Saturday, May 06, 2006

Torture at home

Yet another tragic and infuriating Drug War story from my little home state of Rhode Island:
PROVIDENCE -- Three state correctional officers, including a captain who allegedly forced an inmate to taste his own feces on Valentine's Day, were arrested and charged yesterday with multiple counts of assaulting five inmates in the Adult Correctional Institutions.


The prisoners allegedly involved were serving short sentences for crimes such as felony shoplifting and drug possession.
Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Tell me how we can justify this? How can we, as a so-called "civilized" society, possibly justify subjecting non-violent drug users and petty criminals to this kind of treatment? How can we justify locking them up in an environment where they are in constant danger of being abused - physically, sexually, and emotionally - not just by other prisoners, but by prison guards!?
According to affadavits that state police detectives submitted to the court, the guards are accused of whacking inmates in the head with phone books and a clipboard. Others allege that they were punched in the head, slapped in the face or had packets of soup tossed at them.
This kind of disgusting bahavior isn't just going on in Iraq, folks. It's happening every day in our prisons. This happened in my back yard. And it's happening in yours.

And for what reason? To protect us from ourselves? Thanks but no thanks. I'd rather have a severe opiate addiction with access to treatment, than be locked in a hell-hole where I can't even count on the guards to protect me.
Inmate Walsh, a laborer and father of a 6-year-old girl, is scheduled to be released from the ACI this month.


Walsh, through his lawyer, Kenneth A. Schreiber, said he was punished for trying to smuggle cigarettes into the prison. He was strip searched and forced "to take [his own] fecal matter and put it in his mouth," Schreiber said.

So, have these bastards apologized to Walsh for their actions yet? Here's what their defense lawyer, John D. Lynch Jr. had to say:
After their arraignments yesterday, Lynch defended the guards and said that they were simply doing their jobs in a difficult environment.

"They're running a prison," he said. "They're not elementary school teachers. They're prison guards."
I've got two words for you, Mr. Lynch:

Eat shit.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Representing addiction

Following a dangerous pre-dawn car crash in our nation's capital, it has come to light that my Representative, Patrick Kennedy, is addicted to painkillers and alcohol. Today, the Rhode Island congressman announced that he is entering rehab.
Kennedy said, "I've got to do total abstinence, period,'' referring to drugs and alcohol. "From now on, obviously, I'm a very public face with addiction and alcoholism written on my head."
Having had close friends and family fall in and out of serious addictions, I can't help but to feel sympathy for the congressman (or any other high-profile figure, no matter how hypocritical that person might be). Hopefully, Kennedy's misfortune and public humiliation will not only force him into recovery, but also into representing the interests of the large portion of his constituency who struggle with addiction.

Kennedy has yet to cosponsor legislation that would repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty of the Higher Education Act, even though Rhode Island ranks above the national average of the percentage of students denied aid due to drug convictions. Although many affected by the penalty are non-problematic illicit drug users, I'm sure that many others suffer from addictions just like Kennedy. But unlike Kennedy, they, for the most part, are not fortunate enough to be able to afford expensive rehab programs (which is the only way to restore financial aid under the penalty).

Clearly, Kennedy should co-sponsor the RISE Act. But he shouldn't stop there. As "a very public face with addiction and alcoholism written on [his] head", he should represent victims of addiction by calling for a legislative shift from incarceration to education and treatment. He should call for an end to the so-called War on Drugs.

It must be nice

The Harvard Crimson reported today that students at that institution don't have to worry about losing their ability to pay for school after being convicted of a drug offense.
If a student is convicted while at the College, the Administrative Board makes a decision about his or her enrollment. However, Donahue says, “as long as they are enrolled, students are eligible to receive financial aid.”

Donahue added that if a Harvard undergraduate were to lose federal funding, the College would continue “to meet his or her need through institutional sources,” thus replacing the funding that the federal government previously supplied.
It's nice to see that one of our nation's finest institutions of higher education recognizes that kicking students out of school for drug offenses hurts individuals as well as society as a whole. But it's too bad that students at most schools don't enjoy similar safety nets.

However, such students who have lost their financial aid due to drug convictions can apply to receive funding through the John W. Perry scholarship fund.

Drug War continues to seep into schools

DRCNet's Drug War Chronicle reported this week on two student-related Drug War stories we haven't yet had the chance to cover here at DARE Generation Diary. So instead of reinventing the wheel here, I'll just link to DRCNet's reporting.

Police at the University of Colorado in Boulder sparked student outrage by posting on its website photos of more than 150 people attending a 4/20 rally. The cops have asked web surfers to identify the pictured individuals in exchange for monetary rewards.

Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point threw burning objects out of windows to protest a drug raid on their barracks last week. Army officials called a faux fire drill at 6:00 AM to get the cadets out of their rooms. Once the buildings were clear, they called in cops and drug-sniffing dogs to scour all the rooms for controlled substances. None were found.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Fox in the whorehouse

Mexican President Vicente Fox has bowed to U.S. pressure and now says he won't sign the decriminalization bill the nation's Congress placed on his desk. Less than a week ago, Fox indicated he would sign the bill into law.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Mr. Fox said the law should be changed "to make it absolutely clear that in our country the possession of drugs and their consumption are and continue to be crimes."

Officials from the State Department and the White House's drug control office met with the Mexican ambassador in Washington Monday and expressed grave reservations about the law, saying it would draw tourists to Mexico who want to take drugs and would lead to more consumption, said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

One has to wonder what kinds of carrots and sticks the Bush administration dangled in front of Fox to make him reverse his position and whore himself out to U.S. interests. Shame.

Holy smokes

Kenneth Starr, special prosecutor in the Clinton Whitewater case, has agreed to represent an Alaskan school board that suspended a student for displaying a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" across the street from his school.
Joseph Frederick was 18 and a high school senior in 2002, when he unfurled his banner during the Winter Olympic torch relay through Juneau, hoping to grab the attention of television cameras.

School district officials said his banner violated the school's anti-drug policies and suspended him despite the fact that he was off campus at the time and did not disrupt school functions.

Frederick sued the school district but lost in federal court when a judge ruled that school officials had wider discretion to control his actions and were entitled to regulate speech that encouraged drug use.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco disagreed, saying school officials violated Frederick's free speech rights.
Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the school district's appeal. Frederick's lawyer says it's unlikely they will and that his victory will stand.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The value of truthiness

The Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon printed a comprehensive article on the the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty and SSDP's state-by-state report today.

The piece explores whether or not the government is able to tell when students are hiding their drug convictions when filling out the FAFSA. At least one student at UOregon got away with it.

The police caught him once with a bag of marijuana. They caught him again with a pipe.

The University student, who asked to remain anonymous, said his drug convictions have forced him to lie on his Free Application for Federal Student Aid form for each of the past four years because otherwise he would lose the financial aid that he depends on to pay his entire tuition.

Students who check yes to the FAFSA’s question 31, which asks “Have you ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs?” are denied financial aid.

“If I was gonna answer ‘yes’ to that question, I wouldn’t even be filling out the FAFSA,” he said. “If it wasn’t for financial aid, I wouldn’t be a student.”

Had the Oregon student told the truth on his FAFSA, he would have become one of thousands of students who have been denied financial aid in Oregon, according to a recent report.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education says that students should tell the truth on the FAFSA, especially since failing to do so is a crime.
Smith said lying on the FAFSA is “punishable by a significant fine.”

“It is to a student’s benefit to provide adequate information,” Smith said.

“We perform spot checks on different questions in the FAFSA,” Smith said, but it “would be logistically prohibitive to investigate every student who applies to FAFSA.”

But she tactfully avoids saying whether or not the government spot checks answers to the drug conviction question. In reality, there is almost certainly no way the Department of Education can determine if students are being forthright about their criminal histories. If there were, she would have been more direct in saying that there is some sort of criminal database that the agency matches up FAFSA answers with.

Lying on the FAFSA is a federal crime punishable by jail time, a fine of $20,000, or both. Of course, SSDP can not and does not encourage students to commit crimes. It is, however, interesting to note that the government probably has no way to catch people who hide their drug convictions. For many students, doing so is the only hope of staying in school.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A little Drug War humor

If you haven't already seen it, check out this video of Ali G interviewing a DEA agent about drugs:

Big up yourself!

Sorry, Calvina...

thehim points out a poll on the Drug Free America Foundation's website. It asks: "Do you think student drug testing would help your community's schools?"

Here are the current results (as of 2:40pm EST):
Yes. It gives students an easy and socially acceptable way to say no.: 42.2%

No. It erodes trust between the faculty and students.: 15.6%

Yes. It prepares teens for the real world of workplace drug testing.: 0.0%

No. It is a violation of students' privacy.: 40.0%

I don't know.: 2.2%
So, 55.6% think student drug testing is a bad idea, while only 42.2% think it's a good idea. And these are people who visit DFAF's website.

While it's not going to change policy, it's nice to see reason and common sense beating the prohibitionists on their home turf. So, take a stroll over there and throw a pie.

If the prohibs keep failing at their attempt to invade students' urinary tracts, maybe they'll have to start posting personal ads...
Calvina Fay, Executive Director of DFAF

Update (5/4/06 1:16pm EST): The total is now at 26.0% FOR drug testing, and 71.4% AGAINST. Keep on clicking, DARE Generation.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What's a Guy Gotta Do to Get a Debate Around Here?

In the past two months SSDP has brought the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty back into the national spotlight with a Congressional scale-back of the law and two federal lawsuits. In an effort to jumpstart a national debate on this very important issue, SSDP has reached out to some of the law's biggest proponents, offering to debate them on national television and college campuses.

Apparently our opponents on this issue are too chicken to defend their position in a one-on-one debate. We first reached out to Students Taking Action Not Drugs (STAND), a "grassroots" movement of students who support current drug war policies (presumably the same students who remind their professors to collect class homework assignments). It turns out that STAND is nothing more than a front group for the Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF), as it appears that no students are actually involved in the organization (surprise!).

In response to my e-mail offering to debate STAND's executive director on college campuses, I received the following responses from DFAF executive director and self-avowed prohibitionist Calvina Fay:

"We do not believe that utilizing science-based principles to educate students about the dangers of drugs, facilitating the reduction of drug use among 18-25 year olds, or directing young people into treatment are debatable issues."

Calvina Fay and her non-existent STAND students aren't the only ones without the spine to debate the repeal of the Aid Elimination Penalty. The law's own author Mark Souder doesn't even have the guts to defend his own law in a direct debate. SSDP not only offered to debate Souder on the issue, we even proposed to do so on his own home turf, Fox News.

Souder's office refused, claiming that the issue was "settled" when Congress scaled the law back earlier this year. Considering the amount of press garnered by our federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the penalty, I would hardly say this is a settled issue. The American public deserves a free exchange of ideas on this law.

What is it with these drug warriors anyway? Why are they so afraid to defend their position when confronted by a reformer? How could a 46-year-old Congressman be so scared of a public discussion with a 27-year-old student representative? Could it be that they know we have the truth and the facts on our side? Come on Souder, let's talk about this like grown-ups. I promise to be civil and cordial. Just ask my good friend and former DEA agent Bob Stutman…