Nov 12 2009

Prison reform

Had an interesting conversation with my friend John Broxton today regarding Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s sobering look at the criminal justice system in America.

There’s a good article by Glenn Greenwald ( which summarizes many of the issues at play. The basic idea of it is that we are failing in the way that we handle crime in America. Here are some excerpts from Webb’s speech on his commission’s findings:

We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice…

The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%… and a significant percentage of those incarcerated are for possession or nonviolent offenses stemming from drug addiction and those sorts of related behavioral issues…

In many cases these issues involve people’s ability to have proper counsel and other issues, but there are stunning statistics with respect to drugs that we all must come to terms with. African-Americans are about 12% of our population; contrary to a lot of thought and rhetoric, their drug use rate in terms of frequent drug use rate is about the same as all other elements of our society, about 14%. But they end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison

Pretty unbelievable.

The whole ‘war on drugs’ is a strange idea to me. It seems very poorly defined, so I’m not sure how anyone would know if we won the ‘war on drugs’ (but then maybe that’s the point). It also seems like the ‘war’ isn’t really fighting the right thing. If we’re so moralistically deadset on destroying recreational drugs in our country (unless it’s alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, prozac, etc), then it seems like it might be strategically advisable to work on combating the causes and not the symptoms. If 14% of people want to use drugs, then it seems like there are always going to be drug dealers out there, and if it’s extremely lucrative in a time of immense wealth inequality, then there’s going to be lots of competition and likely violence involved as well.

I’m not into recreational drugs for myself, but I have no problems with other people using them if that’s what they want to do. I do think it’s unfortunate that because of the way our society idolizes rule-breaking coupled with a somewhat nonsensical division of which drugs are ok and which ones aren’t, that people (especially adolescents) are pressured into using drugs. I also want people to be using drugs safely, because I don’t think that their choices about their recreation should endanger others. Of course, any discussion of how drug usage endangers people quickly comes back to the use and abuse of alcohol in our society. From the well researched Drug War Facts:

Leading annual causes of death in the United States
435,000 Tobacco
365,000 Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity
85,000 Alcohol
75,000 Microbial Agents
55,000 Toxic Agents
26,347 Motor Vehicle Crashes
32,000 Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs
30,622 Suicide
29,000 Incidents Involving Firearms
20,308 Homicide
20,000 Sexual Behaviors
17,000 All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect
7,600 Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin
0 Marijuana

As I was reading up on the issue of alcohol vs marijuana usage, I thought that this article was interesting from the former police chief of Seattle. So, yeah, I’m a little unconvinced regarding our society’s statements that marijuana use is definitely wrong and should be illegal, but that alcohol is a cherished part of our heritage.

I look forward to seeing what Senator Webb’s commission comes up with, and hope that we can begin to reform our broken penal system.

Nov 12 2009

Corporate Personhood Speech

I gave this speech on Monday in my Public Speaking class.

I thought it went pretty well. It was my first time ever in my life using PowerPoint, so you can tell I don’t totally have the flow down, also there are two slides that were messed up because I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Not the best speech I’ve ever given, but I think it’s ok.

Corporate Personhood Speech