Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The War on Poor Women

I went to a law faculty colloquium today where the speaker (Nekima Levy-Pounds) explicated the myriad ways in which the war on drugs perpetuates a permanent underclass of poverty and drugs and nobody cares. The focus was on poor women of color and disparate sentencing policies for crack and powdered cocaine.

The law professors talked extensively about practical strategies to help alleviate some of the worst harms of our system. And those are great, practical ideas...but they struck me as nibbling around the edge of a corrupt system.

One suggestion was to pass laws so that prisons can't shackle women to the bed while they give birth. Another suggestion was to repeal the federal law that denies public housing to anyone with a drug conviction, which might be 80% of Katrina refugees. Those are nice ideas and I affirm them.

But no one wanted to talk about the real issue and the only rational way to address the problem, which is to end the war on drugs. But that's a pipe dream.

There's no political appetite for reforming the drug laws in this country. It was pointed out by a faculty member who represents prisoners that often when Congress or state legislatures are asked to pass laws improving conditions for prisoners, they instead pass laws that make life worse for prisoners. Politicians fear (not irrationally) that passing a humane law for prisoners will get them labeled as weak on crime and it could also jeopardize donations from the prison guard's union!

I fear that a day will come (sooner or later) when our society will crumble under the weight of our booming prison population, our massive elderly population, the costs of foreign adventurism, the aging infrastructure system, and our looming trade deficit.

The Bible says that the wages of sin are death. What are the wages of legal barbarism?

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