hardships, surveillance, and negative intrusions into not only their lives but their family's lives, and I have lived with constant threat of being returned to prison for arbitrary and petty reasons.

I received little help with reentry, no resources, from probation when I got home, and the more I talked with others in the same situation, the more I found that my experiences were systemic. And so I created a project called -- with the help of my Soros Justice Fellowship, called the Probation and Parole Accountability Project.

And as also Vinny pointed out, double the amount of people on probation or parole than there are in our US prison systems, currently. And there are no level -- yet it is very little levels of accountability measures being put on these probation and parole officers.

And so, it's challenging how huge the law and law enforcement bureaucracies administer with little accountability control and impede the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated and convicted individuals.

And so there's a probation in every state, and there's also federal supervision in every state that there's probation. And yet, it's supposed to be a lesser surveillance, and it was actually put in lieu of incarceration, but in effect, it extends incarceration for individuals on it, and it furthers the policing in our communities.

And as this report clearly states, probation is another arm of the criminal justice system, and is one of the key drivers of mass incarceration. And so in doing my project, this dovetails with the conclusions of the report, and I want to empower women and men on probation and parole to know their rights so that they can defend themselves from arbitrary abuse of probation officers.

I want to end the arbitrary and retaliatory violations against people on probation and parole. I want to create mechanisms and procedures where parole officers and probation officers are held accountable and working in the interest of their clients.

And very specifically I want to end the very cruel, harmful, and retaliatory parole and probation provision that prohibits formerly incarcerated and convicted individuals, as Van pointed out, from communicating, helping each other, fraternizing with each other, living with each other. It's antiquated, it's outdated, and it just needs to go.

And so to do these things, it will take a cultural and political scene that includes challenging the roots of incarceration, including racism, that is the underpinning of the whole system, and given the increasing unconstitutional, repressive conditions throughout the criminal justice system under this Session's Justice Department, this report could not be more on time. Thank you.

GABRIEL SAYEGH: Thank you, Ms. Sam. I'd now like to ask Donna Hilton to come up. She's the founder of Life To Life. She is also an author who has a book that's about to come out. And Donna's been, she's widely known as a speaker and organizer and advocate for reform issues, particularly for women coming home and women who are still in prison. Ms. Hilton?

DONNA HILTON: Thank you. Good morning. Good morning. I'm so honored to be here with you. So, I want to make you a little uncomfortable. That's what I do. Right? Because we've become so comfortable in things, in things we believe to be normal, and they should not be normal..

So, good morning again. My name is Donna Hilton. I'm formerly known as Inmate 86G0206. I spent 27 years in New York state's maximum security prison for women, and today, I want to ask you, I want to ask you to question why the incarcerated parolee population in New York has increased by 25 percent from 2015 to 2016. Why in November of 2017 there are 1,460 people incarcerated in New York City for parole violations, which means 16 percent of that city, of Riker's Island, contained parole violators.

And I want to ask you to consider the 3,000 women in New York state prisons, and the over 219,000 women across the country who remain incarcerated and have learned to live with this abuse because no one is bringing attention to this population.

And what abuse must feel like for women whose voices have been stripped by years of drug, of abuse, drug addiction, lack of mental health care, lack of adequate housing, lack of employment, and lack of childcare. Complete lack.

I ask you to question why long periods of incarceration and re-incarceration for inadequate and non-existing resources and alternatives continue to be the responses. And why are black women, who represent 30 percent of all incarcerated women, but we are only 13 percent of the entire United States population.

And I ask you to think about one of the most psychologically, emotionally, sexually, and physically abusive places that no one is talking about: a women's prison.

Think about the 90 percent of women and girls who enter the criminal justice system who have been victims and are victims of abuse and violence. Have we really considered these statistics, these facts?

The responses should not be re-incarceration, or violations that continue to perpetuate abuse and violence. The systemic alternative of incarceration is inhumane. So I ask you instead to focus on humane alternatives.

Alternatives such as mine, From Life To Life, an initiative I created which encapsulates my philosophy, my experience, my work as an activist, a speaker, a reentry specialist, and an author, to reverse the alarming and ever-increasing rate at which women and girls of color are being incarcerated and their communities damaged. And my commitment extends to the development of pathways for safe and successful reentry for women and girls.

And I also ask you to consider community alternatives, like Exodus Transitional Community, a nonprofit in East Harlem that has a committed staff that believes in the value of each person, walking out of prison into its doors, and a firm belief in human resilience, because we are resilient, and delivers innovative programming tailored to adults and youth affected by our system.

I ask you to become uncomfortable.

GABRIEL SAYEGH: Thank you, Ms. Hilton. Our final speaker is Jessica Jackson. She's the national director from #Cut50, and after her remarks we'll open this up to Q and A.

JESSICA JACKSON: So, as Gabe said, I'm the National Director of #Cut50, but I actually come to this issue from a bunch of different angles. First, my personal experience. When I was 22, my own husband was locked up, and I went through the next three and a half years learning all about the criminal justice system, from an angle I'd never wish on anybody.

Second, my professional experience. I'm a criminal defense lawyer. And third, and probably most importantly for this issue, is my experience as an elected public official in Mill Valley. You see, I was former mayor, and now city council member in Mill Valley, so I understand the public safety aspect of this issue.

When I first started learning about probation and parole, I came into this with the understanding most people have. It's a system created to keep us safer, right? Wrong. There's nothing within the reentry process, nothing within our mass incarceration system, that actually makes us safer, because there's nothing that actually addresses the underlying reason why people are getting in trouble in the first place. Why they're making the decisions they are.

There's nothing that addresses addiction. There's nothing that addresses mental health issues. There's nothing that addresses poverty, and the lack of opportunities, and lack of educational opportunities, for most people. So as an elected official, I would second the call that's been made on the governor and many elected officials across the country, all of them, to look at the system that we have set up, to recognize that we're not making our communities safer. Instead, we're actually breaking them.

How many of you guys have ever been late to a meeting? I mean, I'm late every day, everywhere. I'm known for it. How many of you have been late on a bill? Again, talk to student loan folks, late every month. These are not offenses that should send somebody back to prison, yet for some reason, 61,000 people in this country are sitting behind bars right now, away from their families, away from their jobs, away from any sort of situation where they could possibly start succeeding in building their life back, because of minor violations like that.

Minor violations like not paying a bill on time, showing up to a meeting late. In Meek's case, popping a wheelie. So, I would implore every elected official in this country to take a good, strong look at what you're doing in your community to help people reenter, and whether or not your probation and parole systems are just triggering a mass supervision, leading to mass incarceration.

#Cut50's excited to launch the Still Not Free Campaign. It's being led by Shaka Senghor on our staff and Michael Mendoza, both of whom know exactly what it's like to be on parole from their own personal experiences. I'm proud to say that when Michael came to me last year, and told me that he had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving because he couldn't go down to see his parents, because the travel radius imposed by his parole, I welcomed the opportunity for him to write a bill and for #Cut50 to introduce it last week, AB1940, in California.

We've talked a little bit about bipartisan issues, and how this is a bipartisan issue. When Michael first submitted that bill to Leg Council, I got a call saying three Republicans wanted to get on it, in California. I had to go back and read that bill, I thought we had done something wrong here. But it turns out, both sides can agree that it's not smart to keep somebody from being able to go home and visit their parents for Thanksgiving, for cutting them off from their only support system, their nuclear family.

It's not smart to keep them on lifetime parole, like Michael is. Instead, we need to incentivise people, give them opportunities to continue their rehabilitation outside, give them the support they need, and also let them get off of parole and probation so they can go on and become regular people like you and I, and have an opportunity to succeed.

So as part of our Still Not Free Campaign, we've actually partnered with the Parole and Probation Accountability Project, and are launching a national survey. Shawnda Chapman Brown, who's the research and policy analyst, can actually speak to it better than me, so I'll yield my last minute to you, but thank you guys very much.

SHAWNDA CHAPMAN BROWN: Good morning. I'm so excited to be here, and I'm especially excited about this project. From the standpoint of a researcher, I understand the importance of storytelling, and the ability of stories to create lasting and sustainable change, and from the perspective of someone who's been directly impacted, someone who's experienced probation, I understand the importance of having directly impacted people lead that work.

The Probation and Parole Accountability Project survey does exactly that. It's a project that is conceived, it's created, and it's implemented by directly impacted people. The main purpose is to understand the experiences and the attitudes of people on probation and parole, with a special emphasis of understanding the facilitators and barriers of success, and not just understanding that, but moving the idea of success beyond just recidivism.

We also want to get a sense of, Vinny talked about the technical violations, well some of the things that people are being violated for, their experiences with their probation officers, things like that. So, we're super excited about the project, and I can't wait to get that data to you guys.

PHIL SMITH: Hello, my name's Phil Smith. I am the editor of the Drug War Chronicle, a publication of a small nonprofit in Washington DC called I've been doing that for 17 years. I'm also the editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter. AlterNet is a sort of left-leaning web-based news portal, where we do original reporting as well as aggregating other news and opinion pieces. And, I cover the drug policy beat domestically and internationally.

DEAN BECKER: Well, let's talk about a situation that's developing, or growing, I guess is a good way to put it, in California, where you and every good citizen of the state is now allowed to grow marijuana and let's just talk about how that's going to impact the economy, the scale, the business of marijuana. What's your thought?

PHIL SMITH: Well, California is the biggest legal marijuana market in the world. You know, we have nearly 40 million people in California, so it's a multi-billion dollar a year industry already. There are probably a hundred thousand people employed in the industry in California right now, that's only going to increase.

I can tell you that on opening day, January First, in my small Sonoma County town, I went to the local pot shop to buy some weed at about 10 in the morning, and had to turn around because the line was so long going out the door that I didn't feel like sitting there for 45 minutes just to get in the door.

Though I did successfully go back and score later in the day, and bought my first gram of legal weed for twelve bucks, taxes included.


PHIL SMITH: And enjoyed it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's a good price. I hear up to thirty dollars a gram, and taxes, and stuff, I guess, in the big cities. It depends on your locale, does that impact the price, I suppose?

PHIL SMITH: Well, there's, it's supply, and right now we have sort of a supply bottleneck because we've just transitioned to a legal supply system, and, you know, a lot of people don't have their permits yet.

So, there -- we may see some shortages, spot shortages, develop over the next few months, before things get fully smoothed out.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Yeah, I did an earlier interview with Jeff Jones, out there in Oakland. He was projecting that by this time next year it's going to be $200 a pound for outdoor grown. It's pretty easy to grow outdoors, I do know that, I don't know about the impact on price. Your thought there, please.

PHIL SMITH: Well, it is easy to grow outdoors. I've been doing it here in California for years. It generally will keep me out of the market. I mean, I went and bought a gram on opening day just because it was opening day, and I could buy a legal gram of weed, but, you know, I probably won't be back to the pot shop.


PHIL SMITH: Legalization is likely to really have an impact on people who are growing outdoors, and are trying to get in the legal market. I think a lot of them are going to not succeed in getting into the legal market, and we're going to be left with a huge number of people who are growing pot for the gray or the black market.

You know, a lot of -- as has been the case historically, I suspect that a whole lot of California grown marijuana is going to make its way to other states, despite legalization.

DEAN BECKER: No, I anticipate that as well, supply and demand.

PHIL SMITH: Well, as long as there are states that prohibit legal marijuana cultivation and sales, that's like a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, man, the pot is going to come from outside if you don't produce it yourself.

Dean, I want to talk about pot stocks for a minute.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, please, share.

PHIL SMITH: Marijuana stocks are very interesting and very appealing, you know, it looks like you can maybe make a whole lot of money on them. But I've got to say, they're highly speculative, and I want to tell you about my own little adventure. It's maybe a cautionary tale for investing in marijuana stocks.

You know, I've been watching my IRA get fat for the past few years. So I decided to be a little bit adventurous and I took $3,000 out of my IRA on January First, and invested it, a thousand dollars each in three different Canadian pot stocks that were all, you know, well capitalized, well positioned, well placed.

And now, a month later, my three thousand dollars has turned into $2,300. Now, you know, maybe I should wait a whole year and see what happens, but, you know, you can take your chances with these stocks. Maybe I'll get rich, maybe I'll lose my whole $3,000. So for you people who are thinking about getting rich on marijuana stocks, or cryptocurrencies, or any other kind of wildly speculative thing, just be forewarned. You could make money, you could lose money.

DEAN BECKER: A year and a half ago, California was voting, or anticipating going legal, and the penny stocks were really agitated, moving up and down every day. I dabbled in that a couple of times, made a couple of thousand dollars, and then promptly lost it right back, because there's just no -- there's nothing quite set in stone yet, it's very speculative.

PHIL SMITH: Right. Yeah, if you're investing in pot stocks, you better consider it fun money that you can afford to lose.

DEAN BECKER: Well, indeed, you're right. All right, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Phil Smith of Stop The Drug War and AlterNet. Phil, closing thoughts, a website you might want to share?

PHIL SMITH: Yeah. You can check out my work at, and you can check out the Drug War Chronicle at

DEAN BECKER: All right. As we're wrapping up today's show, I wanted to share with you my interview with Dennis Peron. I'm told that he spent his last years on a farm up in Lake County, growing and giving away medical marijuana. He was just a hell of a guy.

Dennis, you were so instrumental in making it possible for people with severe medical problems to have access to safe, secure supplies of marijuana. Tell us, if you will, briefly, how that came about?

DENNIS PERON: Well, you might say that the AIDS epidemic meant medical marijuana. The AIDS epidemic, we didn't know where it came from, we had no cure. Marijuana didn't cure anything, but it helped alleviate the symptoms of it.

You know, we kid around about the munchies, but marijuana gives you the munchies. People were dying of starvation, they had no appetite. And you know, it eases the nausea associated with chemotherapy. Well, everyone -- the medical properties are well known. I just brought out to the surface what was already knowledgeable, that marijuana's a medicine.

And, you know, I put myself on the line, I opened the club, and from there, Prop 215 came about, and the world is now a better place.

DEAN BECKER: In essence, you're willing to lay yourself into the machinery, you're willing to do whatever's necessary to bring this about.

DENNIS PERON: Well, that's true. I said, you know, you can arrest me, they can put me in jail, but they can never stop an idea.


DENNIS PERON: And, I put myself out in front of it, and I found out the tiger was really paper. It's a paper tiger. It had no moral authority, and we have the moral authority, and we beat their ass.

DEAN BECKER: Beat their ass he did. Dennis Peron, dead at the age of 72, and again I remind y'all that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge an abyss.

02/02/18 Dennis Peron Thu, 02/01/2018 - 20:01
  • TRANSCRIPT (02/10/2018 - 14:57)

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar