11/20/11 Eric Sterling

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Eric Sterling, Pres of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation + Terry Nelson of LEAP and Mary Jane Borden of Drug War Facts

Share on Facebook Share on stumbleupon digg it Share on reddit Share on del.icio.us

Transcript

Transcript

Cultural Baggage / November 20, 2011

-----------------------

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. This is Dean Becker. It’s good to be back in studio talking to you here on the airwaves. Here in just a moment we’re going to bring in our guest. He’s President of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. They’re in Silver Springs just outside Washington, D.C.

He was at the reform conference I’ve been reporting on during the past couple weeks. He was on a panel. And, with that, I want to welcome Mr. Eric Sterling. How are you doing?

ERIC STERLING: Hey, how are you, Dean?

DEAN BECKER: Good.

ERIC STERLING: Good to talk to you this evening.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Eric, we didn’t get a chance to talk much at that reform conference but let’s start…first off just getting your observations. What did you think of that gathering?

ERIC STERLING: I was very impressed. It was the largest of these gatherings that I’ve been to. I’ve been, I believe, to all of them since 1987. The 1987 conference involved probably less 100 people. I think in Los Angeles we had over 1200 people.

This was the first of the conferences where there was actually a protest outside. We had a very large rally in the pavilion in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles in which hundreds of people from Los Angeles rallied against the War on Drugs. Sort of celebrating “No More Drug War.”

It’s interesting that this was almost exactly the 25th anniversary of the launching of the modern drug war in 1986 when President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 on October 27. We were celebrating that President Obama’s Drug Czar had said “No More Drug War” and it’s interesting to think that in these 25 years how dramatically the nation and the world have changed in thinking about drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: This brings to mind…when I got here..it’s been a while since I’ve been in the studio and I had a couple of letters arrive from some prisoners in the Estelle unit. I’m going to leave their names out of this but I’m going to talk about them a little bit.

One of them, 68-years-old, got caught with some heroin. He’s now behind bars, locked up. He’s on dialysis, got heart problems, Hep-C and cancer. He is, needless to say, a significant burden on the state of Texas. Wouldn’t you agree?

ERIC STERLING: Certainly it’s expensive to treat…to house prisoners who have medical conditions and the cost of imprisonment have grown dramatically as both the populations have grown, as the length of sentences have grown many times longer and every state and the federal government that are struggling to figure out how best to use taxpayers’ resources, our taxes, have to be aware that keeping people locked up is a very, very expensive proposition.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir and then, if we can, talk about the other gentleman. He was caught 17 years ago with 2 rocks of crack. Now this was his third offence. He got life. And, again, that’s hardly a good investment of our tax dollars. Your response.

ERIC STERLING: It’s important to sort of recognize that congress and legislatures in 1985, 86, 87, 88 reacted with a degree of hysteria about the crack cocaine epidemic. There’s no question that crack cocaine use and trafficking were serious problems in many communities and people who have compulsive cocaine habits are buying cocaine on the order of perhaps 10 times a day.

Also that requires a crime that gets committed to get the money before you can buy the crack - whether it’s prostitution, breaking into a car, shoplifting. This crime disorder was a very serious problem but this was not a problem that could be solved by locking people up for the kinds of sentences that used to be reserved for the most heinous of all criminals. Yet those sentences were imposed and there are tens of thousands of people who are serving sentences that everyone in criminal justice recognizes is excessively long.

What’s so depressing to people like me is that President Obama has completely failed to use his constitutional power of pardon and reprieve to begin to let out of federal prison after 10 or 15 years people who are still serving life sentences. This power was created by the framers of the constitution - it’s in the same sentence of the constitution that says the President is the Command in Chief – a power that all the presidents used. And this power of pardon and reprieve was used by all the presidents up until the last few. President Obama has used it the least of any president in our history.

Yet at the same time the President’s asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to build new federal prisons when by simply letting out men and women who have served 20 years already for what we recognize as a low-level drug offence could free up the prison space that they feel is necessary. A few rocks of cocaine is in the global drug trade a tiny amount.

What happened, in part, is that many people failed to sort of understand the difference between being a low-level drug offender and a major drug offender. What got lost…we had congressman like Bill McCullum from Florida who would say, “So you want to reduce the sentence so you really want to legalize these?!” We’re saying that these are not serious crimes. Before these mandatory minimums you still could get sentenced up to 20 years for trafficking in cocaine. That’s a very long sentence. The mandatory minimums and the sentencing guidelines together then meant that people got mandatory life sentences because of the way those laws work together.

When you think about congress wanting to go after high-level traffickers…An organization, like a Mexican cartel, that brings in, over the course of a month, a ton of cocaine into the country – that’s one million grams. And yet the mandatory sentences get started at 5,000 grams of powder cocaine. That gets you 10 years to life imprisonment. That’s 11 pounds. That fits into an oil riggers lunch pail or a school kid’s backpack. That’s not major trafficking – that 12 pounds.

And so what has happened is when you look at the data from the justice department overwhelmingly they focused on low-level offenders and they’re not focusing on the high-level offenders. At least if you believed that drug enforcement made sense the federal government should be focused on the highest level of trafficker not the lowest level of traffickers that could be prosecuted in state courts around the country.

So there’s been a very serious misuse of these laws. People served incredibly long sentences. We’re not getting any public safety benefit from this enormous expense.

DEAN BECKER: And this is, as you indicated earlier, it’s becoming more obvious that the expenditure involved in maintaining or continuing these long sentences is becoming obvious to more and more politicians but sadly not enough of them, I suppose, or not enough of them with the courage to do much about it.

They did change the structure of the crack versus powder sentences to where you can have little bit more crack without having…

ERIC STERLING: What happened is that in August 2010 congress sent to President Obama the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and President Obama signed it on August 04. What that did is that it raised the quantity of crack cocaine that triggered the mandatory minimums. The old law was 5 grams. 1 gram is like a Sweet and Low packet. It’s a couple of sugar packets. And it raised it from 5 grams to 28 grams which is an ounce.

The other quantity, 50 grams of crack cocaine which is the weight of an ordinary candy bar, that got you 10 years to life – that was raised to 280 grams. That’s 10 ounces – slightly more than one-half of a pound. It’s not that much cocaine. The thing to remember about crack cocaine is that it’s made very close to where it’s sold. It’s made locally. The crack that is sold from a crack house in Houston is made in Houston. It’s not made in Mexico. It’s not made in Colombia.

The powder cocaine is. The powder cocaine comes in in very large quantities. The federal government should not be prosecuting low-level local offenders. There are only 25,000 federal drug cases a year and yet the states do over one million drug cases in a year. So the federal cases should be reserved for the highest level traffickers.

So the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, by raising crack quantities to 28 grams or 280 grams, made only a very tiny little change in the trigger quantities for the mandatory minimums. What we have yet to see is will any major change in the department of justice occur. What we know is in the most recent data overwhelmingly the offenders are still low-level offenders. They’re overwhelmingly people of color. They remain overwhelmingly unjust.

So it was a minor fix after many years of struggling. Nothing to get particularly excited about unfortunately.

DEAN BECKER: No sir. Just 1500 or so prisoners will get out early if I remember right.

ERIC STERLING: That’s correct. The U.S. Sentencing Commission over the objection of the Justice Department ruled that the sentencing guidelines that they changed for people who had sentences between 5 grams and 28 grams or between 50 grams and 280 grams of crack could seek retroactive application of the new sentencing guidelines. This is going to affect a tiny number of prisoners.

There are over 100,000 federal drug prisoners. 1,600, 1.6% is a very small fraction and the average sentence reduction is about 2 years for those who are getting their sentences reduced. It’s a tiny, tiny change.

DEAN BECKER: Alright friends, once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Eric Sterling. He’s president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Their website is http://www.cjpf.org/

Now, Eric, at the reform conference out there in Los Angeles as usual I didn’t get to attend too many of the individual speaker’s groups but you spoke at one. Why don’t you tell us what it was about, what you brought to that conference and, perhaps, what you are taking away.

ERIC STERLING: What I brought to the conference probably is not of great interest to your listeners. The point of the program that I was on was that people who are concerned about drug policy reform need to work with people who are recovering from drug addiction. People who are recovering from drug addiction are people who very often understand what’s been wrong with our current system of drug control.

In many cases they’ve been victimized by that system. They understand that the system didn’t protect them or their family members. The other thing, of course, is that these folks in addition to perhaps being potential allies have a very high degree of credibility with policymakers and the general public. People who have successfully fought their addictions and can say, “I’m abstinent now. I’ve got my life in order. I recognize the problem that drug addiction had with me. I speak as someone with that experience.” They have a great deal of credibility to speak about the problems of drugs if they’re not trying to get drug law changed so they can go back to using the drugs that so badly messed up their lives.

To the extent that the drug policy reform movement focuses intensely on the liberty interest, the liberty to use drugs there is a serious disconnect between the reform community and the recovery community. I wanted to make the point to the people working in drug policy reform that if we want to build alliances with people who are in recovery then our language, our conferences, our activities must make them feel comfortable and safe.

If I were a person in recovery and I felt that my recovery was in danger by going to a reform conference – that I would find triggers or stimuli that might jeopardize my recovery - it would be a dangerous place for me and I wouldn’t come and I wouldn’t participate and so that was essentially the message I was trying to make. The drug policy reform movement needs to think about how it functions, what its language is in order to continue to expand the alliances that are important for its ultimate success. That was the point that I was trying to make.

DEAN BECKER: Your discussion there brought me back to what kind of aggravates me sometimes is that the Drug Czar will hold a conference and he’ll have people who will come forward and talk about the day they got busted was the best day of their life. I see that as confessing their sins - as somehow jumping through hoops in order to go out the exit door. Your response to that.

ERIC STERLING: Remember those people who are saying that the day that they were busted was the best day of their life are people who are at that time free and on the street. These are not the people who are sitting in prison now with 5 or 10 or 20 or lifetime sentences.

There isn’t any question that there are people who found that their getting arrested led to a self-examination that got them into treatment. But it is wrong to think then that using the justice system and penalizing millions of people is a good social policy because some people found it helped them get into recovery. Those people may not be dead from drug overdoses but it may be very hard for them to get a job because of the lifetime collateral consequences that drug arrests create for millions of people.

It’s important to realize that you have to look not at single anecdotes, one person who says, you know, “Oh, it was so great that I got arrested because then I got the treatment I needed.” When there are hundreds of thousands or millions for whom it didn’t help at all.

DEAN BECKER: That is so true. Everybody’s got their problem drug, I suppose. Mine was alcohol. In the beginning I found it uncomfortable to be in a bar or around people who were drinking but…I guess what I’m trying to say here is we can’t blame our problems on the world or expect the world to solve our addictions, our problems. We’ve got to work on them ourselves and we don’t need to get arrested to get ‘er done, so to speak.

Eric, we’ve got less than a minute. I just want to turn it over to you. Let’s talk about the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

ERIC STERLING: Something we’re working on now is we’ve just begun to gather the union contracts of police departments and police unions around the country from the largest cities and the largest counties in the country. We’re very interested in journalists having an opportunity to look at the union contract in their city, in their county and compare it to those in other jurisdictions and for scholars to begin to see whether or not the ways in which police departments can be managed to fight crime are affected by the kinds of contracts that the unions negotiate on behalf of the police officers in their jurisdictions. So that’s called http://policeunioncontracts.com and that’s a website that’s available to the public if they want to see what the benefits are to being a police officer in their community. They might be quite surprised to see what’s in those contracts.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, Eric Sterling, as always, good to talk with you my friend. We’ll be in touch certainly in the new year coming forward.

ERIC STERLING: Thank you very much, Dean, for inviting me to be on Cultural Baggage this evening.

DEAN BECKER: Well I appreciate, sir, thank you. Alright, once again, that was Eric Sterling. He’s president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

-----------------------

(Game show music)
DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, psoriasis, psychosis and dementia, and the number one contributor to domestic violence and deaths on American highways…

{ { { gong } } }

Time’s up.

The answer: Beer. Taxed, regulated and freely available in all non-Muslim countries.

-----------------------

[music]

The drug war exists through fear
And little sister hysteria
Wrapped up tightly in the hearts of man
Big brother propaganda eternal issue
Lets forth the cornucopia of lies
Flowing like a river from the cartels to the cops
The poor people are so afraid to make it stop
Our fear makes Shorty Guzman a very happy man
These drugs are so dangerous
Yeeehaa, andale, arriba!

-----------------------

[music]

DEAN BECKER: Darth Drug Czar…you’re a coward, a liar, demon and thief. Seems you can’t face the truth for just one hour…too busy looking at peeeee…

Dean Becker, DrugTruth.net.
-----------------------

This is Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or LEAP. LEAP primary goal is to reduce the amount of death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition. But as each year goes the prohibition policy of our government fails more and more. Puerto Rico is a territory of the US and I used to work there. It is one of the most beautiful and in places the most tranquil place you will find. However a recent article by Danica Coto of AP relates that Puerto Rico is having its deadliest year on record as authorities struggle to control a rampant drug war on the U.S. Caribbean territory.

Police said Wednesday that three people died overnight in separate incidents, raising the year's homicide toll to 995 on the island of 4 million people.

Local authorities say 70 percent of the killings are drug related, and Pedro Toledo, who was chief of the police department in 1994, said violence has increased partly because drug traffickers are now being paid with weapons instead of money and because many youths in public housing complexes see selling drugs as a quick way to make money.
"We have a generation of young people who are violent, who take a gun and shoot, killing indiscriminately because they are expendable," Toledo said. "This is a generation that is going to be very hard to straighten out."

Police make an arrest in only 43 percent of killings, compared with a U.S. national average of 66 percent, according to the report, which also accused the police department of corruption, unlawful killings and civil rights violations.

An October survey of 1,000 people published this week by the newspaper El Nuevo Dia found that Puerto Ricans are more concerned about crime than any other issue and 83 percent say they now limit the amount of time spent outside their home. Is this where we will have to be here in the US before our government ceases this failed public policy?

Why is this happening? Puerto Rico’s problem is due to its location in the Caribbean and the fact that it is a territory of the US means that once the drugs arrive there they are basically in the US as far as Customs is concerned. This violence this is a direct cause of the U.S. government’s drug prohibition policy and it will not go away until prohibition goes away for the second time. As many of you recall it did not work with alcohol either.

We must stop this insane policy that is causing so much death and destruction of families. It is an evil that cannot be allowed to continue and certainly not at this cost. The wasted billions of dollars pales in comparison to the wasted lives. The very people the policy is meant to help are the ones being destroyed.

A much better approach is to end prohibition and begin a policy of education and treatment. Use the saved moneys to help people put their lives back together and fund research that will find cures for addiction.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, at www.leap.cc signing off. Stay safe.

-----------------------

Hello drug policy aficionados! I’m Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts.

The question for this week asks, what are mandatory minimum sentences?

As described by the Sentencing Project, "Along with the stepped-up pace of arrests in the 1980s, legislatures throughout the country adopted harsher sentencing laws in regard to drug offenses. The federal system, in particular, led the way with the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Among a number of provisions, these laws created a host of severe mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenses and affected the calibration of the federal Sentencing Guidelines, which were being formulated simultaneous to these statutory changes. The result of these developments was to remove discretion from the sentencing judge to consider the range of factors pertaining to the individual and the offense that would normally be an integral aspect of the sentencing process, thereby increasing the number of individuals in federal court exposed to a term of incarceration for a drug offense."

In its recent report to congress the United States Sentencing Commission, “Sentencing data and interviews with prosecutors and defense attorneys indicate that mandatory minimum penalties that are considered excessively severe tend to be applied inconsistently."

The other unintended consequences of mandatory minimum penalties were enumerated by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing,“Significant increases in the costs of corrections due to longer prison terms and an increasing prison population; Removal from consideration of other sentencing options that may prove to be less costly and/or more effective than mandatory incarceration; Impact on all aspects of the criminal justice system, including pleas or verdicts and offender eligibility for rehabilitation programs and early release”

The Commission concluded, “Addressing the growth in the state prison population, particularly involving drug-related offenders,requires systemic change,…”

If you have a question for which you need facts, please e-mail it to me at mjborden at drugwarfacts.org. I’ll try to answer your question in an upcoming show.

So, remember when you need facts about drugs and drug policy, you can get the facts at Drug War Facts.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: Alright, that was Mary Jane Borden with Drug War Facts. Be sure to check out this week’s Century of Lies. The guest is Ira Glasser closing out the reform conference. He’s former head of the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance board member.

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition - you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.