A Message from the Director
By Nora Callahan
"The disintegration of this system, day by day and year by year, and the movement toward mass incarceration, with very little attention being paid to clear standards of prison administration or meaningful avenues of re-entry for those who have served their time, is dramatically affecting millions of lives, draining billions of dollars from our economy, destroying notions of neighborhood and family in hundreds of communities across the country, and -- most importantly -- it is not making our country a safer or fairer place." -- Senator James Webb (D-Va), June 11, 2009
"Too much time has passed, too many people have been treated in a disparate manner, and too many of our citizens have come to have doubts about our criminal justice system." -- Eric Holder, United States Attorney General, June 24, 2009
Just about everything I usually say in a "Director's Message" has already been said by a noteworthy federal leader, and within the last few months. We've reprinted as many remarks and commentary that we could squeeze into this issue, allowing people in power to denounce the horrors of excessive, unnecessary imprisonment -- driven by dubious law enforcement practices that accomplish it with terrible costs to the taxpayer and the incarcerated.
If Attorney General Eric Holder is correct about a "moment in time that must be seized in order to insure that all of our citizens are treated in a way that is consistent with the ideals embodied in our founding documents," we must seize it.
In September I attended a public forum as a 'guest speaker' in Pinellas County, Florida, along beautiful Tampa Bay. I can't go to Florida without being awash in memories of my childhood. Before my brother and his imprisonment, there was life as children in that tropical place, a place almost magical when comparing one region to another, and we moved a lot. There wasn't a day we weren't in the water or on the water, drowning in the sun. It can be suffocatingly hot and humid, but Florida still feels free and easy, just like going home. But not so for millions of Floridians sentenced under harsh sentencing laws over the last particularly punishing drug war years. The sunshine state is now the nation's leading jailer, surpassing California and Texas. While Floridians are plunging into a carceral crisis, the state treasury languishes under the strain of increasing the crisis by a projected 19 prisons, or make fundamental changes needed yesterday.
Another state with lots of retirees and the migrant population serving them at an international crossroads is Arizona. Imprisonment has become too expensive to manage, so its state legislators are thinking of selling off Arizona's public prisons to private corporations. You'd think the people of the land of the free could do better than create prisons for profit.
We need to cut the ribbon of Senator James Webb's Blue Ribbon Commission, proposed in S. 714, and let the talk in the halls of Congress flow to our streets and back again. People in diverse communities are fuming, and easily making connects between over-policing, under-policing, selective enforcement and racial applications -- all under the guise of a drug war. People I've met while traveling need a commission to direct their anger, hear their ideas, and illuminate successful social projects in their neighborhoods. The idea that bad laws can create more crimes than the violations they intended to halt is not lost on community workers who toil in public housing, jobs creation, and sustainable community development. The list grows long, those people of conscience who work not as public officials, but always beside them. War brings only destabilization to their communities or neighboring ones.
Dropping the war metaphor was the first priority of the new Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gil Kerlikowske didn't want to be called a "Drug Czar" either. I won't bemoan mere attitudinal changes, but with the declaration of a 'drug war' came brutal drug war laws. They are still on the books, and a slew of constitutional protections have been swept aside. People and cherished principles must be restored before our 'faith in governance' returns.
We hope we've succeeded in teaching our members, and people who'll read this issue of the Razor Wire, more about the injustices of the drug war and what should replace it. Find new quotes by leaders of note, and share them when writing other leaders, or in letters to the editor, your blogging posts, and in the salutation of your correspondence entire. Enclose them with your bills, if you still pay with a check, the old fashioned way -- and have the money to pay them. Remember also, after you've paid your bills, and you've some left over -- to contribute to a good cause, the November Coalition.
As the gap grows between what leaders call our ideals and what we actually do to people -- that widening gap creates conditions wherein a prairie fire of change can sweep in and overwhelm the crazy don't-wait-for-hell-to-torture crowd. Common sense has a way of sneaking in at the oddest of times, and those odd times are likely upon us.
Addresses of political leaders and major media for letter-writers
Concerning HR 1475 to restore old good
time system (sponsor):
Concerning S 714 to create criminal
justice commission (co-sponsors):
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)
House Judiciary Committee
President Barack Obama
Office of Public Affairs
Attorney General Eric Holder
Letters to the Editor:
Los Angeles Times
New York Times