Children of the Drug War speak out!

The Battle against the War on Drugs

By Melissa Cooper, daughter of a prisoner of the drug war

The last ten years of my life I have been living the consequences of the War on Drugs. When I was 10 years old, my father was labeled a criminal and sentenced on drug charges to thirteen years in a federal prison.

Did he ever sell drugs? Yes, he sold drugs to a small group of friends to make money to pay for his drug addiction. He was an addict who needed money to support his habit. Was my father a criminal? No, he was a person with an addiction who also happened to be a loving father, always there for me until he was incarcerated.
After his imprisonment, we began to talk on the phone as often as possible, communicate by letters, and tried to visit three or four times a year.

This has been difficult because he is now located at a camp in Florence, Colorado, a fifteen hour drive from my home. My father could not attend my volleyball games, music concerts, school play, and high school graduation, which are memories that cannot be replaced.

The government committed the real crime when they took a loving father away from his daughter and family. Abraham Lincoln once said, "A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded." Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a person's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. According to the Department of Justice in 1999, prisoners sentenced for drug offenses constituted the largest group of federal inmates. Each year the government imprisons more people whose only crimes are their addictions.

According to the American Medical Association, it is clear that addiction is not simply the product of failure of individual will power, it is properly viewed as a disease, and one that physicians can help many individuals control and overcome. There is no excuse for the government imprisoning productive members of society, many of whom are fathers and mothers. Does the government reserve the right to take away good fathers and mothers because they have a disease?

The U.S. Department of Justice, in 1999 and in state and federal prisons, held an estimated 721,500 parents of minor children. A majority of state (55%) and federal (63%) prisoners reported have a child or children under the age of 18; 46% of the parents reported living with their children before imprisonment.

I have personally witnessed fathers spending time with their small children in a prison visiting room. For a fixed amount of hours, and only on certain days, are these fathers allowed to talk with, hold, and comfort their children. I've seen the heartbreaking look on a father's face when he is forced to say goodbye to his child or children because visiting hours are over. I have experienced the sinking of my own heart as I say good-bye to my father, knowing I will not get to see him again for months.

The situation is a little different in women's' prisons, where mothers may be allowed to visit with their children for a few hours, mothers whose only crime was their disease of addiction. These children deserve a mother and father who can be there for them always, not just during visiting hours.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) denied my father admittance to the drug program because his file stated no real history of drug abuse. That omission was due to the inefficiency of his first lawyer who told him to leave that part out. At sentencing he was better represented by a different lawyer. If my father was not considered a drug addict, I wonder what a person has to do to be considered a drug abuser by the BOP.

My father was not denied admittance to the drug program because he had no real history of drug abuse, but because the government spends its money on unsuccessful methods of source control, interdiction, and law enforcement, not treatment.
If he could be in the drug program, it could reduce his time by one year. According to a study by the RAND Company, in 1992 the U. S. Government spent only 7% of its drug control budget on treatment, the remaining money went to ineffective programs of source control, interdiction and law enforcement. This should be a wakeup call to the government that implementing extensive drug treatment programs instead of incarceration is the answer to the drug problem.

The 1997 National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Studies (NTIES) stated, "Treatment appears to be cost effective, particularly when compared to incarceration, which is often the alternative." Treatment costs ranged from a low of $1,800 per client to a high of approximately $6,800 per client. By contrast, the average cost of incarceration in 1993 (the most recent year available) was $23,406 per inmate per year. Successful efforts to implement treatment instead of incarceration have been made in some states such as Arizona.

In 1996, voters in Arizona passed an initiative that mandated drug treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. At the end of the first year of implementation, Arizona's Supreme Court issued a report which found: Arizona taxpayers saved $2.6 million in one year, and 77.5% of drug possession probationers tested negative for drug use after the program. The court stated The Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act of 1996 has allowed the judicial branch to build an effective probation model to treat and supervise substance-abusing offenders, resulting in safer communities and more probationers in recovery.

If drug treatment was mandated instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders throughout the U.S., imagine the money that would be saved for American taxpayers, and the great reduction in drug use that would occur. Families would remain intact because fathers and mothers would be allowed to remain in the home with their children, Productive members of society would no longer be incarcerated for drug crimes, but instead treated for their disease of addiction.

My father will get to come home in about three years, and my family will rejoice at his homecoming. The thought that thousands of other children may grow up without their fathers or mothers because of the Drug War breaks my heart, but not my spirit. It's the government officials who need to wake up, and who better to give that wake up call than the people.

We must write letters to governors, senators, and even the President, voicing our outrage on the War on Drugs. Most of all, we must educate others on the failure of the Drug War. Soon the government will not be able to ignore the fact that its drug policy has failed miserably, and the War on Drugs will have to be abandoned.

The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
282 West Astor - Colville, Washington 99114 - (509) 684-1550