In the News

Amnesty legislation would free 35,000 Turks from prison

With Turkey's prisons overcrowded and tense, lawmakers approved a contentious amnesty bill in early December that could release nearly half the nation's 72,000 prisoners. Families of crime victims have strongly opposed the bill. However, the government is under pressure to relieve pressure in packed prisons where rioting and hostage-takings are common.
The bill reduces sentences by 10 years, meaning about 35,000 prisoners would be set free. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer must first approve the bill - something that is by no means certain.

Boise wants nuisance law for meth houses

A landlord organization is buying radio ads criticizing the Boise (Idaho) mayor and City Council over a proposed anti-methamphetamine ordinance. The ordinance holds landlords responsible for repeated instances of drug activity on their properties if they refuse to cooperate with the city in ending the illegal conduct.

The ads portray a landlord bursting in on a woman while she is singing in the shower. "Don't worry, it's just me, your landlord," the voice says. "I have to be sure you don't have a meth lab in here." The commercial goes on to say that Coles and City Council members want to force landlords to constantly watch tenants to make sure they are not producing methamphetamine.

Children addicted to sniffing gas

Health officials in Sheshatshiu, Newfoundland removed 12 children addicted to inhaling gasoline fumes from a remote settlement in October 2000, taking them to a military camp for treatment. Another seven children were named in a court order that allows the Newfoundland provincial government to take the young addicts for treatment.

The case has drawn nationwide attention, highlighting the despair in impoverished Innu communities and the controversial taking of children from their families for treatment. Children commonly steal the gas from vehicles, put it in plastic bags and inhale the fumes to dull their senses and awareness of cold and hunger.

Activist jailed for speech

Clark Kissinger, a leading activist in the struggle to prevent the execution and win a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal has been jailed for 90 days in Philadelphia on a charge of violating his parole. The violation: he spoke at a Mumia rally during protests at the GOP Convention last summer. Kissinger - convicted in April, 2000 of a misdemeanor for a sit-in at the Liberty Bell - was sentenced to one year's probation, ordered to provide the court with all his financial records, a list of his friends and political contacts and forbidden to leave New York City, where he lives without court permission.

Clark was charged with violating terms of probation which had been set as a result of a minor charge: "failure to obey a lawful order" during a demonstration at the Liberty Bell last year. On August 1, 2000 Clark defied the travel restrictions to go to Philadelphia to give a speech at a rally during the Republican National Convention.

Clark is believed to be the first political dissident to be sentenced to prison for giving a speech since World War II. wins online journalism award

On December 1, 2000 won the Online Journalism Awards' top prize for "General Excellence in Online Journalism Original to the Web." The Online News Association and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism sponsor the awards. In addition, also won in the category of "Enterprise Journalism: Original to the Web," making it the only site to win two prizes.

Salon reporter Dan Forbes won for his investigative piece "Prime-time Propaganda" which revealed that TV networks, in exchange for financial incentives, had cut deals with the White House Drug Office to insert anti-drug messages into popular programs like "E.R." and "The Drew Carey Show."

The contest, which honors excellence in Internet journalism, drew more than 600 entries from over 200 English-language media outlets around the world and was judged by a team of distinguished journalists. The Online Journalism Awards join several other prestigious media awards administered by Columbia University, including the Pulitzer Prizes and the National Magazine Awards.

For more information see Thanks to Doug McVay of Common Sense for Drug Policy for this post.

Harsh and inflexible deportation rules

OHIO -- Orphaned as an infant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Joao Herbert was adopted by a U.S. couple when he was eight years old. His adopted parents failed to naturalize him, and at age 18 he was arrested for selling 7.5 ounces of marijuana to an undercover officer in Wadsworth, Ohio. The parole board granted clemency to young Herbert to avoid deporting the first-time offender for a minor crime. But in July, Ohio Governor Robert Taft described Herbert as a drug trafficker who shows no remorse, though the young offender says he regrets falling into the wrong crowd. Herbert has no family in Brazil and no longer speaks the language, yet he found himself homeless in his native country at the Arsenal da Esperanca shelter where he waits for a free meal and a bunk along with alcoholics, destitute and the homeless.

The INS is considering policy reform that will be more lenient in determining deportation cases, but it's too late for Herbert. Congress passed a law this year giving adopted children immediate U.S. citizenship that is retroactive for children 18 and younger. Herbert is now 22. Brazil's ambassador to the U.S. said that Herbert was accepted by Brazil for humanitarian reasons. What does that say about Ohio?

Hearing on aging inmates

The state of Louisiana is in the middle of a budget crisis that prompted a Senate committee hearing at Angola last September to determine if incarcerating elderly inmates until they die is fiscally sound and morally acceptable. James Jones is 71 and has been in Angola for the past 25 years for selling $120 worth of heroin. Earnest Brown is 61 and is serving life for selling $60 worth of heroin 26 years ago. The testimonies of these prisoners were heard along with those of drug reform activists and state officials. Legislators were urged to allow lifers the right to petition for parole once they reach the age of 45. Angola Warden Burl Cain endorsed their plea, and said, "I just feel a person should have a hearing. Just give him a shot. It doesn't mean it has to go through, just hear him."

ACLU attorney Al Shapiro noted that recidivism rates for former inmates 55 and older is less than 5%, and said, "It is virtually impossible with this system, with the Parole Board you have and the governor you have, for a lifer to get out of prison." Liberalizing parole eligibility and leniency in sentencing were options discussed to solve prison overcrowding in the cash-strapped state. It was suggested that annual quotas be set for parole approvals, requiring the Parole Board to report in writing why quotas aren't met. Special drug courts, expanding educational and rehabilitation programs were other solutions discussed. Racial and income disparities should be researched, while prohibiting inexperienced court-appointed attorneys from defending serious criminal cases were other remedial actions recommended by Assistant District Attorney. J. Floyd Johnson. The D.A. is not opposed to leniency in parole eligibility as long as the state "can be reassured that they have, in fact, changed and been rehabilitated."

The state Parole Board denied just 34 percent of its applications in 1995. The denial rate jumped to 50 percent in 1998, and to 73 percent in 2000.

Polish drug laws bad for addicts

WARSAW -- Possession of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs now impose jail terms of up to 3 years in Poland, as tough anti-narcotic legislation was signed into law by President Aleksander Kwasniewski in November. Dealers face up to 10 years imprisonment, and owners of bars and other businesses who fail to report drug transactions also face years in jail. Opponents of the drug bill say it will do little to fight drug dealers, and will only stigmatize youngsters and addicts.

A police spokesman said, "We finally have a tool to effectively act against drug pushers." Yet the chronically underfunded police force has few resources to investigate and indict professional drug dealers. Young marijuana smokers and drug addicts will be much easier to arrest and incarcerate than will professional criminals, says Marek Kotanski of Monar, Poland's largest charity organization that helps drug users.