There's No Reason To Repeat The Mistakes Of The War On Drugs
N.J. Assemblyman Troy Singleton describes it as insanity: a proposed revival of the nation's war on drugs that not only threatens to put (and keep) millions behind bars, but also lands most heavily on the backs of African-Americans and Latinos.
The Burlington County Democrat charges that the blueprint recently announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions - ramped-up sentences for convicted drug users, longer prison terms - presages a return to a fatally flawed policy.
"Tens of thousands of individuals were left with a criminal past, a permanent scarring on their background for a misstep that leaves them with a record that is virtually permanent," Singleton notes in a recent statement.
The policy "affects job opportunities and even school possibilities, and unlike the pre-digital past, a conviction today follows you forever."
Now Singleton has introduced a joint resolution designed to keep the Garden State from joining in the madness.
AJR156 calls for the creation of an 11-member commission which would examine the possible impact of state drug laws on racial and ethnic groups, and report to the governor and the legislature within two years with ways to respond.
Among the members of the panel would be the state attorney general, the public defender, the president of the County Prosecutors Association, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections and several public appointees of the Legislature.
Singleton says his goal is to apply the best minds to address the issue, and not simply to accept a tough-on-crime stance that in the past has done little to turn the problem around.
The concern that the policies of the past fall most catastrophically on minorities is based on credible evidence.
"People of color experience discrimination at every stage of the judicial system, and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record," says a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit working toward drug laws based on science, compassion and human rights.
The alliance found that although blacks comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, and are consistently documented to use drugs at similar rates as people of other races, they comprise 31 percent of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated in state or federal prison for those violations.
A creation of the Nixon Administration, the war on drugs has largely fallen out of favor with policy-makers and members of the law-enforcement community. In a 2012 interview with CNN, business magnate Richard Branson called it a "$1 trillion failure."
The regressive policies Jeff Sessions wants us to embrace will benefit no one but owners of for-profit prisons - with which the attorney general has a long history.
The commission Singleton is proposing is but one step in a better direction.