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Redefining Citizenship Can End the War on Drugs

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"Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an astounding percentage of the African-American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent second-class status..." from The New Jim Crow.  


Warehousing People:   The New Jim Crow 

The War on Drugs has resulted in an unnecessary and unjustified warehousing of the minority community.   In her book, The New Jim Crow, author Michelle Alexander writes:

When the War on Drugs gained full steam in the mid-1980s, prison admission for African Americans skyrocketed, nearly quadrupling in three years, and then increasing steadily until it reached in 2000 a level more than twenty-six times the level in 1983.   The number of drug admissions for Latinos was twenty-two times the number of 1983 admissions. Whites have been admitted to prison for drug offenses at increased rates as well -- the number of whites admitted for drug offenses in 2000 was eight times the number admitted in 1983 -- but their relative numbers are small compared to blacks' and Latinos'.   Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white; three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.

These facts reveal that our criminal justice system is threatening to create a permanent sub-citizen underclass.    And our society should not accept this.


Work and Significance  

When faced with this data it is hard to escape the conclusion that we are just warehousing huge numbers of our people.    And it becomes even clearer that the activity itself suggests that as a society it appears that we believe the "warehoused" individuals have no significance.

My book, The Tao of Public Service,  rejects this posture of non-significance, asserting:

We make a mistake when we assume some people are significant and others have no significance at all... these ideas... can apply to any work... every task can be considered an act of service to our nation when that task is done well.   In this way every act can be an act of public service... In this way each and every person can have the highest level of significance.

If we accept this assertion as true, then it is immoral to warehouse people in prisons when they have a chance to become better citizens.   This is particularly true when we know other working alternatives to prison.

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Eric Z. Lucas is an alumnus of Stanford University (Creative Writing Major: 1972-1975), the University of Washington (1981: BA English Literature and Elementary Education) and Harvard Law School, J.D. 1986. Since law school he has been a public (more...)

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