Tag Archive: War on Drugs

Prison Smells Like Balls: The Hidden Stench of Mass Incarceration

stenchFrom Playboy

“Jail smelled cold,” Adam told me. He only spent one night in a county jail nearly a decade ago, but still, he can immediately conjure the scent. “It’s the cold of, like, old plaster and metal,” he said. That, mixed with sweaty feet and greasy pillowcases—the stifling odor of shared air and nutsacks. “Plus, I was housed with a crack addict,” Adam (who asked me to change his name for this piece) added, “who smelled of urine and just not showering for months on end.” Adam was talking about a jail in Connecticut, but it could have any correctional institution in the country. No matter where you go, it’s the same wall of rancidity that hits the minute you’re buzzed through the secured gate—the stench of thousands of men crammed into much too tiny space, raw humanity in all its disgusting nakedness.

The number of Americans who know this smell continues to grow, although it’s difficult to quantify exactly. Some, like Adam, are arrested and discharged, go to court and never serve an actual sentence. Others cycle in and out of the system their entire lives. We know that in 2012 there were some 6.9 million adults under correctional supervision in the US. That includes not only those housed in jails and prisons, but people on parole and probation—all of whom have likely spent at least one night locked up. That means one out of every 35 adult Americans knows the smell of which I write, likely a larger percentage than ever before. In the past four decades, our country’s prison population exploded 500 percent (with non-violent drug offenders making up much of that population), and continues to grow . At the same time, prison construction has slowed, and overcrowding persists.

Though recent attention on incarceration has been mainly focused on for-profit prison corporations and the treatment of juvenile offenders—both worthy subjects—it’s the visceral grotesqueness of human warehousing that outsiders never hear of, and likely never want to. In acknowledging how these conditions affect millions of Americans, how such scenes and scents literally change lives forever, you are forced to recognize just how foul mass incarceration has become.  (more…)

MANAGING A NIGHTMARE: HOW THE CIA WATCHED OVER THE DESTRUCTION OF GARY WEBB

garywebFrom The Intercept

Eighteen years after it was published, “Dark Alliance,” the San Jose Mercury News’s bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua’s Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism.

The 20,000-word series enraged black communities, prompted Congressional hearings, and became one of the first major national security stories in history to blow up online. It also sparked an aggressive backlash from the nation’s most powerful media outlets, which devoted considerable resources to discredit author Gary Webb’s reporting. Their efforts succeeded, costing Webb his career. On December 10, 2004, the journalist was found dead in his apartment, having ended his eight-year downfall with two .38-caliber bullets to the head.

These days, Webb is being cast in a more sympathetic light. He’s portrayed heroically in a major motion picture set to premiere nationwide next month. And documents newly released by the CIA provide fresh context to the “Dark Alliance” saga — information that paints an ugly portrait of the mainstream media at the time. (more…)

Shocking police overreach haunts Durham: Racial profiling, quotas and secret “conviction bonuses”

handcuffed-620x412How a federal grant incentivized a police department to go nuts on drug arrests — and terrorize its community

From Salon

In the late afternoon of Jan. 3, Robin Dean, a 50-year-old county employee, pulled into a Durham, N.C., Burger King parking lot to give a friend a package of frozen chitlins that she had cooked over the holidays. After the transfer was complete, the pair said goodbye and parted ways. Both were subsequently pulled over by Durham Police.

Dean says an officer told her that there was evidence that she had just engaged in an illegal drug transaction, searched her car without her consent, and called for backup. When Dean worried aloud that she had been racially profiled, she says the white officer called her an “idiot,” although the nearly hour-long stop revealed nothing illegal apart from a window-tinting violation that was later dismissed.

In recent years, stories like this have come to epitomize heightened concerns that, as Durham becomes a regional center for sophisticated culture and cuisine, the drug enforcement strategies of its police increasingly assign second-class status to the city’s minority communities. Over the past several months, protesters alleging police misconduct have pummeled the city’s police headquarters with rocks and met tear gas along the usually amiable streets of this city of 240,000.

In seeking to understand the roots of the city’s divisive policing, lawyers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice were astonished by what a recent round of public records requests produced. Not only was a federal grant subsidizing what they regarded as the most perniciously targeted drug enforcement operations of the department, but the grant — with a key “performance measure” emphasizing police report their sheer volume of arrests — also appeared to be incentivizing the department to raise its overall number of drug arrests, which overwhelmingly affect the city’s black community. SCSJ attorneys add that recently revealed evidence also indicates that the federally funded program included an illegal system of secret payments law enforcement made to witnesses who delivered successful drug prosecutions — another sign, they say, that the city’s policing has flown off the rails. (more…)

Report: Nearly all drug defendants “forced” to plead guilty

Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill

Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill

97 percent of drug defendants forgo their right to trial and plead out. HRW highlights undue prosecutorial power

from Salon

“It is very clear that prosecutors control the criminal justice system through their charging and plea bargaining powers,” wrote Angela Davis last year, commenting on the fact that 95 percent of defendants in criminal case forego their day in court and opt instead to plead guilty. Buoyed by mandatory minimum sentence laws, prosecutors hold undue power and leverage in the U.S. judicial system.

A new report from Human Rights Watch released Thursday bears out Davis’ point precisley. “Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty,” the human rights group found. Looking specifically at drug cases (the primary filler of brimming U.S. prisons), the HRW report found that “only 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial.”

The right to trial, in the face of prosecutorial bargaining power, is de facto obliterated. What, after all, is a right if recourse to it appears as no option at all? HRW goes as far as to say that drug defendants — often caught for minor offenses — are “forced” to plead guilty when prosecutors present the risk of years in prison as the alternative. (more…)