BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise the cannabis trade. Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide “medical marijuana” to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state already allow. In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for personal use was passed. A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of places where people can seek a doctor’s note that lets them take the drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America’s attitude to criminalising pot has changed.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms. But, in 2010, DPA played a key role in reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and we are committed to passing legislation that would eliminate the disparity entirely.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color. DPA is committed to ending these highly discriminatory policies and to combating the stigma attached to drug use and drug convictions.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged #Desiree Lee, #Drug Policies, #NFL, America, American Civil Liberties Union, changed lives, criminal justice, disenfranchisement, drug conviction, Drug Policy Alliance, education, fda, federal crimes, human rights, Human Rights Campaign, humanity, injustice, Mental Health, politics, Restoration, social issues, social justice, spirituality, suffering, Trust.
Over criminalization is the act of imposing unbalanced penalties with no relation to the gravity of the offense committed or the culpability of the wrong doer.
The study of the punishment of crime and of prison management.
Discriminating the individual from the generic group or species
The restoration of someone to a useful place in society
The plight of a felon is one that doesn’t attract the needed attention required to get legislative change. Penology and Individualization and Rehabilitation and Over- Criminalization are all topics that should render 500,000 signatures on petitions nation wide, but it is not getting the attention needed because just like the crack epidemic, until it hits home in a real fashion to the powers that be family members this plight will only continue to frustrate the individuals that wind up in the teeth of America’s new conundrum.
Although depriving people convicted of felonies of the right to vote has a long history, the modern laws in many states are rooted in racial discrimination. In these states, the laws were enacted after the Civil War and designed to deny the vote to African-Americans, and continue to have that effect today. More than five million American citizens are now denied the right to vote, including 13% of the African-American population, because of felony convictions. Black Americans are imprisoned at 39 times the rate of whites for non-violent drug offenses. In total, more than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities, despite being only 28% of the U.S. population.
Every state except Maine and Vermont prevents inmates from voting while in prison for a felony. Once released from prison, voter eligibility depends on the state a person votes in, with laws varying widely. Most states deprive parolees and probationers of the vote, and a few states permanently deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders. Ex-offenders in most states have to go through a wide variety of application processes, and some may never regain the right to vote.
Events in recent months have justifiably caused Americans to ask whether a powerful, activist, and interventionist government and bureaucracy is good to have. Those who have been looking at overcriminalization, however, have known that government and regulatory agencies have been targeting and oppressing Americans for a long time. And it’s getting worse.
In many criminal laws, the “guilty mind” requirement has been removed or weakened. This means people can go to prison regardless of whether they intended to break the law or knew their actions were in violation of the law.
Traditionally, crimes had two components: (l) mens reu (guilty mind), and (2) actus reus (bad act).
Today, many criminal laws and regulations have insufficient or no mens rea (guilty mind) requirement — meaning, a person need not know that his or her conduct is illegal in order to be guilty of the crime.
An example story is the following:
THE CRIME: Rescuing a baby deer
Jeff Counceller, a police officer, and his wife Jennifer spotted an injured baby deer on their neighbor’s porch. Instead of turning a blind eye to the dying fawn, the Councillors took the deer in and nursed it back to health.
An Indiana Conservation Officer spotted the fawn (named Dani) in the Councillors’ yard — and promptly charged the couple with unlawful possession of a deer, a misdemeanor offense. Fortunately for her, the day that “Little Orphan Dani” was to be euthanized by the state, the deer escaped into the wild. Due to public outrage, the government dropped the charges.
“Overcriminalization describes the trend to use the criminal law rather than the civil law to solve every problem, to punish every mistake, and to compel compliance with regulatory objectives. Criminal law should be used only if a person intentionally flouts the law or engages in conduct that is morally blameworthy or dangerous.”
We have problems like this in Wichita, believe it or not. An ordinance passed by the Wichita City Council in 2010 might ensnare anyone visiting city hall, if they happen to have a broad-tip marker in their purse or briefcase:
“Possession of Graffiti Implements Prohibited in Public Places. It is unlawful for any person to have in his/her possession any graffiti implement while in, upon or within one hundred (100) feet of any public facility, park, playground, swimming pool, skate park, recreational facility, or other public building owned or operated by the city, county, state, or federal government, or while in, under or within one hundred (100) feet of an underpass, bridge, abutment, storm drain, spillway or similar types of infrastructure unless otherwise authorized.”
“Graffiti implements” are defined broadly earlier in the ordinance.
If you’re thinking about a career in taxicab driving, be advised that the city has ordinances punishing you if you’re found to have violated these standards: “Fail to maintain their personal appearance by being neat and clean in dress and person” and “Fail to keep clothing in good repair, free of rips, tears and stains.”
When criminal laws are created to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake, and compel the “right” behaviors, this troubling trend is known as overcriminalization. Ultimately, it leads to injustice for honest, hard-working Americans at every level of society. […]
Over the next six months, Members of Congress from both parties will study this issue in depth, hold hearings, and—with the right encouragement—take steps to enact real reform.
The recent scandals involving the IRS and other encroaching agencies of the federal government have shed light on just how much the state interferes in Americans’ everyday lives. The Heritage Foundation offers a few examples:
A young girl was fined $535… for rescuing a wounded woodpecker.
A businessman was jailed for years… for shipping lobsters in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.
A Maryland father and building engineer faced a years-long legal ordeal… after being unfairly targeted under the Clean Water Act.
In a new project — USA vs. YOU — the conservative organization documents stories of violated liberties and offers advice on how you can help stop this disturbing trend.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged ACLU, America, American Civil Liberties Union, compromise practices, criminal laws, federal crimes, frustration, Human Rights Campaign, humanity, Individualization, injustice, insurmountable obstacle, Overcriminalization, Penology, Rehabilitation, Restoration, social issues, social justice, Society, standing power.
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.
Well, our bold and spunky congressional pals finally crossed the line. They spent our tax dollars so carelessly, and at such an alarming rate, that we were forced to stage what amounted to a national public fiscal intervention. Suddenly, the boring federal budget became big news, as Americans demanded that Washington restore our nation’s economic health and cut all wasteful and inappropriate spending, including the government funding of NPR and Planned Parenthood. This signal from the citizens was valuable despite an eventual Republican surrender in the most recent budget battle. And while I’m pleased that the overspending was exposed, I wonder when the mainstream media will uncover the government money pit of over criminalization.
“Over criminalization” refers to the recent trend in Congress to use the criminal law to “fix” every publicized issue — a horrendous waste of government spending. Essentially, our representatives are criminalizing conduct that should be regulated by civil or administrative means. Over criminalization has left U.S. Attorneys with a wide selection of crimes with which to charge people: There are over 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 regulations with criminal penalties. Not surprisingly, many of these obscure laws have led to unreasonable arrests and unjust prosecutions. These costly over criminalization policies amount to both federal waste and government overreach.
Any one of us can be targeted and imprisoned. A homeowner can be arrested for failure to prune her shrubs, in violation of the city’s municipal code. A small-business owner can do time for lack of proper paperwork when importing orchids. Don’t own a business or a garden? You are still not safe. When the new health-care law goes into effect, everyone, with the exception of unions and other exempt parties, will face severe penalties for failure to purchase government-approved insurance. In fact, refusal to comply with the new health-care regulations is a federal violation punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. The grander issue of wasteful government spending is still salient, but over criminalization, while a part of that issue, also has large negative implications for the immediate livelihood of the American people.
While it is difficult to know exactly how much money the government spends to prosecute a single case, it’s instructive to look at a recent example: the infamous Barry Bonds trial. San Francisco U.S. Attorneys spent eight years and countless tax dollars investigating and prosecuting Bonds for allegedly lying under oath regarding his steroid usage. After they had dedicated so many hours and so much of the criminal-justice system’s limited resources, the jury refused to convict Bonds on any of the serious charges, finding him guilty of one charge of obstruction of justice. We need to be selective about the cases that rise to the federal criminal level, because spending our tax dollars on cases that drag on too long means that our money is being wasted.
Let me be clear: We should be tough on actual criminal acts. Let the punishment fit the crime. However, when prosecutors pursue frivolous cases that disrupt our quality of life, it’s not just that the government is wasting our tax dollars and is threatening our liberty, but it is spending less time going after real criminals: the arsonists, the murderers, and the sexual and financial predators. In actuality, our government is passing policies that are weakening our criminal-justice system and decreasing our safety.
In another example, highlighted by the Heritage Foundation, auto-racing legend Bobby Unser got lost in a blizzard, almost died, and was later convicted for operating a snow mobile in the natural wilderness. The conviction itself is quite unbelievable. If Mr. Unser did enter the wilderness, and there is no such proof, it was only due to the fact that he was disoriented in the blizzard. Nevertheless, he faced a $5,000 fine and a six-month prison sentence. It is estimated that the federal government spent approximately one million dollars to prosecute Mr. Unser.
In addition to the cost of prosecution, there are also costs associated with imprisonment. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal inmate population was 211,176 as of March. The average cost of incarceration for one federal inmate in fiscal year 2009 was $25,251. So putting justice, liberty, and the wishes of the founding fathers aside, it’s not exactly cheap to lock up people either. We should ensure that only real criminals are behind bars. Instead of locking up gardeners for violating regulations, we should fine them and generate income.
The secondary hidden cost of over criminalization is more difficult to quantify, but is still a drain on our economy. Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, in an essay for the Heritage Foundation, argues that criminal penalties have caused paranoia among all members of the business community. Businessmen are not innovating for fear of getting prosecuted, and as a result they are unable to compete in the global market. This is especially detrimental to the recovery of our ailing economy.
Because the cost of federal prosecution and imprisonment is so high, we need to ensure that this severe sanction is reserved only for actual criminals. We need to bring over criminalization to the forefront of the American media and political table. Over criminalization affects our daily lives and hurts all Americans. The stifling effect of criminalizing acts that should be of a regulatory nature is having a suffocating effect on American business and entrepreneurship.
A government capable of making seemingly innocuous conduct criminal is one that should be feared. The unlucky victims of the feds would certainly agree with me.
Ten members of the House Judiciary Committee have agreed to form an Over-Criminalization Task Force to review the expansion of the federal criminal code and make recommendations for paring it down. There are roughly 4,500 federal crimes on the law books, with new ones being added at a rate of about 50 a year.
This proposed review of federal criminal laws is the first since the 1980s, when the number of federal crimes on the books was about half what it is now. The task force will conduct hearings and investigate issues around over-criminalization and will have the opportunity to issue reports to the Justice Committee on its findings and policy recommendations.
Among possible topics for the task force are federal drug laws and sentences in general and federal marijuana prohibition in particular. The group could also explore the issue of mens rea, or criminal intent, particularly in relation to the expansion of the use of conspiracy laws since the late 1980s. The use of those laws has led to low-level offenders, including some who were not even part of a drug trafficking enterprise, being sentenced to years or decades in federal prison — sentences that were supposed to be reserved for high-level offenders.
“As former chairman and long-serving member of the Judiciary Committee, I’ve seen first-hand just how muddled the criminal code is,” said Sensenbrenner. “It’s time to scrub it clean. The Over-Criminalization Task Force will review federal laws in Title 18, and laws outside of Title 18 that have not gone through the Judiciary Committee, to modernize our criminal code. In addition, I reintroduced the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act [not posted as of Tuesday] today, which would reform Title 18 of the US Code, reduce the existing criminal code by more than one-third, and update the code to make it more comprehensible.”
“Unduly expansive criminal provisions in our law unnecessarily drive up incarceration rates,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the committee’s ranking Democrat. “Almost one-quarter of the world’s inmates are locked up in the United States, yet Americans constitute only five percent of the world population. In addition, the incarceration rate for African Americans is six times that of the national incarceration average. I welcome the work of the over-criminalization task force in analyzing this serious issue.”
“Although crime is primarily a matter for states and localities to handle, over the last 40 or so years Congress has increasingly sought to address societal problems by adding criminal provisions to the federal code,” said Scott. “There are now over 4,000 federal criminal provisions, plus hundreds of thousands of federal regulations which impose criminal penalties, often without requiring that criminal intent be shown to establish guilt. As a result, we are hearing many complaints of overuse and abusive uses of federal criminal laws from a broad-based coalition of organizations ranging from the Heritage Foundation to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Today, we are establishing a bipartisan task force on over-criminalization to assess issues and make recommendations for improvements to the federal criminal system, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this worthy endeavor.”
“This Task Force is a step in the right direction and could propose recommendations to significantly alleviate mass incarceration and racial disparities in the federal system,” said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The establishment of this Task Force is long overdue for the drug policy reform movement. It is past time for Congress to re-examine marijuana laws, conspiracy laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the appropriate role and use of the federal government’s resources.”
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Abraham Lincoln, America, American Civil Liberties Union, budget battle, changed lives, compromise practices, courage, Culture, deliverance, disciplined thinking, disenfranchisement, education, federal crimes, feds, felons, over criminalization, planned parenthood, proper paperwork, revolutionary right, small business owner, social issues, social justice, Society, spirituality, state laws, transformation.