War on Drugs
The policy that has sent over a million nonviolent people to jail is our war on drugs.
This is irrational in the extreme.
The medical community speaks with one voice; addiction is an illness, not a crime.
To this end, drug possession for personal use should never be a felony.
Furthermore, all prior drug felonies should be expunged.
This does not address sale and distribution, that's another kettle of fish -
but anybody can become a drug addict: rich, poor, white, black, professional, student, unemployed, retired, young, old - it just doesn't matter.
Locking a drug addict in a cage for 3 years, then saddling him with a felony for the rest of his life, is immoral and counterproductive.
One might be tempted to say that drug use is not a crime at all - but drug use can lead to theft, home invasion, and even armed robbery, since the habit is monsterously expensive.
If an addict stands on the threshold of criminal activity to support his habit, a judge needs the power to force him into rehab, and you can't do that unless drug use is a crime.
To this end, drug use should be a misdemeanor, punishable only by an in-patient rehab program paid for by the state.
There is no prison time, and no felony dogging him for the rest of his life.
Drug use is Not a Felony
Marajuana is safer than alcohol, safer than cigarettes, maybe even safer than Aspirin,
yet a religious backlash persists.
Perhaps our government still believes marajuana is a gateway drug; it is not.
Some people smoke heavily for years and never touch hard drugs.
In fact marajuana may move people off of hard drugs, a more effective version of methadone.
It's time to lift the stigma surrounding this relatively harmless plant.
A science-driven agenda is particularly important now that we recognize some of the health benefits.
The list of symptoms ameliorated by marajuana is growing every day,
and more doctors are prescribing it in its various forms.
It should be accepted as medication, and paid for by health insurance.
There are two separate issues here.
If your state supports medical marajuana, but eschews recreational use,
then the police will continue to arrest minorities who smoke without a prescription.
The law is yet another tool to put black people in jail.
Conversely, if your state supports recreational use, but does not recognize the medical benefits,
then health insurance providers will never pay for the marajuana as a drug, even when prescribed by a doctor.
Clinical marajuana can be expensive, and should not be treated any differently than other prescribed drugs.
The following states support medical marajuana and/or recreational marajuana.
Remember that there is a federal component.
Medical and Recreational Marajuana
Even when Marajuana is legalized through public referendum,
the state legislature sometimes maintains its religious backlash,
and forces its will upon the people through various draconian laws.
For example, Michigan passed a law that forces consumers to transport their medical marajuana in the trunk or in a locked box.
Meantime you can buy Xanax or Oxycodone (schedule II) at your pharmacy, and drive home with the drugs in your purse, sitting on your lap.
The michigan legislature focuses on marajuana simply because they don't like it, end of story.
This law, and others of its ilk, allow the police to charge and arrest black people,
"your weed was not in the trunk",
while white drivers sail on by with clouds of smoke billowing out the window.
Fortunately this "marajuana in the trunk" law has since been repealed,
but other laws remain.
You can be charged with OWI (operating while intoxicated) if there is any marajuana in your system;
however it takes 30 days of abstinence for the human body to purge all traces of the drug.
Under these guidelines, every marajuana patient is guilty of OWI.
We still have a long way to go.
Here are the states that do not have draconian marajuana laws on the books.
No onerous laws surrounding Marajuana; it's just another drug
Access to medical care can make the difference between life and death.
Many countries provide universal healthcare for their citizens; the United States does not.
However, individual states could.
In 1974, Hawaii took a bold step in this direction, requiring employers to provide health coverage to workers, even part-time workers,
Prepaid Health Care Act.
The insured rate rose from 70% to over 90%, peaking at 98%.
However, even this is not true universal coverage.
The unemployed, underemployed, or self-employed are still left out in the cold.
As many other countries have discovered, the answer is universal healthcare provided by the government.
Of course the free market can provide supplemental insurance, as is the case with Medicare.
Nothing wrong with that.
Well our federal government has its head in the sand, and is unlikely to provide universal healthcare any time soon, but the states could.
Which state will be the first to cover its people?
Mandatory minimums can put nonviolent people in prison for years, sometimes for life.
In 1970, a felony was a violent, hanus crime, but no longer.
A theft of $2,000 or more constituted a felony in 1970; this was recently reduced to $200, despite the relentless pace of inflation.
So more people could receive felonies and sit in jail.
Shoplifting a cell phone or an expensive handbag is now a felony.
In this context it is ridiculous to mandate a minimum sentence, or even upper and lower guidelines, for three felonies.
Must we lock someone up for 10 years because he: (1) used cocaine, (2) stole a cell phone, and (3) ran away from the police because he was afraid?
No Mandatory Minimums
When a prisoner returns to society, he needs a second chance.
Otherwise, why release him at all?
Unfortunately, his criminal record makes this impossible.
He can't rent an apartment, can't get a job, and can't get student loans to attend school and learn a trade.
At the same time, he must pay court fines and parole fees, or it's back to jail.
His only recourse is crime.
He might not have been a criminal before, but he is now.
A compendium of laws conspires to assure recidivism.
At that point we pat ourselves on the back and say,
"I told you he was a criminal; we should have left him in jail.
Let's make the sentences longer."
Criminal history, like skin color, is not a valid reason to deny housing.
Everyone needs a place to sleep.
So either keep them in jail or give them an apartment.
Nothing else makes sense.
Fair Housing for Felons
With spotty exceptions such as national security and child care, criminal history is not a valid criterion for employment.
Once again the same logic applies -
either keep them in jail or give them a job.
Nothing else makes sense.
Ban the Box, wherein the felony checkbox is excluded from job applications, is a start, but by no means adequate.
Along the lines of HIPAA,
prior convictions should not be available to the general public or a potential employer (with spotty exceptions).
Equal Employment for Felons
If felons are given jobs and housing, the following scenario is inevitable.
Mr. Smith has committed several violent crimes, and has serve 12 years in jail.
Unaware of this fact, Mr. Jones lets him an apartment in his building.
Three months later, Mr. Smith molests a girl in the same apartment building.
Mr. Jones does some digging and unearths Mr. Smith's criminal record.
It's off to the media, where the story becomes front page news.
Everyone writes to their congressmen, and a month later this important law is overturned,
and felons are once again homeless and unemployed.
The media is the ratchet that pushes the legal system ever to the right.
It's all about fear, because fear sells.
CNN doesn't report on the other 17 felons in the same apartment building who are quietly going to work, supporting their families, and paying taxes.
That story is never told.
the media does not trumpet the success of any government program - only the failures.
No wonder we are sinical.
There are 23,000 commercial flights every day in the U.S., with virtually no accidents.
Flying is unbelievably safe, thanks to the federal government, yet passengers are afraid to fly.
Because the media describes each plane crash in detail.
Meantime we all drive every day, despite
32,000 deaths and 2.3 million injuries per year.
We are not rational creatures, and we don't know what to fear -
thus we are easily manipulated -
manipulated by the media,
by corporations, and by political parties and candidates.
Are you old enough to remember
and his impact on the 1988 presidential election?
If not, then here's a heads up.
Some day a felon will murder somebody in your apartment building, or at your workplace, but if you step back and look at the big picture, we are nonetheless doing the right thing.
If we let fear rule the day, and we leave felons homeless and unemployed,
then there will be more murders than society can handle.
This is an exercise in game theory, and "tough on crime" is not a winning strategy.
This isn't realy a state issue, so there is no corresponding red-green map.
I can only recommend that you get your news from several unbiased sources.
No media outlet is perfectly unbiased,
but the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post come close.
If you read these and other publications, and disregard most of what you hear on television and radio, then you will be well informed,
and your vote will move us in the right direction.
The 30 second political ads are particularly damaging -
often misleading, and sometimes bald-faced lies.
The smartest people I know, (three families in particular), don't have TVs at all.
Math is another defense against manipulation.
When Trump wants to enact his xenophobic ban on muslim refugees, you can tell him, since you've done your homework,
that the odds of being killed by a refugee, per year, are 1 in 3.64 billion,
whereas the risk of driving is 1 in 12 thousand.
Driving a car is 300 thousand times as dangerous as our refugees,
but we're not banning automobiles any time soon.
We have to be rational in everything we do, and in every vote we cast.
Don't let political leaders put fear in your heart, anxious to throw your black brothers and sisters in jail,
all in the guise of public safety.
If an ex-con is lucky enough to find a job, it probably pays minimum wage.
This is not enough to support an individual, much less a family, so why add fines and cost into the mix?
Probation or parole must be completely free.
Drug tests, classes, supervision - all covered.
And there are no outstanding court costs, fines, or fees for housing the criminal in jail.
(Yes, you are really expected to pay for your time in jail, like it was a hotel.)
Anyone who spends 90 days or more in jail incurs no fines or costs when he leaves.
(The judge can still order restitution to the victim if that makes sense.)
With these changes in place, a former prisoner actually has a second chance.
No fines or costs After jail
Don't we want former prisoners to get an education, and a good job?
Then why block student loans based on criminal history?
This is a federal issue.
Criminal history has no effect on student loans
The current tax code does not allow the Opportunity Tuition Tax Credit if you have a drug felony on your record.
Once again, why shouldn't we encourage these people to go back to school?
Is it just because we don't like them?
The tax code has nothing to do with criminal history
Until recently, fleeing and eluding, i.e. running away from the police, was a misdemeanor.
Some people run from the police because they are scared.
many reasons to fear the police, even if you have never committed a crime.
Some folks are mentally ill, and naturally run from the police.
However, continuing the theme of felony inflation, fleeing and eluding has become a felony in many states.
You can run away from a policeman 20 feet, then turn around and put your hands up, and at the policeman's discretion, you can receive a felony.
Fleeing and Eluding is not a felony
In some states felons cannot vote, effectively disenfranchising them for the rest of their lives.
And inmates cannot vote at all.
This skews democracy in favor of the rich and the white majority.
If 6 out of 7 prisoners don't belong in jail, commensurate with the rise in prison population over the past 45 years, then our country has 2 million citizens who have been railroaded, yet they have no voice in our government, and no means to redress their situatiohn.
They cannot elect representatives who will change the laws on this website,
thus they are looking to us for help.
A united States citizen should not lose his citizenship when convicted of a crime.
Everyone should be able to vote, period.
Felons can vote in all elections
Long term inmates can vote in all elections
Bond Conditions, Probation, Parole
Criminal behavior and poverty are highly correlated.
In other words, most criminals are poor.
If you want to keep them out of jail and on probation, then probation better be free.
It's that simple.
At this point the conservative dogma rears its ugly head.
"They are responsible for their crimes; they can pay for the cost of providing probation."
But they can't; that's why they committed the crime in the first place.
Yet we saddle them with sky high fees, sometimes $200 a month just for drug testing, and then wonder why they violate and wind up in jail.
Probation and Parole are Free
Once a monitary bond has been set, no other conditions should be forced upon the accused.
No drug tests, no mandatory classes, no evaluations.
A judge might ask you not to do something, e.g. no contact with the victim,
but he cannot disrupt your life by making you jump through a series of hoops just to stay out of jail.
The reasoning is simple, "Innocent Until Proven Guilty".
That seems obvious to me.
No Bond Conditions beyond the monitary bond itself
A frequent bond condition is "no police contact."
Are you serious!?
A black man in Baltimore was pulled over
30 times in less than 4 years, no tickets, no charges, just driving while black.
A single pullover would violate his bond, if he had one, or his probation or his parole, and off he goes to jail.
Unless you are hiding in your basement, you cannot avoid police contact.
This irrational bond condition has to end, today.
Police Contact never violates a bond, probation, or parole
Do you watch major league baseball?
Whenever a play is challenged, the video is instantly transmitted to an impartial review board in New York,
who determines whether the player is safe or out.
It only takes a minute, and then the game resumes.
It would be awkward, to say the least, to review the play a week later, and then go back and try to fix the game.
Once the game unfolds, you can't go back in time and change its direction.
In the same way, the police can't unwrite a ticket, and judges and prosecutors rarely dismiss charges after the fact.
Remember, a prosecutor will campaign on his 97% conviction rate (tough on crime).
So once a ticket is issued it's really too late.
There is no undo command.
Following the precedent set by major league baseball,
every traffic stop that involves a minority, or perhaps every traffic stop across the board, should be reviewed by an impartial committee in real time.
The video is sent to a central location, and the policeman sits patiently, waiting for the ruling.
The traffic stop is declared "justified", "bogus", or "technical", the latter being something silly like a broken tail light.
If the stop is bogus then the policeman must apologize to the driver and send him on his way.
No charges can result from such a stop.
Furthermore, the department must mail the driver a check for $100 for his trouble.
(If the department wants to take some of this money out of the policeman's pay, so much the better.)
For a technical stop, the policeman can only issue a warning.
He can't write a ticket, or run the license, or issue any charges.
Only a justified stop can result in tickets or charges.
If this system was put in place in Baltimore, perhaps that unfortunate man would not have been stopped 30 times, or if he was, he would have $3,000 in the bank.
Traffic Stops are reviewed in real time
If the police scan your plate and find a warrant, they consider that sufficient grounds for a pullover.
It is not!
Thanks to warrant inflation, some counties will issue a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket,
building yet another path from poverty to jail.
A driver should not be harassed because of an unpaid traffic ticket.
It's tempting to say that a felony warrant is sufficient to pull someone over, but don't forget about felony inflation.
You can get a felony for spitting on someone.
Thus, if I were on the review board, as per the previous section, a felony warrant would not be sufficient cause either.
Instead, the policeman and the review board needs to know what the warrant is for - what was the crime?
If the crime indicates a clear and present danger to society, such as rape or murder, then, and only then, is the pullover justified.
Trivial warrants are not sufficient cause for a pullover
Arms length laws prevent doctors from investing in drug companies, and then prescribing those same drugs to patients.
That would be an obvious conflict of interest.
How about the police?
If tickets and court fines fund the local police, then the incentive to issue tickets and arrest people is inescapable.
Don't think for a moment that policemen don't have quotas to meet; they do; just follow the money.
The police and courts should be funded by local or state tax dollars, and nothing more.
Fines and forfeited bonds must go to charity, or an unrelated municipal project.
We need to take money out of the equation.
Fines and Bonds do not fund the legal system
For profit companies should never run prisons.
Isn't that self-evident?
Profits go up when people are locked away in cages, whether they belong there or not.
At the local level,
prison guards, who work for said company, might testify at parole hearings, and wardens could bribe judges and prosecutors.
Going for the gold,
these companies have used, and will use, fear mongering and twisted statistics to influence Congress,
and push the legal system towards mass incarceration, thus creating some of the laws on this website.
Would a company really tear parents away from their children, and breadwinners away from their families, just to make a buck?
Of course they would.
The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Tim 6:10)
This played out in an episode of Leverage, The Jailhouse Job, which was a fictional story, or was it?
No for-profit prisons
Prisoners sometimes work a 40 hour week for $10 a week.
Nope, that's not a typo.
I didn't mean to say $10 an hour, consistent with minimum wage, it's $10 a week.
There's no minimum wage in jail - no rights - no recourse.
Meantime we sanctimoniously drone on about how badly we exploit the Chinese, and shouldn't we boycott this product and that store, while our own American citizens work for less.
Well they're "criminals", so we really don't care.
Meantime companies snap up these labor contracts; they're cheaper than overseas, and there's no controversy.
Prison workers are paid at least minimum wage, consistent with the state that houses them
Nothing is more unfair to the poor than the legal system.
If a traffic ticket is $150, that isn't a big deal to most of us, but it is crushing for some.
And if it isn't paid, it quickly rises to $200, or even $400.
After that the driver can be sent to jail.
Yes, you can really go to jail in some counties because of a traffic ticket.
Once you come out of jail, you still owe money on the ticket, plus housing costs for your time in jail.
If you can't pay that, guess what, you go back to jail.
It is theoretically possible to spend your entire life in jail over a traffic ticket.
Nobody should have to spend an hour in jail over something this ridiculous, much less 30 days.
A ticket should be no more than $100, and if the driver can't pay it, he has the option of 6 hours community service.
If he refuses to pay the ticket or perform the service within 6 months, then he can spend two non-work days in jail.
At that point the infraction is satisfied; the ticket is paid, and he doesn't owe any money to the jail for housing him.
It's just a traffic ticket - let's move on.
Tickets and other court costs can be paid by community service
For a period of ten years, Michigan imposed "responsibility fees" on top of its traffic tickets.
These are mandated by the state and cannot be dismissed by a judge, even if she thinks they are excessive.
Once again we are circumventing the judicial branch.
If you can't pay these fees your license is suspended - and if you drive on a suspended license, to get to work, to make money, to pay your responsibility fees, it's off to jail with ya.
These laws are finally being
phased out in Michigan.
There's an insidious marketing campaign going on here - do you see it?
They're called "responsibility fees", because it's just your responsibility, and if you don't pay them then you're not being responsible.
It's rather like calling a military campaign "Just Cause" or "Enduring Freedom".
Rather like Ronald Reagan referring to nuclear missiles as "Peacekeepers".
Now who can argue with that?
Believe me, people sit around and think about the words that will sell these terrible ideas to the masses.
In another, unrelated example, every drug commercial begins on a somber note,
as the patient describes his terrible symptoms, then, as soon as the drug is mentioned, the happy music comes in and everything is upbeat and cheery.
Have you noticed?
It works; studies have shown that people skate right past the disclaimers at the end and walk away thinking the drug is a miracle cure.
Unless we're careful, we're all being played - played by corporations, and played by the government.
So damnit, it's not a "responsibility fee", it is, as one legislator confided in me, a "tax on the poor",
but calling it a poor-tax just doesn't sell.
When it comes to marketing, words like "responsible" and "safe" and "make America great again" are powerful weapons.
Put that in a sentence, and the reader will agree with just about anything you say.
See for example
wherein a Texas legislator
suggests that women who get abortions should be jailed, to make them more "responsible" with sex.
With the word responsible baiting the hook, you almost swallow it,
until you realize that jail is once again trying to solve a social problem,
like a hammer pounding a screw into the wall.
Of course the father is blameless - says the male legislator.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand.
No state mandated Responsibility Fees
Across the United States, driving is absolutely necessary to survive.
Some day autonomous taxis will ferry people wherever they need to go,
but for now you have to drive to get to work,
school, the store, the doctor, or perhaps your probation testing center,
and if you miss that appointment it's back to jail with ya.
As a general rule, you simply must drive to survive,
and that means a license and a car.
Politicians proclaim, time and time again,
"Driving is a privilege not a right."
They're even called "driving privileges" on the websites and in the automated phone messages.
This is just another relentless marketing campaign.
The sad fact is, if you repeat anything long enough people will believe it.
Thus, "Driving is a privilege" is trumpeted again and again until it becomes Gospel.
Driving laws are a consequence of this unquestioned axiom,
just as Jewish law is a consequence of the precepts set down in Leviticus.
There is no reason to protect your right to drive, because you have no right to drive.
It's that simple.
The State can yank your license for all sorts of reasons, and indeed it does.
If we want to lift the foot off the neck of the poor,
we must change our fundamental assumptions.
When the State provides no meaningful mass transit, then driving is indeed a right, like liberty -
ergo we should revoke a license only as a last resort,
just as we lock somebody up in a cage and deny his liberty only as a last resort.
If this were our mindset, the body of driving laws would change, almost over night.
Once you realize how important driving is, it becomes patently obvious that the State should never revoke a license for financial reasons,
and yet it does.
I've already mentioned the bizarre punishments that states put in place to "incentivize" child support; well some states suspend the drivers license.
How then can he drive to work, to make money, to pay his child support?
Some states suspend the license for an unpaid traffic ticket.
Some states hold the license hostage until all responsibility fees are paid.
All these laws are regressive, and trample upon the poor and the minorities.
These people will of course continue to drive; they must in order to survive;
whereupon their third "Driving With License Suspended" (DWLS) charge turns into a felony.
Once again we find a path from a traffic ticket to a felony, and finally incarceration.
Felony inflation continues.
We have truly created a monster.
A Drivers License cannot be suspended or revoked for financial reasons
Some states confiscate your license for certain driving offenses, such as a DUI.
In its place you receive a flimsy piece of paper that says you can still drive until you have had your day in court.
This policy serves no purpose whatsoever, except to make life miserable for the accused, who is, as you recall, innocent until proven guilty.
Your license is your photo ID, and without it, you are truly handicapped.
You can't purchase items at a store with your credit card, can't fly, can't perform a transaction at a bank, and in many cases you can't even get medical care.
If you live in such a state, I urge you to get a passport.
It doesn't cost much, and the police can't confiscate it over a driving offense.
Having a second license from another state, or even a parallel state ID, is a crime, sometimes even a felony (yet more felony inflation, reason enough to throw you in prison).
License cannot be confiscated
Some states confiscate your license plate for certain driving offenses, such as a second DWLS.
In its place you receive a flimsy temp plate to put in your back window.
This policy serves no purpose whatsoever, except to make life miserable for the accused, who is, as you recall, innocent until proven guilty.
Now the police have a technical excuse to pull him over, "I couldn't see the plate", and they do just that, time and time again.
This falls disproportionately on black drivers, who are already being pulled over just because the earth is round.
The License Plate cannot be confiscated
Some states revoke your license after a driving offense such as a DUI.
Meantime you are expected to get to random drug testing, and classes, and probation meetings, all without driving.
Furthermore, there are costs and fines to pay, which means you have to get to work.
Logically, driving under the influence is the crime, not driving.
Another DUI is indeed a crime, perhaps punishable by jail, but driving itself is not a crime, any more than it was before.
If you're going to put someone on probation, then let him drive.
The license is not suspended for a driving offense, unless 12 points accrue
Car insurance can cost more than the car itself.
If car insurance is mandated by the state, then it must be subsidized for low income drivers.
Three states offer subsidies, but only for cars that are owned outright.
This is almost useless.
Cars are so expensive that a poor person has to finance or lease the vehicle.
He needs full coverage, yet he can't afford the monthly premiums.
Subsidies for car insurance for low income drivers
Driving without insurance is not bad driving - it is a crime of paperwork and poverty.
It should not add any points to the license.
Similarly for DWLS and other paperwork crimes.
Points only accrue as a result of dangerous driving
In some states, a third DWLS escalates to a felony.
This is more felony inflation; we must push back against it wherever it occurs.
A license can be suspended for financial reasons, or other trivial reasons,
and when our hapless driver tries to get to work, or the doctor, or probation, and is caught doing so three times, here comes another felony.
DWLS is never a felony
Impounding the car is a money making scam that preys disproportionately upon the poor.
Some counties will impound your car for minor driving offenses such as driving without insurance.
This is legalized theft.
The car should only be impounded if there is clear indication of drugs in the vehicle,
or some other evidence that must be evaluated.
Car is not impounded for minor offenses
It is ridiculous to throw someone in jail, even for a few days, because his car is uninsured.
Driving without insurance is a civil infraction
When I got a quote from Amica insurance they explained their rating system.
Do you know what has the greatest effect on your insurance rates; it's not your driving record.
It's your credit score.
That's right; insurance premiums are sky high for poor people just because they're poor -
nothing to do with their driving.
Insurance rates are not based on credit score
Credit and Finance
If you apply for a loan, and are denied, your credit score goes down.
Who does that hurt?
Most of us apply for a loan and get it, and walk away smiling, but a poor person is denied, again and again,
so after several rejections his credit score takes a hit.
In reality he has done nothing to deserve that; he just asked for a loan.
This is a hideous practice that should be banned at the federal level.
Applying for a loan cannot hurt your credit score
If you have accumulated $15,000 of credit card debt at 11%,
and your credit score goes down for any reason,
the credit card company can raise the interest rate to 27% on the entire balance.
This is legal, but immoral.
You borrowed that money at 11%, and those are the terms.
Your car loan, or mortgage, doesn't hike its interest rate in mid stream just because your credit score went down.
Credit Card interest cannot change retroactively on an outstanding balance
As an enticement,
credit cards sometimes offer an interest free grace period for balance transfers,
e.g. no interest for the first 8 months.
If you have not paid this money back in its entirety, down to the last penny, within the grace period,
the card charges a high interest rate on the entire balance, from the first day of the balance transfer.
Again, this is legal, but immoral.
It is in fact another form of retroactive interest - you thought it was 0% for 8 months, and suddenly it's 27%.
After a grace period, cards should only charge interest from that day forward,
on the unpaid balance that exists at that time.
Credit Cards cannot charge interest retroactively across an introductory grace period
Credit cards should not be allowed to charge 29% interest, under any circumstance.
All that does is crush the poor.
Credit card interest capped at 15%