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Redefining Citizenship Can End the War on Drugs

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From Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument
Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument
(image by treewoman8)

"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.

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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.

Therapeutic Courts  

Substance Abuse is an epidemic in this country. Studies report that one in five children/adolescents has an emotional or behavioral disorder; that one in ten has a substance-abuse disorder, and only about 23% suffering from a mental-health disorder get treatment. [i] Evaluations of adolescents in substance-abuse treatment have revealed that between 50-90% are suffering from co-occurring disorders. [ii]   And since 2005, being adolescent and having a "dual-diagnosis" is now considered the norm. [iii]

I was the presiding officer for our county juvenile-offender drug court for 4 years.   When you see the disease of addiction up close you realize how deeply it rests in the problem of dysfunctional character. In drug court the kids suffer from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. The types of mental-health problems existing in drug court and the dependency system are legion.

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However, research has shown that drug courts effectively address these dysfunctions.   The National Association for Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) sums it up like this:

Our nation's scientific community put Drug Courts under its microscope. After all of their rigorous testing and research they concluded that Drug Courts work. Better than jail or prison. Better than probation and treatment alone. Drug Courts significantly reduce drug use and crime and are more cost-effective than any other proven criminal justice strategy. [iv]  

And in my view, given the evidence from Therapeutic Courts we need to go even further in this "therapeutic" direction and promote the full development of a "functional character" in each and every one of our citizens.     

The Obligations of Citizenship

In a very real sense, good citizenship is as simple as elementary-school conduct.   As an old elementary school and AAU coach, I know that good citizenship is essentially the same as being a good teammate.    Legendary UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden has conclusively defined what it means to be a successful team member.   In his book Practical Modern Basketball Coach Wooden said :

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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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