Rationality Reemerges with Attorney General Peter Neronha’s Drug Policy

It would seem we have an Attorney General who embraces rationality and realism over politics and rhetoric and I, for one, am pleased.

The drug problem in the United States, and worldwide, is complicated. On the most visible side, you have addicts, deaths from overdoses, hospitalizations, and lost opportunity by convictions for possession.

On the other side, you have the intricate relationship of governments of producing countries with the enormous money generated by the cartels. Drug money funds politics, political candidates, and corruption.

Over the last several decades, the trend in the US was to increase punishment and eliminate rehabilitative services for inmates. There was an apparent shift to warehousing more inmates with no consideration for what happens when released.

Recidivism among drug offenders reached 60-70%. Most offenders released from prison are rearrested within a year. Something is not working. There is another troubling trend buried within the change toward punishment that should concern us all. The shift to private prisons. Logic would dictate that businesses with a vested interest in a steady, or growing, supply of “customers” would have little incentive to reduce crime or incarceration rates.

In 2008, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo ordering a reduction in using private prisons by Federal authorities. Just days after Jeff Sessions became US Attorney General, he rescinded the order. Private prison stocks soared as the prison industry resumed its growth. Once again, money and politics trumped rationality. (https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/18/politics/private-prison-department-of-justice/index.html)

AG Neronha’s proposal brings rationality to our drug policy. Recognizing the accepted medical definition of drug addiction as a treatable mental health condition, shifting the focus from punishment to treatment and prevention is sound policy.

While the policy is welcome, it must go further. Reducing the number of minor offenders sent to prison is a good start and removing the stigma of a felony conviction will help reintegrate those with drug issues back into society but treating those with mental illnesses, both inside prisons and in society, is also a pressing problem. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/criminals-need-mental-health-care/)

With the trend toward punishment, they incarcerated those with mental illnesses at an even faster rate than the general population. Until we recognize the revolving door of the mentally ill sent to prisons lacking any mental health services, released after they complete their sentence, and rearrested because of lack of mental health services nothing will change.

AG Neronha wisely recognized the Criminal Justice system in Rhode Island needed a change. He is in good company with other states who have reduced recidivism through “Second chance” type programs, increased treatment opportunities, and punishment tempered by a goal of reintegration into society. (https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Reducing-Recidivism_State-Deliver-Results_2017.pdf)

Some would argue that such policies will encourage drug use, will increase the number of addicts because it reduces the preventive effect of punishment, will be only a progressive “feel good” effort with little to no benefit.

In the 1980s, Congress passed some of the most Draconian criminal sanctions to deal with the then rising scourge of crack cocaine. Possession of relatively small amounts resulted in life sentences. Yet the effect on the street was minimal, and the adverse impact on the minority population was devastating.

The numbers do not lie. We lead the world in prison population, and the numbers are growing. Whatever we have done to this point, it is not working. (http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All)

We can do better than that, and Mr. Neronha’s proposal is a tremendous step in the right direction.

Gun Control: From a Different Point of View

So it would seem the latest nut case with a gun and no conscience is, wait for it, an atheist. As if this explains his actions. He shot up a church and killed innocent church-goers out of his disdain for religion.

Or so the many have said on our newest dimension, social media. As tempting as that is, I’ll leave it alone for now.

Within hours of the attack, we have former classmates, anonymous military sources, unnamed law enforcement providing tantalizing, and unverified, details of a deranged individual of weak and cowardly character.

He’s not a Muslim, he didn’t scream Allahu Akbar.

So far, neither ISIS nor any other terrorist group adopted him, so he doesn’t fit our preferred mold of terrorist.

He didn’t get in on a visa lottery, that’s inconvenient.

We are left with the reality of a “mental health issue.”  Even Mr. Trump got this one right.

The rush to find a rational explanation for this irrational behavior, i.e., blaming his atheism or other external factors, masks the real issue; lack of health care, including mental health resources.

And here’s another inconvenient truth, initial reports say armed American citizens took action ending the entire episode. They acted before law enforcement could because that is the reality in such a small town. If that turns out to be true, the argument for gun control as a solution to these episodes fails.

But, the necessity of access to mental health resources, and better screening of individuals who present with mental health issues, and own firearms, is underscored.

On what we will do about it, I have little hope. Cutting access to a basic human need, health care, seems to be a favorite of this administration and his Congressional lap dogs.

Gun control advocates and the NRA have a common enemy, crazy people with guns. If these groups fail to achieve a compromise in addressing the problem, you can rest assured another nutcase is sitting in front of his TV, cleaning his AR-15, loading his magazines, and planning his entry into the record book of mass killings.

P.S. If you need further proof of this man’s mental instability, he decided to shoot people in Texas! EVERYBODY has a gun in Texas. No further evidence is necessary.