Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Drug incarceration rates real buzz kill

I would like to open with a sincere apology to my elementary
school D.A.R.E. officer. Although his mustache was more memorable than his
name, the message of drug and violence resistance he promoted to a classroom
full of fifth graders was both noble and necessary. At least, that's what I
used to think.

These days, after weighing my options, I have decided it's
probably about time to start smoking pot. But I am not looking to engage in
illicit drug use in order to relax myself or figure out what Pink Floyd is
really trying to tell me. I plan on doing it simply because, legally, I have
nothing to fear. There is a simple, self-administered test that will quickly
tell your risk of drug-related incarceration. First, look at your skin. If
you're white, turn up the Bob Marley and toke on. However, if you're black,
just do as D.A.R.E. taught you and say no.

Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Dane
County ranks No. 3 in the nation in regards to the racial disparity of drug
offenders. According to U.S. Bureau of Justices numbers, for every one white
person Dane County puts away for a drug offense, the county locks up 97 black
people for similar offenses. Now, numbers might be cold and unconvincing, but
there is little doubt in the injustice evidenced by this report. How can it be
that a county like Dane, whose progressivism is known nationwide, be so
inherently backward in its criminal prosecution?


Although I do not have a statistic to back it up, I am
willing to put my journalistic integrity on the line when I say that black
people do not partake in 97 percent more drug use than whites. To suggest
otherwise would be nothing short of absurd. But to admit that is to concede
that somewhere in our great legal system is an error, or to put it better, more
errors than an Enron tax statement. This statistic is nothing more than a
reflection of the way the American justice system works and has worked for a
number of years.

The first fault lies with the police. It is much easier for
the police to drive through a high-crime, low-income area and pick up a few
minor drug dealers than it is to investigate how the businessman next to you is
getting high. But this is where this issue becomes less black-and-white, for
isn't it good for society to get every drug dealer off the street, whether they
sell on the corner or the back of the bar? Yes, it is, but at some point — and
that point is now — we need to examine the effect of these incarceration rates
on the black community.

This is a college town, and no one is under the illusion
that drug use does not exist within the overly white college population. So
when the black community sees the hammer come down on them at a rate that is
nearly 100 times greater than the white kids in the apartment complex, this is
going to breed a negative sentiment among them, which isn't good for the police
or the community.

The second culprit is the courts and the political culture,
which has put a premium on a desire to be harsh with criminals. Although
locking up minor drug offenders may take nothing more than the drop of a gavel,
it accomplishes even less. By filling up the prisons and costing the county
millions of dollars, we are creating a generation of disgruntled convicts.
Prison is not a drug-free environment, and it does not offer inmates the
necessary opportunities to function as both sober human beings and productive
community members. By passing on alternatives such as rehabilitation and lesser
penalties in order to make a statement and preserve a political ideal, the
courts and politicians are compounding an already massive problem.

No matter what your pigment may be, drug prosecution in this
country is out of hand. But when an already troubled system shows what can be
construed as racial underpinnings, it becomes obvious that action must be
taken. While we are not turning a blind eye to drug crime, we are turning a
very selective one, and the effects are damaging the entire community — some
parts more than others. While the issue is complex, it is necessary that the
criminal playing field become more level and that drug prosecution take its
focus off reelection and back onto the community. I can only hope they'll do so
before I smoke myself silly.

Sean Kittridge ([email protected])
is a sophomore majoring in journalism.

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