Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Decriminalizing Poverty

This comes from an opinion piece titled "Decriminalizing Poverty," written by Bruce Western, in the Dec. 27, 2010, issue of The Nation [emphases mine]:
In the absence of any serious effort to improve economic opportunity, particularly among young men with little schooling, drug control has become our surrogate social policy. For all the billions spent on draconian criminalization, addiction remains a scourge of the disadvantaged in inner cities and small towns, drugs are still plentiful and the drug trade remains a ready but risky source of casual employment for low-education men and women with no legitimate prospects. Though drugs are at the center of an array of serious social problems in low-income communities, things are made worse by a dysfunctional policy in which arrest, imprisonment and a criminal record have become a normal part of life.

The most important lesson policy-makers can take from this historic failure of social engineering is that the drug problem depends only a little on the narcotics themselves, and overwhelmingly on the social and economic context in which they are traded and taken.

The drug war made an enemy of the poor. A successful ceasefire must do more than lift the burden of criminal punishment. It must begin to restore order and predictability to economic and family life, reducing vulnerability not just to drugs but to the myriad insecurities that characterize American poverty.
Drug dealing and addiction is perhaps the center of a majority of what makes homelessness rampant in Sacramento and plays the starring role in what brings misery to people's lives in Homeless World.  Doing something other that what society is now doing to combat addiction is necessary.  We've created a significant subculture that creates lives that are meaningless, cruel, narcissistic and asocial.

And worse still, the dominoes fall from one generation to the next.  The costs of continuing what we are doing are enormous, both economically and in lives made painful and purposeless.

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