Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hoodwinked and bamboozled on the war on drugs - The Denver Post

Hoodwinked and bamboozled on the war on drugs - The Denver Post

Malcolm X once shouted from a soapbox that the public was being "hoodwinked and bamboozled." When it comes to U.S. drug policy, the American public has been hoodwinked and bamboozled ever since President Nixon declared a global war on drugs on June 17, 1971. For 40 years, the war on drugs has treated citizens as serious criminals, destroyed lives and wasted immense resources.

Millions of Americans have been incarcerated for low-level drug law violations, leading to an explosion in our prison population that is costing our country more than $50 billion per year.

The number of people behind bars for drug law violations has risen from 50,000 in 1980 to more than half a million today.

Despite this costly effort, drug overdose, addiction and misuse are more prevalent than ever. The war is an utter failure. We have been bamboozled into believing that incarceration or the threat of incarceration is the best way to deal with drug use and addiction. We have been completely hoodwinked into thinking it is par for the course to increase our incarceration rates tenfold due to the war on drugs when our overall population hasn't even doubled.

Colorado is not immune where drug war policies and practices are concerned. According to the state Department of Corrections, nearly one in five male prisoners and close to one in three women in 2010 were in prison due to a drug conviction in Colorado. In fact, women are the new victims of the drug war and mass incarceration. Eighty-two percent of women sent to prison last year in Colorado were convicted of non-violent offenses.

Sixty percent of all people who were incarcerated last year in Colorado were there for a drug charge or a technical violation of parole. And a good majority of those technical violations are directly or indirectly due to drugs. There is no doubt that the drug war drives mass incarceration in Colorado as it does throughout the country.

Since 1980, the Colorado state population grew by 59 percent while our prison population grew over 500 percent. Our Department of Corrections' budget grew exponentially, nearly tenfold.

This is not sustainable; the budget crisis here and all over the country should drive home — to those on both sides of the political spectrum — the ill wisdom behind the war on drugs.

Colorado is aggressively attempting to get back on track after years of drug war and mass incarceration policies. The work of those at the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, along with governmental efforts such as the Colorado Commission on Crime and Juvenile Justice, are leading us out of the drug war darkness.

The political cover and tactics used in the drug war have eroded trust between some communities and law enforcement. The drug war has fostered the overuse of SWAT teams and no-knock search warrants, violating basic civil liberties and destroying innocent people's lives. Perhaps the most egregious example is the killing of Ismael Mena, a 45-year-old father of nine.. On Sept. 29, 1999, based on information from an informant, Denver SWAT agents raided Mena's home, shooting him eight times. No evidence of drugs or drug dealing was ever found in Mena's home, and an autopsy showed no sign of drugs in his system.

It was later discovered police had the wrong address.

It is the intent of the Drug Policy Alliance and our partners internationally to harness the frustration over these catastrophic policies and motivate our leaders to begin implementing an exit strategy from the longest war this country has seen. What is needed is the sort of reckoning and paradigm shift that understands that the problem is not just drug addiction, but prohibition as well. We need to reduce the role of the criminal justice system in drug control to the maximum extent possible while enhancing public safety and health. In other words, we need to take the wool from over our eyes and let our decision-makers know we can see clearly now.

Art Way is the Colorado manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the drug war.

For more information on the Drug Policy Alliance, go to www.drugpolicy.org.

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