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March 2005
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Women and Families – Invisible Victims

The ACLU, Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs, and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law have released a report on the impact of the drug war on women and families.

“We’ve gone from being a nation of latchkey kids to a nation of locked-up moms, where women are the invisible prisoners of drug laws, serving hard time for someone else’s crime,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Family values ought to mean keeping families together. Treatment can cure drug addiction, but there’s no cure for a family destroyed.”

While women are still the minority in prison for drug crimes, their numbers are growing fast, and often the ones caught in the net with severe sentences are spouses or girlfriends who

  1. Get caught in the increased use and severity of “conspiracy” charges, when all they did was answer the phone.
  2. Don’t know enough about the information to trade with prosecutors for a reduced sentence

It’s nice to see this issue get some additional coverage — and it’s been helped in part by a very visible source who had not been particularly known as a drug policy reform advocate in the past:

“When one is incarcerated with 1,200 other inmates, it is hard
to be selfish … So many of the women here … will never have
the joy and well-being that you and I experience. Many of
them have been here for years — devoid of care, devoid of love,
devoid of family.

I beseech you all to think about these women — to encourage
the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing
guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time
offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would
be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in
prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate,
no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for
life ‘out there’ where each person will ultimately find herself,
many with no skills and no preparation for living.”

— Martha Stewart

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